I should probably save this for the July letter on my website — June is done, by the by, aren’t I the eternal grade-grubbind nerd — but it’s on my mind this dismal rainy afternoon. Plus, I’ve noticed that the folks who frequent these parts seem to like memes, no matter how ancient.
A few weeks back in the blogosphere (yes, this is equivalent to “A long time ago, in a galaxy far away . . . “) people started listing movies they could watch over and over. I first saw it on Victor Gischler’s excellent blog, its name not withstanding. And I thought: “That’s Adam Russell’s watchability scale.”
I’ve been talking about Adam’s watchability scale since at least May 2002 when, IIRC (official motto of The Memory Project), I introduced it to Steve Hamilton and Dennis Lehane at a conference. Watchability refers to films that suck you in, no matter whether it’s the first minute or the final. It should go without saying that you’ve seen the movie before, so perhaps the watchability scale is truly the rewatchability scale.
Some watchable films are great — “Citizen Kane” and “Groundhog’s Day,” the first two “Godfathers.” Some are so-so films whose discrete parts are greater than the whole, collections of set pieces that keep you hanging around. I’d put “Caddyshack” in this category. Actually, “Once Upon a Time in America,” too because, as much as I love it, only the early section, about the kids, is truly perfect. But I could watch Robert De Niro come and go through that bus station door every day for the rest of my life.
Meanwhile, some truly great movies have very low watchability scores — “Raging Bull,” “Schindler’s List.”
Watchability can be extremely idiosyncratic; I count Woody Allen’s “Celebrity” as one of the most watchable films of all time. Ditto, “The Wedding Singer” because there’s always a good smile a few seconds away — Adam Sandler’s breakdown, Billy Idol, Steve Buscemi.
But bear in mind, “watchability” is the concept of Adam Russell of Lawrence, NY. (Or maybe one of the other Five Towns, I get them all mixed up.) And it existed years before the meme. In fact, it’s why Adam is mentioned in the acknowledgments of my about-to-be-published book. Adam, you should have trademarked it.
From Chapter Five of TO THE POWER OF THREE
“Saving Private Ryan,” Colin said.
“The opening sequence is a nine or a ten,” Peter agreed after careful consideration. “But if you come in after they’ve stormed the beach, not so much.”
“Seven. No Caddyshack, but solid. ‘The price is wrong, bitch.’”
“But Mystic River is a good movie,” Simone objected.
(Simone just doesn’t get it. Do you? Feel free to nominate your own watchable films, using the Adam Russell 10-point scale. Negatives allowed.)
*This was intended as a shout-out to Lehane, who really got watchability and quickly came up with his own list. Of course Mystic River is a terrific film. And, as we recently established on Bryon Quertermous’s blog, Mystic River means that anyone who’s ever met Dennis Lehane has one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon. Just FYI.