The 300 Week 52: One Year Later, I’ve Become a Conquistador of the Useless


Hey there, filmgoers, and welcome to the final installment of The 300, a weekly chronicle of my moviegoing in the year 2018. I wound up seeing 317 movies in theaters last year, a feat made possible thanks to the ruinous business model of MoviePass, the sustainable business model of AMC A-List, a membership to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, covering the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and the 2018 New York Film Festival, and attending additional press screenings. Without all of this, The 300 would not be feasible.

There were three rules for The 300:

  • The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film.
  • I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue.
  • While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times.

I only saw one movie in theaters for the final week of 2018. My moviegoing slowed down to a much more manageable and enjoyable pace, which gave me more time to catch up with family and friends during the holidays, and to get other work completed. I spent more than 23 days in movie theaters last year, which is probably more time in movie theaters than my last five years of moviegoing combined. This is really made me understand how I spend my time, how I waste my time, and what other things I could be doing with my time.

This experience has deepened my love for the art of film. So many movies in my head are locked into conversations with one another, a network of art calling, responding, and tangling into new associative knots. Yet it’s so absurd to trek back and forth to the movies this often to the detriment of my other passions. This love sometimes felt like an obligation that made me neglect other loves in my life—reading, writing, visual art, just being around others. I remember telling people that doing The 300 made me feel like a child who ate way too much candy corn; for most people, just a handful a year is sufficient, and any more is bound to make them sick.

Burden of Dreams - "The Birds Don't Sing, They Screech in Pain"

When Werner Herzog completed his film Fitzcarraldo, he dubbed himself a “conquistador of the useless.” He dragged a 300-ton steam ship up a mountain, and felt no one else would ever attempt something so foolish. What a spectacle, but what an absurdity. It gave us Fitzcarraldo, however, one of my favorite movies of all time (and one I wish I’d been able to see on the big screen this year). The absurdity also gave us Les Blank’s excellent documentary Burden of Dreams, which is less of a straightforward making-of and more of a portrait of Herzog’s obsessiveness (again, another movie I wish I caught on the big screen in 2018).

Now that this absurd spectacle of moviegoing has ended, I feel tired, proud in a self-effacing way, reflective, and yet also blank, as if wondering what’s next. I will never do this again, but I wonder what other task I’ll set for myself this year. What other useless, lovely thing will I do? The notion of the conquistador of the useless has probably been in the back of my mind this entire time, and it seems the only way to think of myself at the end of this peculiar ordeal.

I’ve written tens of thousands of words about going to the movies in the last 52 weeks. I look forward to writing tens of thousands more in 2019, though most of these words will wind up in my fiction. I have spent a year filling my head with stories, and now I am eager to return to the joys of telling my own.

And so, onward.

317 of 300: Cat People (1942)

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Tom Conway
Country:  USA
Seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
Monday, December 31st

Cat People is a masterwork of fear and repression, with Jacques Tourneur playing with ambiguity throughout the shadowy film. It’s a film that suggests readings without giving conclusive answers. The audience gets to participate in the mysteries of the film, as if stalking it at night, always just at the visible edge of the fog.

We are never quite sure if Irena (Simone Simon) is a supernatural figure or a psychiatric case study. Does she suffer from accursed shapeshifting? Is she merely stressed by social pressures and childhood trauma/superstition? Tourneur allows these conflicting possibility to inform this psychological portrait. Irena’s anxieties about the role of a wife (i.e., a sexual being subservient to her husband and his desires) are coupled with cultural pressures to act more American. She is a Serbian immigrant with her own beliefs, yet she’s meant to discard them for the sake of cultural assimilation. She is a woman with her own body who feels a need to surrender her body because it’s what the institution of marriage demands; and yet she is also a proper woman, and women’s sexuality is something forbidden and not meant to be explored or expressed. This is a Christian nation, by gosh. The individual, pressured by outside forces that become internalized, submits or resists. The resistance might be in the form of a shapeshifting cat person, or a nervous breakdown.

This psychological portrait of Irena helps inform different psychological portraits of the other characters in the film. Think of paintings in an art gallery on opposite facing walls of the same room. What implied conversations might be taking place between these images? From Irena’s point of view, Cat People is a movie about the terror of cultural expectations. From the point of view of Oliver (Kent Smith) or Alice (Jane Randolph), Cat People could be seen as a movie about the fear of the Other. Irena is not from this country, and her beliefs are alien. She’s not like us. The shadowy, unseen cat person who stalks out of frame and only in silhouette could be the monstrous manifestation of American xenophobia. What is foreign is terrifying, especially a foreign woman.

