PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

Movies on My Mind: The Pleasures of Re-Watching

The very best films warrant repeated viewings so that fresh nuances emerge, allowing a deeper understanding and appreciation to accrue.

Celebrating one of my favorite movies, Serpico, I wrote the following:

I want—and need—to revisit this movie on an annual basis, because it satisfies many needs. One, it's a masterpiece, so there's that. Two, it reminds me many things I need to know, about the world and myself. And most of all, it's a rallying cry against conformity and cowardice; a stark reminder of how much we're capable of and how little we typically do. I watch it and think: I want to be that guy. I know I can't be that guy, so it's the least I can do to watch, learn and emulate.

Confession: there are dozens of movies I watch at least once each year. And there are certain movies I may watch two times, every year. (Walkabout, Red, Burnt by the Sun, The Conversation, Blade Runner, The Thing, Bottle Rocket, Five Easy Pieces, Taxi Driver, They Live, and many more.)

To a certain, superficial extent, it's something many men do. Male friends can sit around and recite movie dialogue, literally for hours. For certain types of men, watching sports (without speaking) or "talking" via classic or obscure movie scenes not only counts as communication, it's a form of genuine bonding that can't be approximated by mere intimacy. It's at once a shout-out and its own kind of authentic language.

Many years ago, when I waited tables, there was a bartender who liked the cut of my jib, and the feeling was reciprocal. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we conversed almost entirely in dialogue from Caddyshack over the course of a hot, lucrative, and wonderful summer. I don't just mean that we ceaselessly quoted lines at each other; I mean we used lines from that ultimate male-bonding movie to fit the particular situation. We bended Caddyshack to our will in order to keep the vibe alive. To some people this would, understandably, seem juvenile at best and a waste of human potential at worst; to others (invariably, all masculine) this signifies a high level of improvisatory brilliance, the pinnacle of boys being boys. I still look back on that summer, and our commitment to inspired inanity, with a certain amount of awe. I guess you had to be there.

A cinema junkie's compulsion? Certainly. But it's more than that. As a writer, I not only want to savor, but watch and study the craft: Why does this work? How did that happen? Who else could (or couldn't) do this? What is it that makes me come back to this, stirred the way the tides are moved by the moon? It is, of course, never quite the same experience after it's been seen the first time, but the very best films warrant repeated viewings so that fresh nuances and details emerge, allowing a deeper understanding and appreciation to accrue.

Some of this is due to the inexorable passage of time, which can augment our appreciation of how difficult (or, at least how analog) the creation of film once was. So, for instance, when I watch any of the elaborate set pieces from Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, I can at once appreciate the splendor on the screen (and reminisce about an era when leisurely shots were commonplace, and the patience of the audience implicit, although in fairness, Kubrick in general, and this film especially, demanded a great deal) as well as the meticulous work that went in to setting up that scene: the initial vision, revised and refined, choosing the most perfect or appropriate setting, the hours required putting actual human beings in place, the costumes, the human lack of "perfection", etc. When, on the other hand, I watch even a few seconds of what passes for a contemporary action sequence, I'm distracted by the triumph of digital innovation and the bizarre combination of laziness and proficiency it yields, and instead of seeing a sweaty, megalomaniacal director orchestrating set pieces, I see a Frito-fingered nerd bent over a laptop, using a mouse and the latest programming to make the artifice more artificial.

Usually, my motivation to rewatch (and watch, again) a movie is more practical. I'm taking notes, I'm seeking inspiration, I'm trying to figure out how the magic was made the way only repeated viewings (like repeated readings) make possible. Also, listening to albums or watching movies is a matter of hours, not the weeks (or months) revisiting favorite books might entail in an already harried existence.

I have a friend and fellow cinephile whose taste I trust. She's confounded by my compulsion to revisit, just as I admire her insatiable need to discover the next new thing. Our perspectives are irreconcilable: while I'm content allowing consensus to emerge (as a result of this, I tend to read more reviews than books, and read about more movies and music than I experience, a bittersweet consequence of our ceaseless state of info-overload), she often seeks an immediate, unfettered experience. More, she believes I'm somehow marring my initial, enduring impressions by returning to them, sort of like an aesthetic scab I'm compelled to pick. Naturally, I disagree, and imagine my devotion is a sincere token of approbation—a gesture of deification without the abasement of, say, organized religion.

There is, certainly, a ritualistic element. We compulsive re-watchers are not unlike the once-faithful, who still attend holiday mass once per year, equal parts routine and OCD. Except our faith has never faltered; if anything, it's augmented by these annual occasions, equal parts pilgrimage and consecration. I suspect I'm not the only sap, too sentimental by half, who can only watch certain movies during certain seasons. Bull Durham and Jaws are only appropriate for the dogged days of summer, while The Godfather and, say, The French Connection, almost oblige late afternoon on a winter's day. Certain masterpieces can accommodate frigid or sweltering conditions: Dr. Strangelove and The Big Lebowski, for instance, lose little morning, noon, or evening in November or May.

But mostly, it's all a matter of enjoyment.

Can anyone, for instance, ever overdose on a scene like Jake Gittes, sitting patiently at the top of a sloping cliff, overlooking the Los Angeles coastline as day slides into evening; lighting cigarette after cigarette, totally unaware he's already stumbled into a hornet's nest of corruption (Chinatown)? Or Harry Caul, having heard his own apartment bugged, reducing his floors and walls to splinters in a fruitless attempt to find the hidden microphone (The Conversation)? Or Butch and Sundance running into the final hail of bullets they'll ever face (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)? Or the pitiful Stroszek, on a ski lift holding a frozen turkey while beneath him, in coin-operated cages, a chicken dances to the ebullient harmonica woops of Sonny Terry (Stroszek)? Or the Aborigine performing his ritualistic courting dance to the oblivious young woman whose life he saved (Walkabout)? Or Terry, fighting Johnny Friendly for his brother, himself, and the soul of the waterfront (On the Waterfront)? Or Roy Batty, "more human than human", saving the blade runner's life, and delivering his "tears in rain" soliloquy (Blade Runner)?

Stop me before I allude again… The answer, of course, is never, for all the above, and many, many more. It can, at times, be complicated to explain, but the reality could scarcely be simpler. We watch and re-watch because we want to, because we have to. And for any happy, hopeless soul who gets emotional about the movies that move them, it seems some type of annual ceremony is the least we can do for these kindred spirits and would-be allies who have expanded and, on occasion, saved our lives.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Television

'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Nudges Out Conscience in Our Time of Crises

Avatar shows us that to fight for only the people we know, for simply the things that affect us personally, is neither brave nor heroic, nor particularly useful.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.