Monday, July 1, 2002
I don't go to the movies. I don't know when exactly I gave it up, but I long ago found that so few first-run films really benefited from the big-screen experience in a significant way that I couldn't justify giving up the perks that come with watching films in the comfort of my home. I think "Lord of the Rings" was the last time I decided it would be worth the trouble.
For me, that's the only reason to bother seeing a new release. Once a film is released it exists forever, so I'll either get around to "Spider-Man" or "Star Wars Episode II" on video or cable or I won't.
Believe me, I love movies. I watch a lot of them. But the films I care about are mainly quirky little independents or old classics. When I turn on my set, the first channel I check, invariably, is Turner Classic Movies, followed if needed by American Movie Classics, Independent Film Channel and Sundance.
Geek that I am, any pursuit that I can enhance with my trusty laptop and an Internet connection, I will. I often can be found sandwiched between my La-Z-Boy and my Sony Vaio. As I watch movies I sit and surf. My destination of choice is of course http://IMDb.com, the Internet Movie Database.
I love this site. Talk about your degrees of separation. I pull up information on whatever film I'm watching and peruse the cast listings. Who is that character actor playing Carl, the lovable waiter in "Casablanca?" Why it's S.Z. Sakall. What else was he in? Wow, 90 films, the last being "The Student Prince" in 1954, the first, "Rutschbahn" in 1928. Oh look, he was in "Christmas in Connecticut" with Barbara Stanwyck. I like that movie. So was Sydney Greenstreet. Hey, wasn't he in "Casablanca" too? And so it goes.
When I get tired of playing connect-the-dots, I'll read the plot summary, reader comments, reviews from other sources, and famous quotes from the film. This site is too rich with features to list them all here.
Where does a resource like this come from? According to IMDb lore the database has been evolving since 1990 and has been on the Web since 1993, practically as long as there has been a Web. In the early days of the Web founder and still managing director Col Needham was amazed the first time the site got 100 visits in a day. Today the site serves more than 65 million pages to more than 3.5 million readers each month.
Of course there are other great online resources for film buffs. There are sites like Rotten Tomatoes (http://www.rottentomatoes.com), which compiles all major reviews of new releases and generates quality ratings based on that information. Naturally both the Independent Film Channel and the Sundance Channel have comprehensive sites at http://www.ifctv.com and http://www.sundancechannel.com respectively, where schedules and information about the films they broadcast can be found.
If you're into checking out independent films made for distribution directly on the Web, you might want to check out http://www.ifilm.com and http://www.atomfilms.com, two sites where independent filmmakers have found a way to get their work in front of an audience without having to go through traditional distribution mechanisms.
There are some amazing niche sites on the Web for fans of very specific artists, genres or franchises. The family of the late writer and director Preston Sturges lovingly maintain a site at http://www.prestonsturges.com. Sturges was the first filmmaker to direct a film for which he'd also written the script and the winner of the first Oscar for best original screenplay for that picture, 1940's "The Great McGinty."
Fans of Charlie Chan films can learn more about the series featuring Inspector Chan of the Honolulu police at http://www.charliechan.net . There are countless shrines to films and actors to be found on the Web, chances are someone has paid homage to just about any subject you can think of. You'd be hard-pressed to find a site that's better designed, more rich in content, more thoughtfully organized or touched with a more deft sense of humor. Its message board is a haven for gentle souls with far too much time on their hands, like most of the best of the Web.
Give yourself a treat. Find a good film, put down the remote and grab the mouse. An enhanced viewing experience is just a click away. Just try and keep the popcorn out of the keyboard.