Before my recent apartment move, I had limited space for my movie collection. As my number of DVDs and Blu-Rays increased, the stacks on the shelves grew higher and higher. Soon enough, I couldn’t fit any new purchases on there. I came up with a system: whenever I watched a new film that needed to go on a shelf, I would pick out one film that I wanted to rewatch and put it in a pile near my TV. Every now and then, I’d rewatch one from that pile, and then send it back to the shelf and pick out a new rewatch candidate. As you can probably figure out, this didn’t really solve any of my storage issues; it was mainly a justification to let my collection spill out from the shelves. “Oh, those films are piled on the floor by the TV just because I intend to rewatch them soon.” My new living quarters have given me more room and shelf space, but I still keep a section reserved for films I intend to revisit soon enough. At the moment, it’s inhabited by Children of Men, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Into the Wild, and others.
Everyone has their own opinion on the subject of rewatching films. Some enjoy discovering new things in films they like, trying to understand what others see in a movie that left themselves indiffierent, or just taking a trip down memory lane to an old favorite. Others rarely bother, feeling that experiencing something new and uncharted is a better investment of their time. I belong to the former camp. I love rewatching films.
I came across a passage last night while reading David Gilmour‘s autobiographical book “The Film Club”. It said that the second time we see a movie is the first time we truly see it. On the first go, we tend to focus more on the story and engross ourselves in the narrative. What’s happening? What’s going to happen next? Will the boy get the girl? Will the hero triumph? What’s in the box? We seek the answers to these questions, so that’s where our attention lies.
Once we’ve already seen the film and know the answers, we are free to think about everything else in the movie: the performances, the cinematography, the themes, etcetera. These things are of course very possible to take in on the initial viewing too, but there’s more room for them when knowing how the story goes.
An example I often use when talking about rewatching films is the Coens. With their off-beat kind of humor and genre-blending stories, their films always grow more enjoyable and impressive on rewatches. I wrote a review for No Country for Old Men some time ago where I managed to delve deeper into the movie than when I first saw it some years ago. (Looking at that review now, I apparently wrote in essence the very same things I’ve talked about so far in this blog post. Oops.) The past week, I’ve revisited both their debut film Blood Simple and Barton Fink, and while the latter only barely follows the rule – the climax and ending are just as maddening as always – Blood Simple definitely improved for me. That one has a story that’s simultaneously straight-forward and twisting, and the atmosphere is palpable.
There are other examples too of movies improving when plot isn’t what you’re spending most attention on. A History of Violence is a good one. Trainspotting, too. And Repulsion! I found that one terrifying the first time I saw it, but “only” gave it a score of 4/5 as I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. A second watch down the road – while closely scrutinizing it for the purpose of a blog post – allowed me to take in the thematic stuff along with the scariness, as well as letting me admire the beautiful black & white images. Nowadays, I’d call Repulsion a strong contender for being my favorite horror film ever.
There are different ways for rewatches to improve a movie, though. Sometimes knowing how the story plays out can make a film better because we can appreciate just how the story builds to its conclusion, rather than allowing us to think about non-story stuff. For instance, take Fight Club. I remember seeing it back in the day without knowing anything about it, and was taken completely by surprise by the twist ending. Watching it nowadays, I keep finding new things that cleverly hint at the reveal, to the point where I wonder how I ever couldn’t have seen it coming. It’s highly impressive. That said, Fight Club has lots of other things to make it enjoyable on rewatches as well, such as the filthy sets and the hilarious dialogue.
There’s also the case of your own taste evolving the further you grow as a movie lover. This is something I’m very much in touch with, having only gotten into movies a few years ago. The more I see and explore, the more diverse films I find myself appreciating. Lost in Translation is an example I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog already, as it went from “meh, boring” to my current favorite film. The fact that the film doesn’t have much of a conventional narrative might have turned me off somewhat when I was mainly a casual watcher, but once I knew that nothing happened in the film, I could start seeing just how rich it is.
As Bill Murray‘s character says in the movie: “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.”
This goes for watching films as well.