On 16 December of last year, Macaulay Culkin posted to YouTube a video of himself eating a slice of pizza:
I watched it and showed it to some friends because, on the one hand, how random! Macaulay Culkin! Eating pizza! Lol! One million other people and counting apparently felt similarly.
The video fascinates because it depicts a star (or a former child star) doing something utterly mundane. The presentation is simple, stripped down. The shot is static and there are no cuts. Culkin looks embarrassed to even be there, to be watched eating. There’s no glitz, no glamor. The guy eats pizza just like you and me, even tearing off the crust (though I would’ve finished the rest of the slice).
At the same time, the video fascinates because it’s awful—it’s “so bad it’s good.” That reaction is breathlessly conveyed in the Time Magazine blog post, “Questions We Asked Ourselves While Watching Macaulay Culkin Eat a Slice of Pizza,” which presents no fewer than forty-six questions about the video, in pseudo-live-blogging fashion:
Why does he look like he really doesn’t want to be wherever he is, or eating the slice?
Has he ever eaten a slice of pizza before?
Why does he look so sad?
Does he know he’s being filmed?
Do the pizza oils get trapped in his beard?
Why does he keep looking up?
Forty-six questions is a lot of questions, prompting a forty-seventh: “How many times did author Eric Dodds watch the damn thing?” And one million views is a lot of views. Thus, despite being banal, despite being awful, the video is somehow also something else. Would it be fair to call it transcendent? Even sublime? And if so, why? Because it purportedly offers us unmediated access to a former star, now desperately embarrassing himself?
But far from being random, or mundane, or excruciatingly candid, Culkin’s pizza video is a put-on, its every second pure artifice. For starters, it’s a loving recreation of another work—a short film of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger:
Over the past 15 years, I’ve kept track of every movie I’ve watched. What started as a simple task has grown increasingly complicated over time, partly due to ways in which movies have changed, but mainly due to how my thoughts about movies have changed. Still, I’ve kept up the habit, first in a composition tablet (now lost), then a sprawling Excel file (a glimpse of which is above—click through or click here for a larger image). Over time, my list of titles has grown to include more relevant information: the date, location, director, run time, year, whom I saw it with, random thoughts I had.
After 15 years, I’ve seen 1925 features. (I haven’t counted the shorts, or any movies I’ve half-seen—and my list doesn’t take into consideration most of the questions I raised in my last post, “How Many Movies Are There?“, as to what constitutes a feature.) That doesn’t sound like too many, not after fifteen years of avid cinephilia. But to put it in some perspective, that’s roughly 128 feature films/year, or about one every three days. Again, this doesn’t include shorts, or TV episodes, or rewatching any of those films—it’s just counts the total of unique feature films. (I used to watch a lot of experimental shorts that aren’t included here, and I’ve taught film classes, which means I’ve seen lots of films numerous times.) (It also doesn’t take into consideration the fact that I’m a writer first and foremost, a cinéaste second.)
We found last week that there have been at least 268,246 features made. (Since then, the IMDb’s count has grown to 268,601.) So I’ve seen little more than .7% of them—and remember, I think that IMDb count far too low. I’ve seen a drop in a drop in a bucket!
But how many movies does anyone ever see? How does my viewing tally compare to, say, a critic like Roger Ebert’s?