Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward the lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain... It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.
- Albert Camus, "The Myth of Sisyphus"
Almost exactly a year ago, I began the blog Shooting Down Pictures, primarily to chronicle a short-term project to view every film on the list of the 1000 greatest films of all time, as compiled by Bill Georgaris on his website, They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? Having finished watching 900 of the films on the list, I decided to savor the final 100 by blogging extensively about each entry as I viewed them. Eventually this desire to be both thoughtful and thorough in experiencing each title evolved into the video essays I regularly produce for the blog, a form of film criticism/filmmaking that I've especially enjoyed. By the end of 2007, I managed to watch over 40 films of the final 100, on pace to finish the project by early 2009 (later than my original goal but still not bad considering the amount of work I've put into each entry).
Around mid-December I noticed that Bill had announced on the TSP site that a new revision of the list would be rolling out by the end of December, with 139 replacements in the titles. Influenced by 284 newly acquired lists, it constituted the biggest revision of the list in quite some time. Needless to say, it has left a significant impact on my own project.
When I got my first look at the list, I was in the middle of preparing video essays for what was at the time #939 and #940 on my list of completed titles, My Brilliant Career and Hail Mary. To my chagrin, neither title was included on the new list. In fact, of the 40 TSP films that I've seen this year, 13 are no longer on the list. And overall, the 940 films I have seen from the previous version of the list have been reduced to 901 in the new revision. Just like that, I'm back to where I was a year ago!
In a way, it's a blessing, as I now get to watch more films for my project. But I should also admit to some discouragement, which is understandable given that on paper I am only one film closer to my goal than I was a year ago. (However, it is entirely possible for a future update of the TSP 1000 to include more films that I had already seen - indeed, this was the case with the previous two updates to the list). To be honest, I am more daunted by the practical matter of what to do with the films I've seen, numbered as they are on the left-hand menu. Should I renumber them to reflect their current position in my project (for example, #899 - Wild at Heart, would now be #875, and #937 - Il Posto would now be #901)? Should I leave them the way they are to reflect a historical record - if so then how do I distinguish between 2007's #901 (Land of Silence and Darkness) and 2008's #901 (Il Posto?). I'm calling on all my library, information sciences and other genius friends for help on this.
Ultimately, I come to a state of reflection not unlike the one described in the Camus passage quoted above on the tragically immortal Sisyphus, condemned as he is to forever push a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back to the bottom. I think such a condition applies not only to my particular project at this moment in its history, but to any similar completist undertaking. The plight of Sisyphus speaks to those living in the information age, overpopulated as it is with those who attempt to classify and consume the top 1000, 100, or even the top 10 of any medium of human experience. However helpful such efforts can be to consolidate our understanding of cinema, art, or life in general, the wonders of the world will always prove to be innumerable. Realizing this should provoke me and my fellow list-makers and list-chasers to put down their papers and spreadsheets and reflect on what these mad pursuits are good for in the first place.
I have long struggled between two states of mind: the objective-driven achiever vs. the reflective observer. I would be the last to deny the sense of pleasure I get as I check through each title of the TSP 1000, drawing ever closer to the goal of completion. But there have been moments in my life where after watching 3 or even 5 movies a day, I would feel empty or even nauseous, caught up in a mentality of compulsive consumption. (And as I look at the state of the world, our mass media culture and our increasingly polluted environment, I recognize this state of thoughtless consumption as an activity whose effects are poisonous to healthy living on multiple levels: physical, spiritual, environmental). This is why I wanted the final 100 films in my project to be not a heedless dash for the finish line, but an occasion for exploration, reflection and discovery. In other words, to experience the best kind of movie watching I can manage. These are, after all, the best films of all time.
This is why I've taken a lot of pleasure and even personal growth in the video essays I've produced for many of the films. With each new one I've tried to push myself a little further to see what I could do with the medium, relying less on conventional approaches towards film criticism or commentary, and experimenting with different forms, voices and perspectives. The essays will continue to be an essential feature of the Shooting Down Pictures project, and I will be actively seeking collaborators to help me further expand their range and depth.
So for now, we have another version of the top 1000 films of all time. But whether you've seen 900 of these films or just 9, I think the same rule applies: it's not about how many films you've seen, but how much you've gotten out of seeing them. This is the same point made by Camus in the final lines of his remarks on Sisyphus, our tragic mascot:
"Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart."
Just think of cinema as the stone we shall push upward all of our lives, and take heart.
A moment of silence for the films celebrated in 2007 at Shooting Down Pictures that are no longer on the TSP 1000:
Dames (Enright, Ray; 1934; US) video essay Evil Dead II (Raimi, Sam; 1987; US) video essay Hail Mary/Je Vous salue, Marie (Godard, Jean-Luc; 1985; France-Switzerland) Haine, La/Hate (Kassovitz, Mathieu; 1995; France) video essay Heiress, The (Wyler, William; 1949; US) video essay Hold Me While I'm Naked (Kuchar, George; 1966; US) video Inferno  (Argento, Dario; 1980; Italy) video essay Lovers, The/Les Amants (Malle, Louis; 1958; France) My Brilliant Career (Armstrong, Gillian; 1979; Australia) Official Story, The (Puenzo, Luis; 1985; Argentina) Quadrophenia (Roddam, Franc; 1979; UK) Still (Gehr, Ernie; 1969; US)