If ever I tell someone I watched 967 films last year, the inevitable response is “how?” Often followed by “why? My stock answer is that it wasn’t a freak year. From big hitters like Oscar-nominated Killers of the Flower Moon and Oppenheimer to older classics like Bluebeard's Castle (1963) to obscure curios like The Shiver of the Vampires (1971), I’ve been watching 800-plus films annually for a while now. It’s both my job and my passion. That, though, is only part of the true reason.
My obsession started at university in 1991. I liked horror movies and action cinema and kept up with the big Hollywood releases. Then, in my first year, I became friends with two film junkies who opened my eyes not only to other genres but also to the 100 years of history just waiting to be explored. We would hire out six or seven videos at a time and do all-night marathons punctuated by treks to the 24-hour garage for Scotch eggs and crisps. I was totally hooked.
People scoff when I say it, but such movie marathons take training. OK, it’s not comparable to participating in an Ironman Triathlon, but concentrating on seven back-to-back movies is exhausting. At least at first. I’d often nod off, sometimes missing an important plot point, sometimes the end of one film and the start of another. But it got easier with practice, the filmic equivalent of working a Couch to 10K programme — with the added benefit that I never had to leave the couch.
There was another reason to this movie madness. A year into my English Literature degree, I’d decided that I wanted to be a film journalist. Encyclopaedic viewing was required, and the more I scampered down the plunging rabbit hole, the more I realised it opened out into a labyrinthine warren so vast it touched upon the infinite.
Admittedly it’s a sedentary lifestyle, but I get out for at least two walks a day — and a saunter to the cinema
Now, 32 years on, I’m editor-at-large of Total Film magazine and more obsessed with movies than ever. Last year, I did indeed watch 967 films, plus a heap of TV shows on top. I never turn off a film despite wholeheartedly agreeing with Woody Allen’s statement that you know within two minutes if you’re in good hands or not. So back to those questions: how and why?
The how is easy: I aim for three films a day, one before work or at lunchtime and two in the evening. It helps that I mainly work from home and that my wife equally loves films. She also does shift work, which grants me the opportunity to watch the movies that she doesn’t want to — mainly horror films that are abrasively real rather than shivery and fantastical. Of course, there are days when I can’t watch three movies because I’m going out for a meal or seeing friends or on a deadline or whatnot. That’s where my “marathon training” comes in. I’ll often watch 15 movies in a weekend.
The “why” is more complicated. Sure, it’s primarily to stay abreast of the slew of new releases and to continue exploring that infinite rabbit warren. But there’s more to it. “Film is a disease… as with heroin, the antidote to film is more film,” said director Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life). I have an addictive personality. It used to manifest itself in booze and cigarettes — I’ve touched neither for 15 years now. Though I often worry about just how much of my life I spend ogling a screen, I placate myself with the thought that there are worse addictions.
Admittedly it’s a sedentary lifestyle and I don’t go to the gym as much as I should, but my labradoodle Gene (named after Gene Hackman) ensures that I at least get out for two good walks a day. I also saunter to my local cinema. That counts, right?
As for socialising, I do it less than I used to, finding it tricky without the lubricant of alcohol. When I do go out, I usually find myself people-watching anyway. Human interactions fascinate me — the dynamics, the drive to communicate and connect — and that’s what I wind up scrutinising, whether I’m at home watching an Ingmar Bergman film or in a Wetherspoons.
Maybe my addiction is better viewed as my religion. That’s how filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) refers to his own three-movies-a-day habit, and it captures just how much cinema means to me — how it soothes me, teaches me and nourishes my soul. And that’s just the Adam Sandler comedies. Well, I have no plans to lose my religion anytime soon, and on that note I’ll stop… I have films to watch. Who knows, maybe this year I’ll hit a thousand?
Jamie Graham is editor-at-large of Total Film magazine