February 6, 2020
In early February, 1995, I began keeping a journal of notes about films I watched, for a filmmaking course I was taking. Through no grand plan and without much thought, I kept going after the class was over, after I graduated, and throughout the years since. Today marks 25 years since my first entry.
As a kid, my relationship with film was rather stunted; my family took the ratings seriously, which meant I was still forced to rent cringeworthy G-rated Disney comedies in the clamshell VHS cases like THE BOATNIKS for birthdays as late as age 12. We didn't have cable, and going to the movies just wasn't a big part of our lives (nor was disobeying my parents, apparently).
My brother and I eventually discovered Monty Python, Peter Sellers, and more when I was in junior high, and I finally caught up with the present in the summer after I turned 14, seeing every big movie that opened, and rating each one on a sheet from a legal pad:
YOUNG EINSTEIN: 7-8/10: Funny, too much music.By high school, I was delving into the Foreign section at Neighborhood Video and frequenting the Capri Cinema, Anchorage’s beloved, slightly grimy (and dearly departed) art house, located in a strip mall on Tudor Road.
STAR TREK V: 8/10, Pretty good.
UNCLE BUCK: 9½/10, Really funny!
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE: 10/10, AWESOME.
DEAD POETS SOCIETY: 11/10, Amazing, breathtaking, magnificent!
I had a habit of plastering the back of each volume with various odd bits of ephemera I found during the course of the writing, like chopstick instructions that made no sense, or outlandish claims from SkyMall products, or goofy typos from newspaper articles, as well as stickers, labels, and anything else that caught my eye. That habit continues to this day, and nicely documents the era in which the journal was used. There are ebbs and flows in terms of usable material; sometimes I scramble to cover the back before it's filled up inside, and other times, I’ve nearly filled the back of the next journal before writing the first entry.
In 2004, I discovered that Bob Slate, my Harvard Square source, no longer carried the familiar blue chemistry notebook, and on my next trip to Amherst, I saw that Hastings, too, had replaced it with a similar-sized book in purple. As I searched the internet for some remaining copies, I learned that the company that produced it had been sold to a Canadian outfit, which had altered the design slightly, with new covers and fewer pages. I purchased 25 of what I thought was remaining inventory of the original version (while hemming and hawing over whether 25 was really enough…), only to find out when they arrived that they were the new edition. I made peace with it and moved on, but I have a soft spot for the early, two-tone blue journals, with their eight bonus pages.
At some point during my time at the Academy in the 2010s, I got into conversation with my colleague Charles about the journals, and tracking moviegoing in general, and he asked if I kept track of the location and format (35mm, DVD, and so on) of the screenings. I hadn’t, and wondered why it had never occurred to me. I immediately began doing so, and at the same time went back through previous volumes, trying to fill in what I remembered.
As I fill up volume 39 this month and think about another 25 years, I'm looking back and re-reading old entries, something I think about doing more than I actually do. For the next year, I plan to pick an entry from each day of the year, starting today, and tweet a line or two from it.
I’ve never shared anything from these journals in part because they’re purely anecdotal, immediate reactions that are not particularly thought out or thoughtful, and I’m not sharing them now because I’ve suddenly decided that they are. But because they're interesting time capsules, and because I've never really looked back at them before, I'm curious to see and share a little bit of what's in there. We'll see.