I haven't written about it much, but one of my new cinematic websessions is called Letterbox'd (www.letterboxd.com).
I'm sure it does the same things as a hundred other movie database websites. It allows you to rank and review movies, then use the reviews of a network of friends to determine which movies you might like. It also allows you to make lists and keep a running diary of the order you watch your movies, including day and date. Nothing earth-shattering -- but I like it for the simple reasons that it's got a nice design and it serves a need.
See, if I record the dates of all the movies I see, I don't have to worry about the many movie lists I keep on my computer at home, if my computer dies and I don't have a recent backup. The list I'm most directly duplicating through Letterbox'd is a Microsoft Word document called "movie order," which has the date of every movie I've seen since February 22, 2002.
I have a number of other lists I keep, such as an alphabetical listing of all the movies I've seen, lists of movies I've seen by release year, etc. But only the list of movies I've seen in order would be necessary to help me rebuild these other lists in the event of a catastrophic data loss. That's essentially the "list of record," where every movie I see is delineated in order -- reminding me both what I saw, and what secondary lists I therefore need to update.
And so for the past nine months I've been steadily adding the contents of "movie order.doc" into Letterbox'd, going in backwards chronological order from January of this year, when I first discovered the site. I made quick and steady progress back to the end of 2005, then took a break for a couple months. Just lately I've picked up again, and am now back to July of 2002, with only a couple dozen more titles to enter before I'm all caught up. At which point I will begin the process of adding the many titles I watched before I started keeping track of the dates I saw them -- just to be completist.
See, when you add a new movie, you are given the choice of whether to specify the date you saw it. Once you click that box, it defaults to the current date -- the most relevant date for most Letterbox'd users, who probably add new movies as soon as they've seen them. But to add older movies, you can drill down into the date field and move back in time -- a day, a month, a year, a decade. Which has all been very useful in my current project.
Only yesterday afternoon, when adding John Lee Hancock's The Rookie -- which I watched on July 8, 2002 -- did I realize how far back you can go.
For my purposes, I hadn't needed to go back beyond the page that includes the years from 1994 to 2005. But I assumed (correctly) that you could go back earlier than that. Don't forget about my list-obsessed, film-obsessed predecessors, who have been keeping movie lists for decades longer than I have. Letterbox'd would need to cater to them as well.
So I clicked back 12 years at a time and saw that indeed, the days and dates went back through the 1980s, 1970s, 1960s, 1950s, 1940s, 1930s and so on, all the way back to when the Lumiere brothers were first introducing us to a concept called "moving pictures." Never mind that this gives you the option of saying that you saw a movie decades before it was made. So what if you want to say you watched Inception in 1914? That's your business.
I did, however, find it funny to note that they've programmed calendar dates back to a time before movies even existed. It's one thing to say you watched a particular movie before it was made. It's another to say that you watched a particular movie before any movies were made.
Yet here was Letterbox'd, honoring my request to go back through the centuries. The 1800s went by in a flash, and then it was on to the 1700s, back to before the Revolutionary War. And soon, here was The Rookie, a movie about a baseball coach who gets to pitch in the major leagues for the first time after his 40th birthday, being watched by the pilgrims as they were landing on Plymouth Rock.
But it didn't stop there. Here was Columbus making his own North American landfall. Here was the Magna Carta being signed. Here was Lief Ericson sailing the seas and landing in North America 500 years before Columbus. (Incidentally, why does so much of the history I know have to do with who landed in North America, and when?)
And then came a thousand years where who knows what the hell was going on, and finally, back to the year zero: the birth of Christ. I tell you, The Rookie was a real hit with the shepherds and wisemen, who shared myrrh-flavored popcorn while watching the film projected on the side of the manger.
I decided to give this little exercise a rest around 350 B.C. Then I went forward and set my viewing of The Rookie as December 25, 0000. Which was a Monday, in case you were wondering.
The site wasn't entirely able to comply with my request. In my diary, it showed the viewing as occurring on December 25, 0001. Then when I clicked in to adjust the date, it assumed I must have been talking about 2001 and gave me dates from that year to adjust. Except, duh, The Rookie didn't even come out until the spring of 2002. Stupid website!
Okay, going back to when Christ was born was too much. So I decided on a more reasonable, yet still ridiculous, date: February 1, 1852. A good 40 years before anything like a movie was seen by anyone.
Yep. It took it that time. When I went in to edit the date, I did indeed have the option of admitting I'd made a mistake, and that I had in fact seen The Rookie on February 2nd, 1852, not February 1st.
Letterbox'd at least does have rules when it comes to the future. Although you can sail forward as many centuries into the future as you want -- I stopped at the year 3000 -- you don't have the ability to select any of the days. In computer parlance, they are "grayed out." So you can't actually say you watched a movie on a day that hasn't occurred yet.
So to summarize:
Time travel into the past? Entirely possible. We're withholding judgment pending further inquiry.
Time travel into the future?
Now that's absurd.