Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
Sometimes we take pop culture in small doses: Half an hour of reading before bed, the single TV episode after dinner. But most pop-culture aficionados have also had the experience of attending a massive movie marathon like the 24-hour B-Fest, or chainsawing through a whole season of a new-addiction TV show over a weekend. What are some of your most memorable experiences with marathoning through large amounts of entertainment in a short period?
I’ve done a lot of these for work: trying to get up to speed on Arrested Development before a sudden Mitch Hurwitz interview by watching all 22 first-season episodes in a day and a half, or reading all of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows in an 18-hour rush while liveblogging it with Genevieve. But there was a time when my boyfriend and I regularly hosted crazy movie marathons as a social activity, too. (I still sometimes do this during prestige-movie season, when I have 25 movies to get through in three weeks, and half of them are things my friends want to see.) But the two movie marathons that most stick with me aren’t ours. Every year since 2004, a friend of ours hosts The Kegger Of The Rings, a back-to-back marathon of all three Peter Jackson LOTR films—full, uncut versions, so about 12 hours total—with beer and themed food provided. (I don’t think she’s ever made lembas bread, but she makes a mean rabbit stew.) These days, she and her husband live in a two-story townhome, so they show the films on both floors, with the upstairs as the MST3K chat-along room, and the downstairs set aside for Shut Up And Watch The Movie Dammit types. And back in 2005, a different friend hosted a party he called Too! Much! Star Wars! The programming consisted of the first movie trilogy, then The Star Wars Holiday Special, then The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones. And then we all went to the theater together for Revenge Of The Sith in its opening week. It was exactly as described: Too much Star Wars. Way too much.
I didn’t catch the first season of 24 when it aired, but I borrowed the DVDs from a friend sometime in 2002. They sat on a shelf for several weeks before I was struck with a monster cold/flu that left me NyQuil-ed up for a weekend. And though that wonderful green stuff generally puts people to sleep (remember HiberNol on Saturday Night Live?), it’s always had a weird affect on me, alternately knocking me out and waking me up. Anyway, it was really 24 that helped me through the weekend—I powered through all 24 episodes in about 60 hours, taking my mind off the snot and the sneezing. Was it any good? I don’t really remember. Is that the season with the cougar attack?
You’d think that being a TV critic, I would be ahead of the curve on new popular series, but my secret shame is that I’m a joiner. I had screeners of Party Down and Homeland gathering dust underneath my coffee table well before I gave either of them a shot. I’ll just blame my lack of time on being able to check everything out in real time; basically, I just need to have it drilled into my head that it’s imperative I check out a show before I really do so. The upside of that is that being able to binge on a show after becoming a quick fan is a fun experience for a lazy weekend. Party Down was like candy, each episode being not only darkly funny and weird, but enjoyable to drop into because of the different premise of each episode. I was reluctant at first to give Homeland a shot because I’m not a big drama person, but my husband and I finally tried it over the holidays this year, and it was like crack. It had that “Oh my God, what’s going to happen next?”-ness of The Wire, while being a bit easier to watch and jump into than The Wire. The only downside of my system is that now there’s no more Party Down and we either have to watch Homeland in real time and suffer week to week, or postpone until the entire season is over and then binge. But I don’t think I can wait.
This is a short one, as it’s not a whole TV season or anything, but it felt just as exhausting. A few months back, HBO sent me a disc of the third, and latest, Paradise Lost documentary. For the uninitiated—run out and rent these immediately!—Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s documentary triptych traces the West Memphis Three murder trial, centering on the fallout of the (presumed) wrongful conviction of three Nowhere, Arkansas teens jailed for murdering three young boys. Before delving into the third, I decided to rewatch the first two. Since they’re each about two and a half hours long, and I started around 8 p.m., it made for a long night. But it was worth it. Back-to-back-to-back, the Paradise Lost films amount to one of the most astonishing, and disturbing, portraits of seedy Americana, where enormous Christians with huge neck goiters yell and scream while wearing American-flag button-up shirts. Before William Friedkin effectively minted the trailer-park-goth subgenre with Killer Joe, Berlinger and Sino sky stumbled upon it with Paradise Lost. By the time I finally put down all three films and headed to bed, I didn’t get much sleep.
