I like to watch

Doug Lilly

My Dylan booksThis is the time of year where you may turn to a newspaper or magazine to search for recommended titles to read over the summer holidays (apologies to our Corpus readers in the northern hemisphere).

However I am not a “reader”.  Those who have seen my not too insignificant collection of books might find this suprising.  Over more than 45 of my adult years I have built a library of books that I had (and probably still have) every intention of reading – some day.  Many have been leafed through and partially read. Many more retain their mint smell and feel.  My vast, obsessive and largely unread collection of books on Bob Dylan fool many into thinking I am some sort of expert on the man.

Sure, I have always read and written a lot for pleasure, education and work. However for reasons I have yet to fully fathom, I have rarely been able to pick up a work of fiction and stay with it to the end. At times I have thought that I just don’t have the attention span or the upbringing to be that guy who devours fiction. I didn’t grow up in a house full of books and didn’t acquire the necessary discipline and rigour that an early reading habit or a humanities degree would have given me. Many times my attempt to read a novel will have me drift off elsewhere. Not because I am bored, but because the words stimulate my imagination and send me to places that the author may not have intended and then they have lost me. The total number of works of fiction that I have read to date from cover to cover are significantly less than my age in years.

One thing the physical presence of my book collection does bring me though (besides the guilt of not having read them) is a sense of comfort, warmth and calm. It’s a visual thing. Which brings me to the point of this post – I like to watch. Watching films, television series and documentaries keeps my imagination more focused on the subject and less subject to meandering.

I can maintain a level of immersion in a long, slow, low-action film that would send most people scurrying from the cinema.  Films such as Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó (432 minutes) and Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition (579 minutes) have mesmerised and enthralled me. Neither contain any gratuitous violence, sex scenes or car chases and definitely no CGI. If I could maintain that same level of focus then I could read a good novel in the same time it takes to watch one of these films.

Over the years I have also been absorbed by great television series such as Deadwood, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad.  These all have in common great scripts, direction and acting and some very bad people for whom, strangely, you can develop empathy and compassion. But these shows also have a level of violence and ugliness that may be too much for some.

The standout TV series for me in recent years has been one that ticks all my boxes. Rectify is the story of Daniel Holden, who was imprisoned as a teenager for the rape and murder of his 16-year-old girlfriend. New DNA evidence secures his release but not exoneration after spending 19 years on death row. Over four seasons the focus is not really about whether he did or didn’t do the crime, but how the circumstances of these events and the search for the truth impact profoundly on his family and community. It is an incredibly rich story of love, forgiveness and redemption. The brilliant script, characters, direction and acting deliver a truly enriching experience. Over its four years I can only recall two scenes of violence, and no sex scenes – so it might not be to everybody’s taste. Those living in New Zealand who have been following this series are no doubt looking forward to the final episode of the final season on Christmas Eve. I hope you will find it as satisfying a conclusion as I did. For those who want to explore it, try looking for it on Netflix or the Rialto channel (NZ) or buy it on DVD or Blu-ray.

An extraordinary new series well worth a look is The Young Pope. Jude Law is a standout among the brilliant cast. Audacious, sumptuous and engrossing.

And finally if you want some whimsical, black comedy, check out Baskets.


Doug Lilly designed and maintains the Corpus website.  By day he is the Operations Manager at the Otago Community Hospice.

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