A curious thing happened to me the other day. I flicked through the channels to find Shanghai Knights. Of course, that isn’t inherently strange of itself. The problem is that I am fairly sure that I watched it… but I can’t remember anything about it. I am a pretty major film nerd, as this blog might attest. However, I could remember nothing of the film in question. I was especially surprised to see Aidan Gillen, who has emerged as one of my favourite Irish talents of recent years, playing the villain. I have to admit, the sensation took me a bit by surprise.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a photographic memory. I have a great mind for useless trivia and citations, but I’m generally fairly crap at remembering useful stuff. What did I have for dinner the night before yesterday? I could probably guess, but I’d be unlikely to remember. What colour was my family’s first car? No idea. I am good at broad strokes, but I’ll never pretend to have a memory well-suited to the finer details in life.
However, my memory has attuned itself quite well to popular culture. I’m a master of “who is that guy?”, to the point where extended family will pause the television and call me into the room to consult on a particularly puzzling case. My better half quietly punches me in the arm while I run through the filmographies of the people involved in the recent BBC2 period drama Parade’s End. “From the writer of The Bourne Ultimatum“ tends to be the one that earns the punch. I can remember obscure bit-part actors from minor flings with auteurs decades ago. I am always happy to see Mark Margolis on-screen. I have a soft-spot for Robert Wisdom. That sort of thing.
I take pride in being able to remember a great deal about film I’ve seen, even if it’s not a great one. Even if it’s a terrible one. In fact, terrible films tend to be easy enough to remember, sticking in my head and sometimes quite difficult to dislodge. There’s an entire corner of my brain that is devoted to Nicolas Cage, where his own unique takes on seemingly inane pieces of dialogue bring back memories of great physical pain and anguish. The “best of” includes gems like “not the bees!” and “he’s using words to evoke emotions!”
So the fact I could not remember anything of Shanghai Knights took me by surprise. There are excuses, of course. I have probably conflated it with Shanghai Noon, the first film in the series, of which I have a much stronger recollection. Indeed, the strongest element of Shanghai Knights is Aidan Gillen playing a fairly generic badguy, and it’s easy to see how his understated performance might have skirted under my radar at the time. I would first properly encounter Gillen on the Gaiety Stage a year or two later, before jumping into The Wire another year or so after that. Since than, Gillen has remained an actor to watch.
Still, I can’t help feel a bit bad that I could recall nothing of the film. After all, it isn’t the worst film. In fact, it’s not necessarily a bad film. It’s very generic, very safe, very predictable. It is, without intending this as an insult, very average. Of course, not that I read that back, it sound kind of harsh, but it’s not. It’s diverting, it’s entertaining. It’s just not exceptional in any way, shape or form. And I’m fairly sure there are countless movies I’ve seen that are just as average that I can remember with a great deal more clarity.
I suppose it had to happen eventually. After all, we live in an age where there’s already a nearly infinite supply of movies out there to watch. And there must – logically – be some sort of limit on the amount of space my brain can devote to the countless films that I watch. In fact, I’m fairly sure that I could not successfully rhyme off all the movies I’ve seen this year. (Although, if you gave me a list, I could probably remember details of all of them.)
So it seems inevitable that my memory will conflate or condense certain films, and purge others from my fading memory. I’m sure there are quite a few other films out there that will evoke a similar feeling from me in the years to come, as I stumble across them for various reasons. Already, I can feel the finer points of Grand Canyon fading slightly from my memory. I’m sure that, in a year or two, I’d only remember the name. (If even that, I may watch it with faint sense of recognition.)
Perhaps this is a reason that I maintain a blog like this. I imagine, in a few decades, looking back and seeing all manner of strange movies listed here, wondering how I found the time or the energy to devote to cinema. Hm. I’ll probably even forget this post.
Filed under: Movies