Experimenter

There's a lot that I could say about Experimenter. Like a lot of people I'm obsessed with Stanley Milgram, the psychologist whose work inspired this movie. Milgram spent much of his career studying how human beings respond to authority, and the results he got were fascinating and troubling in equal measure. He built a pretty convincing case that the sort of madness that turned seemingly rational Germans into bloodthirsty Nazis could afflict any society at any time if the conditions were right, and I could easily spend thousands of words debating the pros and cons of his controversial conclusions.

And I could certainly talk about the film as a film, since it over utilizes all of the post-modern techniques that the French New Wave invented fifty years ago, giving it a warmed over and pretentious sheen. For the most part I don't like French New Wave films - I find all of their self conscious quirks to be too distracting - but I can forgive them because at least they were innovative. But making a film in 2015 with a disjointed narrative? Where the characters talk directly to the camera? That's full of shots that are explicitly calling attention to the fact that you're watching a movie which is an inherently artificial thing to do? Well, that's just annoying.

However, I'm not really going to spend much time talking about either Milgram's experiments or the movie Experimenter because (quite frankly) doing so seems a bit superfluous. Hundreds of books have been written about the obedience experiments and I'm not sure that my two cents would add anything to the discussion, and Experimenter is so half-assed that giving it any sort of free advertising is morally counterproductive. No, I'd rather spend some time talking about an experiment I just conducted on myself.

You see, three years ago I first started going to the Hollywood Theater, mostly because they were home to Kung Fu cinema. Then two years ago I got a low level membership to the Hollywood because I wanted to get free popcorn every time I went to the movies. Then last year a Hollywood employee suggested that I sign up for their top dollar membership where you pay a lot up front but then you get into every movie for free all year. It was an intriguing proposition, but also a slightly stressful one - I would have to go to a lot of movies to end up breaking even.

After crunching the numbers I (semi-arbitrarily) decided that I would have to see a hundred movies in the theater to feel like I'd gotten my money's worth. That's a pretty high bar to clear... but it also seemed do-able, given that I watch a movie just about every day anyway. I forked over my money, I started a log-sheet of movies I'd seen, and then I made a serious effort to watch every single offering that looked interesting for an entire year.

Well, my membership expired last week and so the experiment is now over. Alas, I have to admit that I did not make it to a hundred. (I only made it to 86.) But nonetheless, I learned a lot during my year of reckless viewing.

Naturally, a lot of my discoveries were aesthetic in nature. I never researched the random filmsthat were playing before I got to the theater and all that gambling ended up giving me a better understanding of just how much amazing / insufferable art there is on the edges of mainstream culture. So, yes, I sat through a lot of disposable trifles like Experimenter, but then again I also saw a lot movies like Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter which aren't going to be for everyone but which were nonetheless interesting to me.

And of course I also enjoyed seeing cult movies with big crowds; I had previously seen Vanishing Point at home, but it was much more powerful on the big screen surrounded by an enthusiastic audience. Most importantly, my year of openness taught me a lot about how to balance being non-judgmental before you enter the theater with being critical during the movie and I feel like I'm a better cinephile for that.

Of course, several of my discoveries were personal, too. I always undertake big projects with a weird mixture of pride and shame. I'm aware that my ambition is laudable, but I'm also aware that the obsessive way I go about executing my goals can be off putting. A few years ago I set out to watch every single film that has ever won the Oscar for best picture, and when I scratched the last one off my list I felt a sense of accomplishment - but I also felt kind of empty, because I knew that was the sort of oddball project that only an OCD nerd would ever attempt.

At first my Hollywood project seemed like it would be just another half boast worthy / half cringe worthy experiment; I wanted to be able to say "oh, I really got my money's worth" but I was also worried that other people would think "he can't have much of a life if he's seeing a movie in the theater every other day." Fortunately, I ended the year feeling much less self conscious than I expected to, in large part because I ended up becoming friends with a lot of the people who work at the Hollywood. Yes, seeing damn near a hundred movies in the theater in a year is an achievement - but becoming part of a community and making connections with people who have similar interests is something I can actually be proud of.

I'm definitely going to re-up my membership because I enjoyed my time in the trenches for the most part. And as for those rare occasions where it didn't work out - well, I still gave myself credit for trying. That said, I think I might need to back away from some of round one's more obsessive aspects as I enter round two. Yes, it is good to be open-minded about culture but there's no point in punishing myself because I have to get my "money's worth"; I have to make sure that I'm only seeing movies at the Hollywood because its something I enjoy and not because it's an obligation I've forced upon myself. After all, it's all well and good to pursue a noble goal, but if you do so unquestioningly then you can end up going down some pretty dark alleys... Or at least that's what I've been told.

Winner: The Cat

Experimenter on IMDB