Anghus Houvouras on multiple viewings…
How many movies have you watched more than once?
I’m sure there are a lot of you out there that have those ‘go to’ movies. Classics that you can pop in from time to time because no matter how many times you’ve seen them they are able to infinitely entertain you or transport you a different time and place.
As this column began percolating in the deepest recesses of my cerebellum, I was forced to consider which movies I’ve watched on repeat viewings more than any other.
When I was a kid the most rewatched movie had to have been Red Dawn. After renting the movie a dozen or so times, I finally received the gift of a VHS bootleg which i subsequently played over and over again until the damn thing wore out. I can still remember watching the perpetually degrading image as I lived out fantasies of taking down Commie scum with a ragtag group of my friends. Unfortunately the Soviets never invaded.
1989 saw a radical shift in how movies were released. Before the release of Batman at the easily affordable price of $19.99, the newest movie released on VHS cost around four thousand dollars and could only be purchased from shadiest video store clerks who often requested full release to complete the transaction. Wait, what? I’m being told that’s not true. Apparently VHS movies weren’t that expensive, nor did they require sexual satisfaction to buy. I forget what point I was trying to make… oh right, after being able to purchase Batman mere months after release, I easily watched the film fifty times.
In college there were a handful of movies constantly in rotation. Three to be exact: Tombstone, Clerks, and The Professional. I can probably quote about every line from these movies verbatim. I had access to other movies, but for some reason those three were the ones I most consistently returned to.
In the DVD era I watched another handful of films in a steady rotation. 28 Days Later is a movie I can watch from start to finish on any given day. I’ve probably seen each Wes Anderson movie at least a dozen times. For some reason I spent a summer watching the Matrix Trilogy from start to finish. That same summer I had a number of teeth pulled and was drugged out of my gourd, so that could explain some questionable choices. The original Oldboy is a movie I’ve popped into the DVD player at least 20 times. As is every single Evil Dead movie. Who hasn’t watched The Shawshank Redemption start to finish whenever it pops up on television?
It’s funny how the movies I’ve watched the most correlate with some of my favorite films. If I listed out my favorite movies, in no particular order, the list would look like this:
Leon: The Professional
28 Days Later
The Royal Tenenbaums
There isn’t a film on this list I’ve seen less than 10 times except for The Reader. I attribute that to the depressing nature of the film and the emotional wreck it leaves me at its completion. There’s only so many times you want to be put into that state.
But if we’re being honest, the movies I’ve watched more than once represent a very small portion of the movies I’ve seen. Which I’m sure holds true for most people. 99% of the movies I’ve watched in my lifetime are barely worth the time spent getting to know them, much less finding another two hours to reexamine them.
I began to wonder if movies are supposed to be watched more than once. For regular people anyway. I’m not talking about film professors or theorists who watch films over and over again breaking them down at an artistically molecular level.
When I go see a movie, my only expectation is the entertainment value I receive from the opening titles to the closing credits. I suppose that holds true for most people. Every so often i see people in my social media feed criticizing a movie for ‘not holding up’ or being less excited about the film when watching it for a second time.
The ‘not holding up’ line is usually reserved for films that haven’t aged well. You hear this a lot when it comes to special FX heavy movies from the 20th century or classic films with a more ham-fisted approach to performance. Lately I’ve heard people talk about watching movies like Batman v Superman or Deadpool that they enjoyed in the theater but seemed far less enjoyable when they watched it a second time at home.
The truth is most movies fall apart under scrutiny. Things that might have felt innocuous in the theater might draw your attention in subsequent screenings. But again, I don’t watch a lot of movies more than once. For a movie to be watched twice it has to be something amazing, which barely describes 1% of the movies I see every year.
I know a lot of film fans with impressive movie collections. Expansive, well curated media libraries that line every wall of their domicile and fill several terabytes of hard drive space. My paltry film collection might not make it past 50, and 90% of it is DVD. I barely own any Blu-rays.
I wonder how many times the average movie watching person sees a film. My guess would of course be once, but it seems like a lot of people give movies a second look even if their initial impression was fairly ambivalent. I suppose i should respect those who are willing to give a movie a second chance, but in this age of more media than man hours to consume, why exactly are people willing to dive back into anything other than the exceptional?
Movies were always designed to enthrall audiences enough to have them return for a second viewing. The medium was built on the idea of spectacle that couldn’t be recreated in any other medium. Home video made the idea of watching a movie again so easy that it seemed ridiculous not to watch a film for a second time. The DVD market became over saturated so quickly that priced to own movies were available at ludicrously low prices allowing people to pad their movie collections with films.
But again, it brings me back to the core creative conceit: Are movies meant to be watched more than once? I suppose the most honest answer is “The good ones, yes. The bad ones, no”. There are filmmakers who most certainly intended their films to be watched more than once. Details so carefully woven into the background & subtext that it practically begs you to watch it again and again to find things you may have missed the first time.
And yet, those aren’t the films I watch more than once. While I’d like to tell you I’m the kind of guy who watched Citizen Kane ten times to peel back the layers of Orson Welles masterpiece, but I’m the guy who watched Tombstone fifty times to see Val Kilmer declare “I’m your Huckleberry”.
So we’ve established that movies are generally designed for repeat viewings, but should they be judged on their rewatchability? From a critical perspective, its obvious that a second look gives us a better chance at comprehending and critiquing the film. But it also strips away the power of first impressions (whether god or bad). Watching a film a second time more often exposes a films’ flaws than amplifies it’s successes.
Does criticizing a movie for not succeeding or improving upon the initial experience seem fair? If you enjoyed a movie the first time, then watched it again and ended up disappointed, to we blame the creative talent behind the film or the movie lover who tarnished their perfectly cromulent memory of the film by being greedy?
Let’s say I loved Furious 7 (I didn’t) and I wanted to watch it again because of the feeling generated by watching Paul Walker’s tearful exit from the series. Then I begin to notice the gaping: the dodgy digital work and body doubles used to help complete the character arc. Suddenly, the plot which once felt to seamless (it wasn’t) now feels thin and pointless. The questionable physics seem more glaring and you suddenly realize that cars can’t be parachuted from a cargo plane with any level of accuracy. Now, what you once called “Easily the best Fast and Furious since Tokyo Drift” feels like a sub-par piece of scrap.
Second helpings are risky. For me they are reserved for a few select films that I still find engaging. Rarely would I consider any of them to be the best movies ever made, but each of them has something that makes me want to indulge again. I’m sure everyone has their favorite films to revisit. What’s yours?
Follow up question: As a percentage, how many movies do you watch more than once?