Binging is my preferred form of television consumption, so I’m a champion TV marathoner: This year alone, I’ve blazed through all seven seasons of both The Shield and Gilmore Girls in just a couple months apiece, and a few years back, I, along with my roommate, AVC contributor Oliver Sava, watched two full seasons of True Blood in one spectacularly lazy, junk-food-fueled weekend. But my most memorable marathon was a perfect combination of situation and subject. Three years ago, I fell victim to the Great A.V. Club Swine Flu Outbreak Of 2009, and I fell hard, to the point where I couldn’t stand up for almost three days. But as it turns out, being trapped in a horizontal position isn’t so bad when you have 20 episodes of Breaking Bad to look at. I watched the entirety of the first two seasons in the span of a couple of days, through a fever, which as it happens, is a pretty great way to amplify the series’ already-heightened atmosphere. (For a while there, I was sure I was hallucinating that pink teddy bear.) I went back and re-watched everything with a clear head in the lead-up to the third season, but I still have fond, codeine-coated memories of that time—which is probably more than most people can say of their experience with swine flu.
There are a lot of benefits to being your own boss as a freelance writer, but one of the things I miss most about having a proper full-time gig is having the time to kick back and binge on complete-season/complete-series sets. I mean, seriously, I was an associate editor at Bullz-Eye for five years, and I’m pretty sure a good three of those years were spent watching and reviewing TV-DVD sets. As far as sheer memorability goes, though, the fondest marathon that leaps to mind for me is actually from before those days. When my now-wife and I first started dating, I went through the usual motions of trying to sell her on some of my favorite movies and TV shows, and although they didn’t all take (sorry, Manchurian Candidate), one that absolutely did was Twin Peaks. I started slow, bringing over the pilot episode, but when she enjoyed that, I started bringing over my VHS collector’s set of the rest of the series one tape at a time, since each had four or five episodes on it. Somewhere in the middle of the series, however, I had to head home early for some reason, so I left her watching the show without me. Maybe an hour or so later, after I’d already crawled into bed, that I got a frantic phone call from her, demanding to know where the next tape was, because she’d just finished Episode 14 and absolutely had to see what was going to happen next. Although she begrudgingly accepted my sleepy reply (“I promise I’ll bring it over tomorrow, baby”), she wasn’t happy about it. Nor did she forget about it, either: When she accompanied me to a CW function during one of my first Television Critics Association press tours, back when Reaper was still on the air, she was all too quick to relate the story to Leland Palmer himself. When she told him the cliffhanger I’d left her on, he actually turned to me and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” I hadn’t been originally, but, man, I sure was at that moment.
How much do I love film festivals? Put it this way: my favorite new toy this week was the app for the Toronto International Film Festival, which I downloaded to my phone and kept compulsively checking and rechecking to see what was playing, even though I was very unlikely to make any of these screenings, what with me being in Texas and all. But in the early ’90s, when I was still in college, I was in New Orleans, and I had the best job I will ever have in my life, working in the office of the fledgling New Orleans Film Festival. The best part was handling traffic management for all the shorts and features that came in through the transom, accompanied with a pleading letter, a $15 entry fee, and, in one case, a Xerox copy of the filmmaker’s paid receipt for his semester schedule, as if to prove that he really had taken that directing class. I don’t know how 800-pound gorillas like TIFF or Sundance do it, but in New Orleans, in the festival’s fourth year of operations, I would bicycle up to the post office every couple of days, empty the contents of our box into my rucksack, bicycle home to my shotgun-shack apartment, run the tapes through my VCR, then divide them up into two-hour blocks and present them for consideration to the Official Screening Committee of the New Orleans Film Festival, which was everybody I knew who would watch anything if I gave them beer. I don’t know what was more fun: the endless, marathon solo sessions when I stayed up all night plowing through the stuff and preparing the schedules, trying to stagger the obvious, absolute dogs so that they wouldn’t overwhelm the Screening Committee members and I would never see these people again, or actually presenting them to the cinema-loving drunks piled on my couches, who tended to express their feelings about what they were seeing with wild, rapturous abandon (accompanied by pledges of eternal gratitude to me for having brought this work to their attention), streams of abusive vitriol (accompanied by profane denunciations of my mother for having borne me), and very little between. Made in the pre-YouTube era, most of the films I saw have since sunk without a trace, but some of them were pretty good, a few were amazing, and the whole experience was eye-opening. It may not be the news now that it felt like then, but an awful lot of people you’ll never hear of get some remarkable visions out of their heads and onto film before weighing the odds and deciding to apply for that job in the mortgage department. In fact, I had so much fun, and became so devoted to this stuff, that I totally neglected all my other duties in the office, and after the ’93 Festival wrapped, was justifiably shit-canned. It was worth it.
