I pride myself on being something of a cinephile – so much so, that I yearn to someday call myself a cineaste, which I understand means the same thing but sounds more erudite and, frankly, less creepy. It is this very aspiration that has led to my secret shame: I’m a Netflix horder. I have films sent that I neither watch nor return. Nor intend to, it seems.You see, watching some films is like flossing one’s teeth – not entirely pleasant but you know it’s good for you, so you intend to do it. But you don’t. This is how I feel about my current “queue.” I quite liked director Hal Hartley’s “Henry Fool,” a seriocomic portrait of a seedy would-be poet, braggart and liar who wreaks emotional havoc on those around him. Moreover, I absolutely adored its improbable sequel “Fay Grim,” which takes place a decade later and posits that the fictions woven by the prequel’s titular character were all true. Brilliant. So, why can I not bring myself to watch the same director’s “Possible Films: Short Works by Hal Hartley 1994-2004,” which has languished on an end table in my house for nine weeks?
Surely, the shorts have to be at least watchable to bother releasing on DVD. But I haven’t even opened the red envelope. Worst, there’s probably some Hartley fan out there waiting for the disk, but my guilt for not watching it when paired with the guilt for not yet returning it suspends me in a kind of paradoxic psychic equanimity. Ditto Maya Deren’s experimental films, among them “Meshes of the Afternoon,” which I’ve lied about seeing so often that I might as well continue lying seeing as it likely won’t live up to the imagined version I’ve created in my mind over the last 20 years. I still haven’t watched the disc, but I won’t send it back because I feel I might – just might – someday watch it.
How does Netflix feel about this? Even after reducing my account to the “2 at-a-time Unlimited” plan, Netflix is still getting $13.99 so I’m sure they don’t care. In fact, they haven’t made a peep and why would they since I could have purchased both discs at full retail prices from what they’ve already made from me? The irony here is that I still frequent the local independent video store upwards of two times a week for films I actually want to watch. The double irony is that I invariably incur fees from returning my selections late. And it’s worth every penny.