Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On Obsession

There has always been something not quite wired correctly in my head. I would say it was "wrong" but it harms no one and to me, it's rather natural. It's hard to describe, but suffice it to say, I get obsessive about certain things. I need to KNOW.

I remember when I was young, I would sit and sort my cards of the United States Presidents on the brown rug in the living room. They were the sort of cards that had a semi-glossy presidential portrait on one side and on the other a list of facts and stats coupled with a short bio. I'm sure my mother meant for me to learn about the Presidents, but instead I sorted them. I still remember the enigmatic painted faces of Thomas Jefferson or Franklin Pierce looking back at me as I sat for hours with them.

Instead of studying them however, I sorted them by number first, then I would pick a quality (like eye color, political party, home state, left-facing portrait, color necktie, etc.) and sort them, eliminate a pile, and pick a new quality to find the "Best" president in my deck of presidents. Sometimes I enjoyed the irony of picking a "Best" leader of the US from a combination of completely random and superficial categories.

(To me, the "best" was defined by the combination of random characteristics I pulled out of my head. To this day the definition of that word has continued to be fluid in this way. Ultimately, I think I enjoyed changing the basis of what the term, "best," meant just to see what the different outcome would be.)

After one or two cycles of this activity my butt would go numb and I would ask myself, "Why am I doing this? This sorting doesn't mean anything...I'm wasting time. Time I could be putting to better use drawing, or doing something fun." Then I would shuffle the deck and continue on, undeterred by self-doubt.

I feel like I've gotten past the need to sort things, though I occasionally sort all our movies in alphabetical order and I can't seem to do a good spring cleaning without getting sidetracked with alphabetizing or sorting. Generally, it starts with a spark, like an idea or subject, and then it continues as I need to consume all the information available.

In this vein, it seems every few months I get a new obsession. Previously it has been Hunter Thompson, Dorothy Parker, Giacomo Casanova, the health-craze of the early 1900s, and the comparison between Dante's Inferno and Milton's Paradise Lost. One summer when I was young, I read all the books I could find about utopian society and compared them. I also remembered trying to explain to my teachers why I didn't pick my books from the recommended summer reading list and went on my own. That was me...renegade reader.

This month's obsession is Charles Chaplin.

My fascination with Chaplin came about just like many of my interests, from a minor and only semi-related compulsive obsession brought on by an event or happening. It happens all too often and while it's normal for me, it may not be the norm for others.

It usually starts out that I see a movie, hear a song, or read something and either the subject or perhaps an actor/artist impresses me so much that I wish to see the rest of their work. I think it is so that I can get a better understanding of whether if it was role I admired or if they were talented in general. So I start through their career (in no particular order) and go about watching their works. I do appreciate talent. I love seeing how someone can have so much talent and then see how they wield it.

This habit usually fills me with a certain amount of shame actually. I'm not a person who squeals over a handsome actor and puts their poster on the wall. I don't watch those entertainment shows religiously and I certainly don't read the tabloids. Entertainers are people who work in the public eye, not people I would agonize over. However, I feel very paranoid that I might falsely project that quality, so I normally just keep the whole thing quiet.

Let me illustrate what I mean. In one particular case, it all started with Iron Man...I never noticed before but Robert Downey Jr. is a fantastic actor! And because of this whole compulsion, I just had to see what else he did. After a few rather good movies like Fur: The Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, I found an older movie of his called Chaplin that scored him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The movie was wonderful and got me thinking about those heady days of film class in college and watching the great silent film stars like Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and, of course, Charlie Chaplin.

Coupled with a small bout of a blue mood, I thought, "What would be a better thing to cheer me up than a Chaplin movie?" They were easy enough to find on YouTube or Netflix. I saw a snippet from The Circus on YouTube and I was hooked. As I started to familiarize myself with Chaplin's works I found that each one was a complex series of emotions wrapped up in simplistic vignettes. His movies are the perfect combination of humor, humanism, and sentimentality with a dash of sadness and tragedy. How could I not appreciate them?

What really interested me with these amazing movies is the man behind the mustache and underneath that derby hat. I am currently reading his autobiography, originally titled, My Autobiography, and I found that I admire this man who came from poverty to become one of the most famous men in the world. He was a genius. He acted, directed, and even composed the music to his works. He came at the birth of film and ushered in a quality and creativity that I do think is rare even now.

At times my obsessiveness brings me shame and uneasiness but this time, for having discovered such an interesting subject to study, I am pleased that it brought me to this path. Perhaps I shouldn't say that I am wired incorrectly...just differently. I can't wait to see where it leads me next.

No comments: