By the time I left for college, I'd seen—in whole or in part—films and shows from a broader spectrum of genres and time periods than the average kid my age. Aside from a few things my dad refused to put up with—I have yet to see A Christmas Story or anything from start to finish starring Woody Allen—I'd potentially watch anything as long as I could stomach it (I'm quite squeamish and don't do well with horror flicks, much to my dad's—and my wife's—chagrin). I arrived on campus with a willingness to at least try watching whatever anybody put in front of me, because I'd learned that even the oldest, campiest, weirdest, and most awful-looking shows and movies can sometimes be surprisingly enjoyable...and that you can always flip to something else if not.
One of the first extracurricular activities I got involved with at college was the anime society. Saturday afternoons until dinnertime we'd sit down to watch five back-to-back episodes of an anime series; same deal on Sundays, but with a different series. Now, I had seen a few episodes of Sailor Moon and Speed Racer here and there, but Japanese cartoons weren't part of the regular lineup in the Hoover household when I was younger. I believe it was my roommate who suggested I attend the first meeting, and any excuse to hang out with people at college was a good one. We started with Blue Seed, a charmingly formulaic monster-of-the-week show with occasional humor and plenty of action. We also had at least a dozen other people with us—a few of whom provided fantastic MST3K-worthy commentary the whole time—as well as having an auditorium and its huge projector screen all to ourselves. I was hooked.
By sophomore year, I was marathoning all of Neon Genesis Evangelion in my dorm room in a day and a half. Reading subtitles had become second nature to me, and I'd grown to appreciate the preservation of the original voices and inflection that subtitles provide. Anime was a gateway to foreign films, another category that wasn't a staple growing up. Between my Spanish classes, my semester abroad in Spain, and a handful of on-campus screenings that I otherwise wouldn't have attended without that initial exposure to anime (and that willingness to try watching anything), foreign films from any country became a minor interest.
When I discovered a wall of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplain movies in the school library, I added silent films to my list as well. If I could read subtitles, I could read cue cards, and having no spoken language wasn't that far off from having a spoken language whose meaning I couldn't comprehend. Besides, I was used to the decades-old war movies and Christmas movies and Twilight Zone episodes that I and various members of my extended family enjoyed; black-and-white was nothing new to me. It's amazing what you miss by limiting yourself to a single era or genre of film; since watching Battleship Potemkin, and more recently, Metropolis, any preconceived notions I ever had about the standards and limitations of vintage cinema have been thrown out the window.
I believe it was my junior year of college when I began my great movie project. Whenever I was home on break, I'd make trips to the local library to stock up on movies for the week, going through the DVD shelves in alphabetical order. I didn't pick up every movie available; just the ones that (a) were landmark films that everyone assumes you've seen, such as The Godfather; (b) were being talked about with any sort of frequency at school, such as Fight Club; and (c) I felt like watching for the heck of it, such as *batteries not included. By the time my project formally came to a close, I was up to Hotel Rwanda.
In the years that followed my graduation, my friends, wife, and in-laws were largely responsible for the continuing expansion of my cinematic experience. I got roped into trying the 3-D fad with the likes of Beowulf, Avatar, and A Christmas Carol. My buddy Alex and I sat down to watch five films by Akira Kurosawa for an Exfanding project one year. Out of self-preservation, I began watching Doctor Who so that I could keep up with the inevitable conversation topic anytime I was with my wife's family. I was at the US premiere screening of the Japanese film Ramen Samurai thanks to my wife, who has also introduced me to more classic children's movies than anyone else who's not a blood relative. (What do you mean you've never seen Thumbalina!? We're fixing that right now!)
Netflix, of course, has been the biggest contributor of the last few years. Given my wife's eclectic tastes, and my eclectic tastes, we've successfully confused the adaptive suggestions of this delightful on-demand movie streaming service. We choose to share a profile that tracks both of our viewing habits so that we can get movie recommendations from categories such as, "Quirky, Action-Packed, and Cerebral Korean Buddy Cop Documentaries from the 1930s Featuring a Strong, Scantily Clad Mad Scientist Female Lead and Visually Striking Animated Bollywood Musical Sequences for Children, Filmed in Outer Space, with Vampires." Needless to say, our movie queue is quite colorful.
It's been a long time since I've watched movies and TV shows purely for entertainment. There's the joy of discovering new things I never realized I'd like. There's the cultural experience of learning about a different country, or time period, or way of life through film. There's the academic pursuit of becoming informed about this My Little Pony thing that people keep asking about. Call me a cinematic sponge, absorbing whatever I can. If it happens to be fun, so much the better. After years of pushing the boundaries of what I watch, I've learned it's the viewing experience—the quality time I spend watching with other people, and the knowledge and in-jokes and discussions that we take away from it—that makes it potentially worthwhile to watch practically anything.