Citizen Colin

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some men are determined to climb Everest. Others vow to read every Shakespeare play.

Colin Leach made a pledge to himself to watch every movie listed on the American Film Institute's annual "100 Greatest" list.

So far that's around 600 films. There's some duplication among the seven AFI lists, which are built around the categories greatest American films, greatest heroes and villains, greatest comedies, love stories, heart-pounding movies and movie songs.

The 30-year-old pharmacist requires only three or four hours of sleep a night and often arises at 2 a.m. to pop an AFI-honored movie into the DVD player.

"I'll get up at 6 or 7, and Colin will have been awake for three or four hours," said Josh Howitt, one of Leach's roommates. "He's already on his second movie."

The guy is a movie nut, right?

Well, that's the curious part.

"I'm not obsessed with movies," Leach said. "My obsession is with completion."

In fact, before he launched his film-watching effort Leach was at best a casual moviegoer.

What he's really into is setting goals.

"Once Colin starts something," Howitt said, "he can't sleep well until he finishes it. If it were the 100 worst movies of all time, he'd have to see them all."

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia almost a decade ago, Leach realized that as a math-and-science type he knew virtually nothing about literature. So he found a list of essential novels and started reading.

He put that project on hold when he discovered the first AFI list issued in 1998. That was the 100 Greatest American Films project with "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," "The Godfather," "Gone With the Wind" and "Lawrence of Arabia" holding down the top spots.

"I realized I'd seen maybe 25 of these great movies," Leach recalled. "I didn't know who Grace Kelly or Humphrey Bogart were. I'd never seen a silent movie."

He devoted that summer to renting and watching old movies. With his three sisters moved out and his parents both working, he had the family home in Arnold, Mo., to himself.

He found most of the titles he needed at local video stores and at libraries. Once he drove 45 minutes into St. Louis to rent a copy of Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer."

"I cocooned. Dropped out. Didn't date. Didn't go out at night.

"People would call up and say, 'Whatcha doing?' 'I'm watching 'Birth of a Nation.'"

Click.

Two years went by, and Leach, his mission accomplished, enrolled at the UMKC School of Pharmacy.

One day, though, he was visiting a Blockbuster Video store and saw a sign about the latest AFI list.

"I didn't realize they were doing this every year," he said. "All of a sudden I'm like, 'Oh, no, I've got another 200 films to catch up with.'"

Now as soon as the latest AFI list is issued, Leach scans it for titles he hasn't seen and devotes the next few weeks to filling the gaps.

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