I recently completed a project that required me to sit in one spot for hours on end. I took this time to revisit Friday Night Lights for the first time since the episodes aired, a project I just completed this past weekend. I know it’s only been two years, but I had forgotten just how freaking good this series was. Here are some of my thoughts:
- One day, I’m going to get so bored that I draw a chart documenting the actor cross-pollination between FNL, Veronica Mars, One Tree Hill, and Grey’s Anatomy. It’s gonna happen.
- I remember disliking Lyla and Smash’s characters so much more when the first seasons aired. Time has been kind to them, in my estimation.
- The football body double for Michael B. Jordan was incredibly subpar. His body type was nothing like that kid’s. That drew me out of many of the latter-seasons football scenes.
- Jurnee Smollett’s hair extensions were just abysmal.
- I know this is well-trod ground around these parts, but I was an emotional wreck after this happened.
- One of the (many) things this series did well was introduce latter characters and make the audience care about them. (I know this is a realistic depiction, but I was surprised by how disappointed I was for Luke Cafferty. I guess we’re supposed to take some solace in the fact that he got away from the farm and out of Dillon, but I don’t think this is what he meant.)
I tend toward the obsessive in everything I do, so I’ve indulged in a lot of pop-culture marathons, including such memorable overdoses as watching four seasons of Survivor in two weeks and watching season three of Dexter in two marathon, mind-numbing sessions. My best marathon experience, though, is my annual month-long zombie movie marathon: one zombie movie a day, every day, for an entire month. Every year, my appreciation for the incredible depth and breadth of the zombie genre has grown, as has my understanding of just how many truly fucking awful zombie movies are out there. It’s part sweet, sweet indulgence and part test of my will to inflict punishment on myself, which is the essence of every marathon. I’ve done it every June since 2008 until this year, when the May 29 birth of my daughter meant I was lucky to find two hours a day to take a nap through most of June, much less two hours to watch the undead take over the world. In spite of the temporary setback imposed by my child, I intend to continue the tradition. I’m just moving it to October, which is probably a more appropriate month anyway. Plus, 31 days, vs. June’s 30, means I get to do an extra movie this year. Bonus!
I first read Aaron Cometbus’ series of zines, Cometbus, the way many punk kids did back in the day: by borrowing a bunch of them from a friend’s house or distro or co-op, then diving in. That first marathon was magic. Aaron, a veteran of the Bay Area punk scene who’s played in numerous legendary bands—including Crimpshrine, Pinhead Gunpowder (with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) and The Thorns Of Life (with Jawbreakers’ Blake Schwarzenbach)—writes spare, simple, yet cleverly crafted stories about his life as an itinerant artist, writer, and musician. Self-published and often written by hand rather than typed, Cometbus is fittingly intimate and deeply confessional; for decades, it’s helped create a through-line for the ever-evolving punk scene. And since my initial exposure to it, binging for a day or two on a dog-eared, fingerprint-smeared stack of Cometbus has always been my preferred method of immersion.
Genevieve mentioned Breaking Bad, which brought up feverish memories of my own; namely the fact that I had neglected to watch most of the second season when it aired, but had scheduled interviews with Vince Gilligan and others for a trip to the TCA press tour. So in the span of about three days, I popped in the DVDs AMC had so graciously sent me and watched that season’s horrible events play out all at once. Of course, I was never bored, and was eager to see the next episode, because Gilligan and company had so masterfully put me on the edge of my seat at the end of each installment. For some reason, though, it also brought up memories of my Mad Men season-one marathon, which I watched with my then-girlfriend, even though I had all the episodes piled up on my homemade DVR for months. I was glad I did that, though, as I got to see the episodes on my GF’s new flatscreen in all its upconverted DVD glory.