What films do you watch when you've already seen everything?

Published May 24, 2012

Music and movies being my two main passions in life, I’ve watched a lot of films over the years. It started in childhood, when old classics were broadcast as prime-time entertainment on Swedish television (these days they’re usually shown on weekday afternoons or close to midnight, if they’re on at all). In the mid-Eighties I studied film for a year; afterwards I calculated that I had seen on average one film per day during that year. Having access to the cinematheque here in Stockholm, and then first the VHS and later the DVD market, only my wallet has stood between me and most of the films that have piqued my curiosity.

But for a few years now, I feel like I’ve reached some kind of saturation. There are very few cinema classics that I haven’t seen (at least from British and American film history), and most of the present-day repertoire fails to engage me: the films that are supposed to be purely entertaining do not entertain me, and the supposedly serious films are dull and pretentious.

Gone, also, are the days when I had the patience to sit through boring films a) in the hope that they would get better or b) because they were considered important in film history. I guess it has to do with age, but these days, after watching a movie that fails to satisfy, I often feel like crying: “I’ll never get those 102 minutes back again!”

Still, I haven’t given up the hunt for hidden gems from film history that I haven’t seen before. Recently, I entered The BFI Movie List Challenge on Facebook, and was surprised to find that I’d seen 77 out of the 100 British films chosen by critics and film industry people at the turn of the millennium. Naturally, I scoured the list for unseen films that might interest me among the remaining 23. Genevieve (1953) and The Belles Of St. Trinians (1954) seemed to be right up my alley, so I ordered them from Amazon. Unfortunately, before clicking the “buy” button I failed to consult my Time Out Film Guide, which would have informed me that Genevieve “just isn’t very funny anymore”, an opinion I concur with wholeheartedly after having watched it. Similarly, The Belles Of St. Trinians turned out to be a disappointment. Alastair Sim does a wonderful acting job in his double-part as the headmistress of a girls’ school, and her brother. But if you don’t find the film’s one joke – that the schoolgirls, who we expect to be sweet and mild, are in fact unruly and up to all sorts of mischief – particularly amusing, there really isn’t much to enjoy. Joyce Grenfell, an actress whose name I’m only familiar with because she appears as herself in Helene Hanff’s book The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street, is in both movies, and it was interesting to finally see what she was like. And one of my favourite character actresses, Edie Martin, appears for about 30 seconds in Genevieve. Yes, I am clutching at straws here.

I guess it’s inevitable: after you’ve spent almost 50 years on this planet and devoted a fair amount of that time to watching movies, the opportunities to discover true classics get fewer and farther between. Still, I do have a few more films in the BFI Top 100 to check out – only last night some friends recommended that I watch Brighton Rock – and another friend of mine, who has a fine collection of non-British/American movies, has lent me Ballad Of A Soldier, Les Diaboliques and The Shop On Main Street. Cross your fingers that I will like them, won’t you?