Ally-Watch (‘al-ee • wah-ch) verb 1. To have a movie playing while you do something else (spreadsheeting, playing bass, or drawing in my case over the years; playing videogames, messageboarding, chatting, whatever else my internet acquaintances dismiss as “multi-tasking” in others’ cases) and afterwards to claim you “watched” that movie, even going so far as racking up 10,000+ icheckmovies “watches” and having pride in it and the attention it gets. In short: to not watch a movie, to be the opposite of a cinephile, to be as much of a wallpaper-phile or a lightbulb-phile as you are a cinephile. ~ ‘Dr. Wam’s Dictionary of Cinephilia’
You know the feeling. You return home from a long day at the office and all you wanna do is slump down on the couch and get lost in a movie…and also pay a bill or two…and download some music…and organize your shelves…and soon enough you realize that the film has been stripped of its command of your attention and demoted to something like elevator music. If films were sentient, then to be ally-watched would have to be the ultimate degradation.
Usually I ally-watch movies that are better left unwatched in the first place, and that I am only erecting as temporary animated wallpaper as part of some vainglorious completism mission. Enter The F.B.I. Story, which now occupies a precious spreadsheet cell of my vaunted Jimmy Stewart checklist even though all I know to say about it now is that Jimmy’s nothing performance is as wooden as J. Edgar Hoover’s paranoid pecker must have been while Convulsin’ with Tolson.
Or there’s the time when I checked out Selznick/Cromwell’s superb 1937 adventure yarn The Prisoner of Zenda, the DVD of which was accompanied by MGM/Richard Thorpe’s execrable 1952 remake, a truly garbage film. The original’s continental crispness is undercut by a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey approach to Technicolor and a typically arid turn by Stewart Granger, MGM’s most snoozeworthy leading man since Robert Taylor. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I was hitting up ‘An American Tragedy’ by Theodore Dreiser while Granger and the gang fenced their way into oblivion.
However, there are tragic instances where the movie I’m ally-watching is actually good. It’s shameful to admit, but I do fall victim to ally-watching at its most base and narcissistic and number-crunch-compulsory. This past week, I ally-watched Todd Solondz’s Happiness and Clint Eastwood’s Bird, both evidently fine films whose ‘newness’ (i.e. the state of being made after the 1960s) rankled my attention span and drove me to the message board cesspool that I call home. There’s just something about how easy and breezy and free-form and clip-clop these movies are, jumping around in time and cross-cutting like it’s a game of hopscotch that is anathema to my Old Soul, which is used to the intimate staging and rigorous camera set-ups of olden times. None of this is a slight against those movies, but rather a blistering indictment of my long-gestating prejudice in favor of Classicism. It’s absolutely disgraceful that I did these movies the disservice of pretending to halfway watch them, as if they are — again — sentient beings with whom I’m making empty small-talk under the guise of genuine dialogue.
Which isn’t to say that I didn’t get sucked in by select passages or that I missed the general thrust of these films. Philip Seymour Hoffman in mid-jizz, Dylan Baker doing his damnedest to coax out his son’s abeyant puberty, the jazz club house-lights in lustrous inscription on Forest Whitaker’s sweat-dampened forehead — these bits ‘n pieces are gonna stick with me for a while, for better (Eastwood) and for worse (Solondz). But at the end of the day, I let these films down. I let myself down. Only the spreadsheets walked away happy.
I vow to be a better moviegoer in the future, dear readers. Please have mercy on my cinephile soul. (that goes for you too, Tom)