Watching Cat People again, I was struck by one particular scene of repression. Irena, afraid of sexual intimacy, keeps her door shut while Oliver stands outside. She falls to her knees and gazes at the knob, which is roughly groin-level to her husband on the other side. She reaches for the knob but cannot take hold of it. How uber-Freudian. She and Oliver also seem incapable of emotional intimacy together, which is why they have so many secrets and shadows between them, even when they’re in the same room.

The 300: By the Numbers Breakdown

Now that we have come to the end, here is the final breakdown of The 300. You can compare the progress made to the breakdowns from The 300 Week 50The 300 Week 40The 300 Week 30, The 300 Week 20, and The 300 Week 10.

Movies by Decade

2010s – 184
2000s – 16
1990s – 16
1980s – 29
1970s – 29
1960s – 18
1950s – 7
1940s – 7
1930s – 6
1920s – 5

Number of 2018 Movies Watched – 128

Movies by Country

USA – 163
US co-productions – 4
Argentina – 2
Argentine co-productions – 4
Australia – 3
Australian co-productions – 1
Belarus – 1
Belgian co-productions – 3
Canada – 1
Chile – 1
Chilean co-productions – 1
China – 5
Chinese co-productions – 3
Czechoslovakia – 1
Denmark – 2
France – 12
French co-productions – 5
Georgian co-productions – 1
Germany – 3
German co-productions – 2
Hong Kong – 8
Hungary – 1
Indonesia – 1
Iran – 3
Iranian co-productions – 1
Israeli co-productions – 1
Italy – 1
Italian co-productions – 5
Jamaica – 1
Japan – 21
Japanese co-productions – 1
Mali – 1
Mexican co-productions – 1
Netherlands – 2
New Zealand co-productions – 1
Philippines – 2
Polish co-productions – 2
Russia – 2
South Korea – 5
Spain – 1
Sweden – 1
Taiwan – 1
Taiwanese co-productions – 1
Thailand – 1
UK – 10
UK co-productions – 18
Yugoslavian co-productions – 1

Multiple Films by the Same Director(s)

Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio (The Salt Mines; The Transformation)
Chantal Akerman (Dis-Moi; Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles; Les Rendez-vous d’Anna)
Robert Altman (Nashville; Brewster McCloud; McCabe & Mrs. Miller)
Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox; Isle of Dogs)
Chang Cheh (Five Deadly Venoms; Shaolin Temple)
Dorothy Davenport (The Red Kimona; Linda)
Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In; White Material; High Life; Trouble Every Day)
Terence Fisher (The Revenge of Frankenstein; The Devil Rides Out)
Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine; Safe)
Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters; After Life; Still Walking)
Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman; Disobedience)
Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl; The Headless Woman; La CienagaZama)
Hayao Miyazaki (PonyoNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind)
F.W. Murnau (Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans; Faust)
Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?; They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead)
Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon; 3 Faces)
Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin; Ratcatcher; Morvern Callar; You Were Never Really Here)
Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders; Happy as Lazzaro)
Hong Sang-soo (Hotel by the River; Grass)
Paul Schrader (First Reformed; Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters)
Steven Spielberg (The Post; Ready Player One; E.T.: The Extraterrestrial)
Hiroshi Teshigahara (Woman in the Dunes; Pitfall)
Jean Vigo (L’Atalante; Zero for Conduct)
Masaaki Yuasa (Lu Over the Wall; Mind Game; The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl)

Films by Women Directors

So in addition to The 300, I’m also doing 52 Films By Women, in which I try to see 52 feature films in theaters that were directed or co-directed by women.

In 2018, I saw 70 feature films in theaters directed by women.

