Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Heath Holland On...My Yearly Cycle

It’s not a motorbike and I’m not menstruating. Well, I am, but that’s not what I mean.

Summer, I’m sad to report, is over. No more late nights spent on the back deck. No more care-free long weekends or nights that seemed to last forever. In spite of all my protests, September showed up on my doorstep like a mangy stray cat and plopped a new school year on the doormat. Whether I want it to or not, September brought a new routine that's a lot like the old routine.

I’ve noticed that with each season comes a completely different shift in the types of movies that I watch. Over the last few years I’ve seen a pattern emerge as I’ve fallen into an annual cycle. It’s not something I notice in January or May. I always notice it in September. Being married to a teacher serves as a reminder that each of the four seasons brings a completely different mood to my life, and, in turn, the movies I watch.

Here’s a breakdown of how my annual cycle goes, starting with where we find ourselves right now.

This doesn’t really technically begin until Scary Movie Month in October. I’ve been doing Scary Movie Month in my own life for about 10 years, but I always called it SHOCKTOBER! In fact, off this site, I still do. My wife and I don’t even reference the month of October by its proper name anymore; we reference it as Shocktober (we’re clever). We love scary movies and we love the season of Halloween so much that we actually got married on Shocktober 30th. Not because we’re, like, goths or anything, but just because it’s our most favorite time of year ever. That’s when the air gets cooler and you know cold weather is coming. The nights are longer and the days are shorter. Kids are more excited because Halloween marks the beginning of the Holiday season. After Halloween, Thanksgiving is less than a month away and then CHRISTMAS. Everything starts in Shocktober and that’s why I love it so much.

So for years now, I’ve dedicated the entire month to watching nothing but scary movies. Each year my stack of movies starts being stockpiled a little bit earlier and I start planning my horror month with more and more films. This year I started accumulating and planning in August and I was trying my best to wait until the first day of Shocktober to kick things off. I didn’t make it.

When You’re Next came out in August, a full month earlier than the official kickoff of Scary Movie Month, it set things in motion too early. I started lining up movies with the intention of waiting for September to end. Then I saw The World’s End) which, while technically probably not a horror movie, lowered my defenses even further. Within 24 hours of seeing that movie, I was watching horror movies I’d sworn I was going to save for Scary Movie Month. It’s not my fault! Adam Wingard and Edgar Wright and the studios knew what they were doing when they slotted those movies in August. They were subverting the system, man! They’re going to bring the whole traditional schedule down: I’m talking human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, MASS HYSTERIA. And I like it.

Fall gets the short end of the stick because it doesn’t really seem to kick off for me until Shocktober the 1st and it ends as soon as Thanksgiving dinner is in my stomach. In fact, each year it seems to start earlier and end earlier. Last year I started on Christmas movies in the middle of November and didn’t stop watching horror movies until around the same time. My horror cycle runs directly into my Christmas cycle. So Thanksgiving Day, when I’m watching the parade, is still part of Fall for me. But around 4 PM in the afternoon things switch to…

I have so many Winter/Christmas/non-religious-specific favorites that I like to revisit every year that I HAVE to start in the middle of November or they won’t get watched. It’s just like all the scary movies that I watch. I have so many old favorites that I like to visit once a year and I have so many NEW entries each year that it takes more than a month to work them all in. Each Winter/Christmastime I have my couple of dozen holiday favorites, but then I also have all the television specials that have been with me since I was a kid. In fact, there are new Christmas specials every year, which means that my favorite holiday television shows are growing like a snowball rolling downhill. Within a few years I’ll have to start watching all this stuff in July.

The holiday movies stop on January 1st, though. January brings deeper, headier things. I suppose it has something to do with New Year’s resolutions and fresh starts. Even the books I read get deeper around this time of year. January is when I’m reading academic books on history and art and the Norman invasion and archaeology, weird stuff like that. The movies that I watch tend to reflect this, and I put a lot of documentaries in front of my eyes. This is the time of the year when I’m also watching period films about the Spanish Armada and the Inquisition and, traditionally, all of the Robin Hood movies. Weird, I’ve just realized…in January and February I go Medieval. That’s strange. So in October I’m Gothic and in January I go Medieval. Oh my lord, I think I’m Emo.

