' ' Cinema Romantico: Movies & Repeat Viewings

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movies & Repeat Viewings

Last week my esteemed colleague Castor of Anomalous Material posed the question, "What movies did you fall out of love with?" As he noted, "It happens all the time." And it does. I myself have fallen out of love with David Fincher's "Seven", Kevin Smith's "Chasing Amy" and even Q.T.'s "Reservoir Dogs." Yet, the post got me thinking about something else, and it was generated by several comments saying essentially This is why I don't re-watch movies.

I grant you some movies should not be re-watched. One viewing will do just fine. Many film classics fall into this category. I was thankful to see "2001" once but that second viewing is just a slog and if that offends the cineastes, so be it. There are some movies that do not begin to resonate until a second or third or, perhaps, fourth viewing, though I'm told again and again that "Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas" is this way and, sorry, I tried twice and that's enough for me. But I am here today to discuss movies we love outright and unabashedly that first time and continue to love just as much on repeat viewings.

Nothing can compare to the first time I saw "Million Dollar Baby" in the theater. As I've said countless times, it is the single greatest movie-watching experience of my life. I watch it now and, of course, I know how it ends whereas that first time I watched it did not possess even the slightest inkling of what was coming. So does it lose its power? On the contrary, it gains power. It loses that staggering shock value, sure, but when Maggie's moment of reckoning in the ring comes I turn away because I don't want to watch and, sweet mercy, does it still hurt. It hurts more. More to the point, the majestic dialogue in the car between Maggie and Frankie about her dad and her old dog obtains expands in resonance on repeat viewings because now I know.

I can't say for certain how many times I've watched 1989's "Glory." I saw it for the first time in my middle school history class (with the swearing cleverly bleeped out) and then I taped it off TV onto our (yes) Betamax and I can even remember watching it to psych myself for my big speech about why toilets are mankind's greatest invention (really) at the University of Iowa and, yet, I just watched it again this past summer and I re-encountered the sequence where, after being given their striking blue Union uniforms, the 54th Massachusetts regiment parades through ticker tape in Boston and as the officers pass the box from where dignitaries like the state Governor and noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass watch they turn to pay homage. But as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), the regiment's commanding officer does so, he instead steals a lingering look of his parents, his father giving a slight wave and his mother smiling sadly. And then he continues on. And then I realized: "My God, that's the last time he sees his parents." It was like a sucker punch to the soul. Despite dozens and dozens of viewings something new revealed itself to me.

About a month ago, the dismal Sunday morning following my beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers' devastating Big 12 Championship loss, I brewed coffee and did the only thing I could - I watched "Elizabethtown." It's a film centered so much around music and, indeed, the more I watch it the more I realize it is so reminiscent of a favorite musical album. Perhaps Springsteen's "The River"? Sprawling, larger than life, romanticized, imperfect, but, of course, perfect. I know the beats, I know the cues, I know the order. Every time that moment in "Crush On You" beckons I scream (usually to myself, or inside my head) "Clarence!!!" and then Clarence lets loose with that sax solo and is it any less awesome because it's the 1,245th time I've heard it? No.Chance.In.Hell. Every time that moment in "Elizabethtown" comes when Drew misses exit "60B" and gets lost and then finally finds his way back and enters town and the theme song is lilting over the soundtrack and everyone is waving at him and he's waving back, reluctantly, and then he reaches the funeral home and exits the car and cicadas ensconce him is it any less awesome because it's, let's say, the 19th time I've seen it? No.Chance.In.Hell.

Perhaps I risk tainting these films every time I sit down to watch them.  Perhaps their flaws (and each one has some) will crystallize for me and their qualities which I hold so dear will fade away.  Perhaps I risk falling out of love with them.  But I don't think so and, anyway, that risk is worth the reward.  I think life is too short and these movies are too damn good and, thus, I'll watch them as many times as I please.


Andrew K. said...

When I think of my favourite films they're always the ones that I'd watch continuously, whether they're depressing or not. I think that's the mark of a good film, or at least a film that you love.

Castor said...

Indeed a risk well worth taking. All of my favorite movies are movies that I have seen dozens of times. One of the great things about them is that there is always something, anything that can be picked up that you didn't notice or forgot about. Great post Nicholas!