Daughters of the Dust (1991), dir. Julie Dash
Loving Vincent (2017), dir. Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
Soft Fiction (1979), dir. Chick Strand
Dis-moi (1980), dir. Chantal Akerman
The Ties That Bind (1985), dir. Su Friedrich
The Salt Mines (1990), dir. Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio
The Transformation (1995), dir. Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio
Strange Days (1995), dir. Kathryn Bigelow
The Party (2017), dir. Sally Potter
Oh Lucy! (2017), dir. Atsuko Hirayanagi
Scary Mother (2017), dir. Ana Urushadze
Ava (2017), dir. Sadaf Foroughi
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), dir. Lynne Ramsay
Ratcatcher (1999), dir. Lynne Ramsay
Morvern Callar (2002), dir. Lynne Ramsay
You Were Never Really Here (2017), dir. Lynne Ramsay
The Holy Girl (2004), dir. Lucrecia Martel
The Headless Woman (2008), dir. Lucrecia Martel
La Cienaga (2001), dir. Lucrecia Martel
Zama (2017), dir. Lucrecia Martel
Love, Gilda (2018), dir. Lisa D’Apolito
Nico, 1988 (2017), dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli
Island of the Hungry Ghosts (2018), dir. Gabrielle Brady
Cargo (2017), dir. Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke
O.G. (2018), dir. Madeleine Sackler
State Like Sleep (2018), dir. Meredith Danluck
All About Nina (2018), dir. Eva Vives
General Magic (2018), dir. Matt Maude and Sarah Kerruish
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018), dir. Desiree Akhavan
Roll Red Roll (2018), dir. Nancy Schwartzman
Time for Ilhan (2018), dir. Norah Shapiro
The Feeling of Being Watched (2018), dir. Assia Boundaoui
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland (2018), dir. Kate Davis and David Heilbroner
Blockers (2018), dir. Kay Cannon
Angels Wear White (2017), dir. Vivian Qu
Let the Sunshine In (2017), dir. Claire Denis
Sleepless Nights (1978), dir. Becky Johnston
RBG (2018), dir. Betsy West and Julie Cohen
One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977), dir. Agnès Varda
Summer 1993 (2017), dir. Carla Simón
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), dir. Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017), dir. Mouly Surya
Leave No Trace (2018), dir. Debra Granik
Smithereens (1982), dir. Susan Seidelman
On Happiness Road (2017), dir. Sung Hsin-Yin
White Material (2009), dir. Claire Denis
The Red Kimona (1925), dir. Walter Lang and Dorothy Davenport
Linda (1929), dir. Dorothy Davenport
Wanda (1970), dir. Barbara Loden
Tremble All You Want (2017), dir. Akiko Ohku
Cameraperson (2016), dir. Kirsten Johnson
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), dir. Chantal Akerman
The Wonders (2014), dir. Alice Rohrwacher
Madeline’s Madeline (2018), dir. Josephine Decker
Skate Kitchen (2018), dir. Crystal Moselle
The Hows of Us (2018), dir. Cathy Garcia-Molina
I Am Not a Witch (2017), dir. Rungano Nyoni
Kusama: Infinity (2018), dir. Heather Lenz
Too Late to Die Young (2018), dir. Dominga Sotomayor Castillo
Variety (1983), dir. Bette Gordon
Happy as Lazzaro (2018), dir. Alice Rohrwacher
Private Life (2018), dir. Tamara Jenkins
High Life (2018), dir. Claire Denis
Trouble Every Day (2001), dir. Claire Denis
Shirkers (2018), dir. Sandi Tan
Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (1978), dir. Chantal Akerman
The Long Dumb Road (2018), dir. Hannah Fidell
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018), dir. Marielle Heller
Good Manners (2017), dir. Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra
Destroyer (2018), dir. Karyn Kusama

Number of Movies by Month

January – 32
February – 27
March – 23
April – 47
May – 24
June – 23
July – 25
August – 28
September – 28
October – 23
November – 24
December – 13

Average number of movies per month: 26.4

Top 10 Theaters for The 300

Metrograph – 51
The Film Society of Lincoln Center – 46
BAM Rose Cinemas – 32
Cinépolis Chelsea – 27
Quad Cinema – 25
IFC Center – 14
Roxy Cinema Tribeca – 11
Angelika Film Center – 9
AMC Empire 25 – 8
AMC Saratoga 14 – 7

The Twitter Thread for Each Movie in The 300

If you would like to track the progress of The 300 in a different form, you can check out the Twitter thread for The 300 I started last January. It is threaded from the final post going backwards to the first.

A Mixtape Inspired by The 300

Here is a mixtape/playlist I made for The 300, featuring songs in movies I saw or songs that fit thematically with movies I watched in 2018.

“There was no pain, no joy, no excitement, no relief, no happiness, no sound, not even a deep breath. All I grasped was a profound uselessness, or, to be more precise, I merely penetrated deeper into its mysterious realm. I saw the ship, returned to its element, right itself with a weary sigh. Today, on Wednesday, the 4th of November 1981, shortly after twelve noon, we got the ship from Rio Camisea over a mountain into the Rio Urubamba. All that is to be reported is this: I took part.”

Conquest of the Useless, Werner Herzog


Final runtime of The 300: 33,395 minutes (23 days, 4 hours,  35 minutes)

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.