By the time Spring rolls around in late March or early April, I’ve had it with stuffy books and English actors in castles saying things like “forsooth” and “whither.” Side note: did you know that there are only nineteen English film actors currently working today? Whenever an English actor is needed, you’ll find them to be one of the nineteen. Since Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch have found mainstream success with Sherlock, the number is dangerously close to being reduced to two. Bill Nighy, watch your back.

Spring is when I tend to get experimental and venture more into indie territory. It’s when I watch quieter movies about the secret love lives of sanitation workers and the mating habits of librarians. If there’s a movie about an Iowa farmer who indulges a forbidden, carnal love with an ear of corn that he has named Harold, this is when that movie will get watched. I think Awards Season has trained me into this pattern. For years and years, this is the time of the year that all the awards shows have pushed some indie darling down my throat or showed me how charming that little animated French movie about talking baguettes that ride bicycles could be. Even though I haven’t watched an awards show in several years, the pattern seems to remain.

Summer is a time for me to revel in the big and the stupid. This is when the multi-million dollar blockbusters come out and this is when I look forward to seeing robots attack the earth (this year they all seemed to win) and superheroes band together. Summer is the time of the year when I can see 11 billion dollars get spent on tacky CGI and actually (usually) be okay with it. It’s a time of the year when I try to turn my brain off, when all those period films from January and February and all those indie movies about pastries give way to loud explosions and gigantic spectacle.

I’m always excited about the summer movie season, but for the last couple of years I’ve really gotten burned by it. This year was perhaps the most exhausting summer for me in recent memory. I don’t know if I’m getting older or if the movies are getting worse (and more mean-spirited), but I could not wait for the end of the summer movie season this year. Ironically, the movies that I was the most excited about left me cold and the ones that I expected very little out of ended up impressing me. Judging by what I’ve heard you all say, this happened to a lot of us this year.

See? Summer at the movies usually wears me out. You can tell. I should revisit this column next February and see how I feel about it. I’ll probably be all like “Hooray, Summer!” I’ll be doing the “raise the roof” hand motion and I’ll be wearing a Transformers costume when I type up my thoughts on Apocalypse: The Movie.

The summer movie season seemingly starts earlier every year, and by the middle of July I’m worn out and ready for a change. So it’s this time of year, in September, that I find myself in movie-limbo; the last blockbuster has come and gone from the multiplex. It’s September when I start to long for smaller movies with low budgets and low stakes. Instead of the whole earth being in danger, I want to see a small band of survivors stand alone against a lunatic slasher or a creepy monster.

And before I know it, I’m watching horror movies in anticipation of Scary Movie Month...


  1. oh the vicious circle that we find ourselves in. september is clawing our way up the mud hill of movies. we wanna get out of the pit that is the summer dumb, and get to the beautiful grass of a good movie.

  2. That's interesting, Heath - other than the obvious Halloween/Christmas/Summer seasons I'm not sure I have a cycle I can nail down, and if I did I may have thrown it out of whack now that I've been getting out to the theatre more often. The past 4-5 years as an almost exclusive buyer/renter, I was catching up on the Summer Blockbusters in late Fall/Winter, all of the "Oscar Bait" (sorry, that's a trite term, I know) in late Winter/Spring and then not much at all during the Summer (in Canada we try to pack a lot in those few warm months). This Summer the air-conditioned theatre was one of my favourite escapes, even when a lot of stuff was disappointing. Now when Scary Movie Month is over, I'll have to find something other than Summer Fluff...

    Just wondering because I've been thinking of doing it more myself - do you plan a fair amount of your movie watching? During Junesploitation I was planning ahead based mostly on you F'ers' Netflix pix and I kind of enjoyed the structure as so often I find myself staring blankly at my relatively large co...llection with so many options that it's hard to narrow it down to one and I just watch The Thing (or something like that) again. I appreciate spontaneity and all but I wonder if scheduling (to some extent) will help me make better choices...interested in your (and anyone else's) thoughts on that, Heath!

    1. Sol, I watch all movies all the time (except for during Scary Movie Month), but I do notice that the types of movies I watch tend to fall into particular categories. The 4 seasons of movie watching I wrote about are generalizations. You can rest assured that there are lots and lots of westerns, 80s action movies and whatever else enters my collection during each of those 4 seasons (again, except for Scary movie Month).

