Friday, July 30, 2010


In 1996, I yanked the plug on my cable TV. In the ensuing fourteen years, I haven't been a TV watcher, and I've noticed some huge benefits. This is all very unscientific and speculative, but I have no doubt at all that my attention span and memory both have grown explosively since I gave up TV. There are hints in the literature that because viewing is so passive, long hours of engagement with TV programs causes some vital brain functions to atrophy, but none of the research supplies a definite answer. From my experience, though, I'm entirely sure, which means I'm very happy with that decision and plan to stick to it.

It did come at a price, though: it all but froze my pop cultural literacy back in 1996. These days, with the passage of time, that price has grown more and more noticeable. Often, students try to illustrate a concept in class using a TV commercial, or a character from a TV show, and I have to look helpless and say "Well, that's on TV, so I have no idea about that."

When it comes to movies, they're a bit of a gray area. I tell my students, "I see about a movie a year." The TV embargo has changed my thinking patterns so much that I struggle against succumbing to the created world inside a film. The camera points your eyes where they're supposed to go; the music, and other aesthetic clues, tell you which emotion to feel; it's such a mental frog-march that I feel out of place and cynical, so it's rare, these days, that I enjoy a movie start to finish.

With all that said, a few years back, about a month before I arrived in Eugene, a beloved non-chain video store named Flicks and Pics succumbed to the new media environment, and the Eugene Public Library bought up most of their collection. I discovered the library last summer, and now think it's one of the most potent forces for truth and justice within about a million miles of me, so this summer I finally approached their DVD shelves to take a careful look. And there I discovered movie after movie that at some point I'd wanted to see, but never got around to watching.

This summer has been my movie summer. What's below are all the movies I checked out from Eugene Public Library and watched all the way through. That's not to say I found it easy to do so: there's an even longer list that I quit watching in the middle, or that I checked out and then never watched in my allotted three weeks. With most of these, I had to pause at least once and go do something else. And possibly the most intriguing bit is that I have actually noticed my attention span and memory don't have the edge they had last spring. Even this much viewing time, spread out over nearly three months, has had an effect, and not a good one, on my brain wiring. For that reason, I'm cutting off the film festival at the end of this week, what with the arrival of the new month. I might take it up again next summer, but we'll have to see about that.

One quick gloat: I saw every movie on this list for free. I love the Eugene Public Library so, so, so much.

Without further ado, my summer viewing. The explanation of the stars is at the bottom.


Hotel Rwanda
The Up Series (7 Up – 49 Up)
The Devil Wears Prada
That Thing You Do!
The Great Debaters
Harvard beats Yale 29-29
Wag the Dog
American Gangster
Paranormal Activity
The People vs. Larry Flynt
I ♥ Huckabees
F for Fake
The Color Purple
Erin Brockovich
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Taxi to the Dark Side
Rabbit-Proof Fence
Super Size Me
Good Night, and Good Luck
The War Room
A Prairie Home Companion
The Last King of Scotland
Charlie Wilson's War
Pan's Labyrinth
Monster's Ball
Blades of Glory
All the President's Men
To Sir, With Love
Grave of the Fireflies
The Remains of the Day
Grosse Pointe Blank
Hot Shots!
Fantastic 4. Rise of the Silver Surfer
The stars are a measure of how far the movie deviated from my normal enjoyment of movie-watching. The four star movies were so engrossing that I could've, or did, watch them at one sitting, and if I had to pause them, my mind stayed on them and I wanted to get back as soon as possible. Three stars means I got to the end of the film and judged it a positive experience, and two stars signals that it was an acceptable experience, not worse than my average visit to the theater. One star means I was disappointed, and zero stars means the film was embarrassingly bad; there are so few of those because I was more inclined to shut a film off and take it back than to finish it if it was that bad. I'm honestly not sure why I watched Fantastic 4 through to the end. Within each rating category, I've got the films listed in the order I saw them.

So that's that. Now, back to a diet of reality over image.

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