      I don't plan my year this way, it just happens as a consequence of the way my brain works and the fact that I obsess about certain genres until I've burned out on them for a while. Right now I'm coming off of months of watching summer blockbusters and I am SO ready for horror movies. When that's here I'll be sick of horror movies because I'll have watched dozens of them in a row. Then I'll want something that makes me feel good. When that's over I'll probably be in the mood for something challenging and more cerebral. Everything just kind of feeds off of everything else, but it's probably because I tend to go all out for certain types of movies during each part of the year. It's never planned, it's just how my mind works.

    2. I did kind of figure as much - i.e. that though a pattern has emerged it's not by conscious design (and not one that's strictly adhered to) - but do you ever like program a week for yourself where, whatever else you might watch, you specifically set out to watch certain movies? It's just an idea I'm toying with to help me with my own indecisiveness and I'm wondering if it, or some other system, works for anyone else.

    3. @Sol-

      I think the time ends up being a significant factor for me. I have a fairly long list of things queued up to go, but I don't always have 2.5 hours on a weeknight, or I'm not always interested in some of the 90 minute offerings in my queue. As for genre, I just watch what I want to watch, although I've been trying to lean toward critically acclaimed stuff I haven't gotten to, like THE CONVERSATION. Watched TAXI DRIVER for the first time a little bit ago, and it was fantastic, so I want to keep my buzz going.

    4. Sol, dude, I can't say I've ever really programmed a week of movies. I mean, I have a loose idea of what I want to watch within a week, but it's not regimented by day. For instance, by the end of the weekend, I'm trying to rewatch Hatchet, Feast, the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie, the director's cut of The Expendables, Bullet To The Head, a Van Damme/Scott Adkins movie I bough, and I picked up Lords of Salem, so I want to watch that this weekend too. So I know I want to watch all of those in the next few days but I don't have them laid out by time and date. Because there's nothing worse than being stuck watching something you aren't in the mood to watch, youknowwhatI'msaying? That line up of things to watch is varied enough that I can pick whatever I'm in the mood for. If I want to see a fun horror movie, I'll go with Hatchet or Feast. If I want to see a disturbing horror movie, I'll go with Lords of Salem. If I want action, I can choose between the Stallone flicks. If you DO decide to regiment a week of movies, let me know how it goes. It could definitely be good for you, like Mark is saying with his push to see critically acclaimed movies.

      Mark, having now seen Taxi Driver, how long before you will revisit it? I've seen it a few times, but it's been at least 10 years since I've watched it because it made me seriously squirmy. That's an intense, uncomfortable movie.

    5. Right on - yeah, we'll see how it goes. Like during Junesploitation, I planned ahead to watch I Spit on Your Grave - now I wouldn't say I was in the MOOD on a Saturday afternoon to watch a lady get horribly raped and beaten and then terminate hillbillies with extreme prejudice, but I stuck to my guns and damned if I didn't "enjoy" it. That definitely happened a few times, so I might try to program some "film fests" for myself - it'll be almost like making a mix tape! Like you, there could be some flexibility - picking from a pre-selected handful will be less overwhelming than picking from hundreds! Anyway, we'll see how it goes!

      Re Taxi Driver - for me, like The Godfather it was one of those movies I watched both shortly before and shortly after I realized my tastes had matured somewhat - in 2007 I was all "F This Movie!" and then in 2010 I was all "F! This Movie!". It's very intense and squirmy, but with the kinda crap he gets involved with these days, it's a movie I like to watch every once in a while to be reminded why I love Robert DeNiro.

    6. Oh and thanks Mark! Running time is frequently a factor; e.g. Hey, I think I'll finally watch Heat now! Wait, no, I really need to go to bed before 2am.

    7. @HH

      Not sure when I'd re-visit TAXI DRIVER, if ever. It's a little too intense to re-watch, although I wouldn't mind watching a few scenes over again, just to make sure I hadn't missed anything. But, for anyone who hasn't, it's absolutely worth seeing.

  3. Great column. I've had my fill of summer movies. Like you write, there are plenty of great small indie flicks or classic films to visit