I personally have never found the “you need multiple viewings” admonition very convincing with a medium as inherently passively experiential as cinema. I just have never had my impression of a film change appreciably by watching it again. I may notice little things, a piece of dialogue here I hadn’t caught the full impress of, something in the frame there, but the experience is largely the same, albeit diminished to a greater or lesser degree. Inevitably, rewatching for me ends up an exercise in clarification (“Wait, did that occur here or there?”) rather than any alteration of the indelible initial and strongest impressions.
Maybe because of this, I don’t really consider “rewatchability” an important or even useful criterion in evaluating a film. Sometimes I may find a film more rewatchable than another because it is so chaotically ordered that it doesn’t present a unified experience, every moment and frame purposeful. Other films I may be unable to watch again due to how emotionally searing the first experience was (something like Revolutionary Road might apply here), or how much of a story – perhaps riding on suspense and mystery – being dispelled by knowledge of the proceedings neuters its overall effect.
I think there is a value to complexity in storytelling. Not necessarily the more complex the better, but I think something that appears confusing, or even chaotic, might not appear so upon further viewing. I didn’t get the timing of Memento the first time I saw it. The story arc comes through pretty clear, but I think the time structure was complex enough to merit another viewing. Which I did not feel was a negative.
So you really feel that you can get everything there is to get out of a film on one single viewing? You got every bit of meaning out of, say, 8 1/2 on one single viewing?
That’s the thing. I got a very palpable overall feel for the movie that rewatching it doesn’t shake. I’m not even sure I can process secondary impressions as anything but supplemental, lacking as they do fresh contact with the film and a macroscopic focus that knowing a film too intimately, knowing on some level what happens next, can break. I’ve watched a film several times in theaters, waited a decade, and seen it again with a fresher receptivity (similar to the initial viewing) that the second or third viewing lacked.
I like rewatching films because I already know what’s gonna happen, and I can just bask in all the emotions without having to worry about the plot.
I understand, but at that point I don’t feel like I’m watching the film per se, but am doing something analogous to watching someone’s lips move, or riding the vocal cadences of someone who’s telling you something verbatim they’ve told you before. You’re not quite zoning out, and may even catch details you missed previously, but there’s something removed and more self-consciously analytical about the experience, and I don’t value it as much.
" I’m not even sure I can process secondary impressions as anything but supplemental,"
Time to tout the Derrida horn.
Brr derr derr derrrrrrrrr!
Derrida on ‘the supplement’:
the supplement “adds only to replace,” filling the void of “ what ought to lack nothing at all in itself” (145).
Supplement is precisely the point of reviewing and re-viewing.
It depends on how much of a challenge a film poses to the viewer. With some films you simply can’t get away with one viewing. With others it is almost all you can do.
And how old are you? Not a frivolous question. I do a lot of repeat viewing, and now as I’m getting older I find that I’m finding a lot in old favorites that I couldn’t possibly have gotten in my teens/twenties.
We were talking about Lynch’s Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. in another thread which I’m not going to look up, and these films need to be seen multiple times. You have to collect all of the information, and in an inherently passive medium you’re gonna miss stuff. When cause and effect are reversed, as in MD or Memento, you need to rewatch the earlier scenes with the foreknowledge of the later ones. The earlier scenes are given new meanings because of the later ones, but you’re not a time traveller and you can’t understand the present by looking into the future. In a passive medium, unlike reading, you have to rewatch or at least rewind as you might reread a few sections in a novel.
I suppose I’m using the term differently, as I’m not keen on the “add only to replace” formulation. I’d say “add only to augment or embellish”, neither of which results in a fundamental change.
I’m in my early/mid-twenties, but I feel pretty much the same now as I do about films I saw as a child (I then and now saw major differences in quality between a Dunston Checks In and a The Empire Strikes Back, however inchoate that understanding was), maybe because I only began watching better films at around 17.
Exactly. Strangely though, I was already utterly mesmerised by it during the first viewing even though I could hardly figure out what was going on with the plot. In other words, claryfying the intricacies of the plot on subsequent viewings didn’t add much to the initial impression of the film on the emotional level.
I meant Mulholland Drive in my last post
Precisely. After a single viewing of Mulholland Dr., I probably couldn’t parse out an explanation (verbally or otherwise) so much as a series of impressions or an enthusiastic report of a more theoretical kind of criticism discussing how impressive it appeared relative to most other films.
^ Right, but at that point you can ride the emotional waves of the film.
My mother claims that rewatching a movie is like listening to a favorite song.
I don’t buy it.
With Mubi, Netflix and Hulu I feel more like “So many movies, so little time”.
I think multiple viewings help in examining all aspects of a film. The first watch is all about the film and just trying to enjoy it. After that one can work on dissecting the story, or focus on the editing, the cinematography, a single performance, etc etc etc.
Maybe it comes down to what one watches films for in the first place.
I’m with your mother on that, Lindon. I support rewatching for the following reasons:
1. Its a pleasure to revisit great movies
2. You may have missed something the first time around
3. Some films have a complexity that can only be appreciated after multiple viewings
4. Some twisty films are not as they appear and become a new movie with rewatches
5. Memories fade and we may need a refresher
Great point Brad S.! That is exactly what I think
The first reaction to a piece of art, the emotional/non-intellectual part, is invaluable. But on a completely practical level, you are bound to miss important things on your first viewing. The first viewing of a great film is good, but the second and the third and the fourth are the most insightful. I guess this only goes if you think art actually has something to say to us, though, and that the details and subtleties are just as important as the instant reaction.
Even when I re-watch a movie like Rio Bravo (which I have seen thousand times), I notice new details that add to my understanding/appreciation of the film. Of course, there is a danger of normalizing the viewing experience with too much reviewing — analogous to watching someone’s lips move — , but it’s worth the risk, I think.
Other films I may be unable to watch again due to how emotionally searing the first experience was
Those are the ones that you most need to watch again.
I agree with the sentiment and feel the same way (I almost never re-watch great films, unfortunately), but I think it’s a problem in our culture that we feel we must keep moving towards the next big thing before we’ve had time to contemplate what’s sitting right before our eyes. I would much rather carefully consider a few things than rely on my instant visceral reaction to everything.
After a single viewing of Mulholland Dr., I probably couldn’t parse out an explanation (verbally or otherwise) so much as a series of impressions…
So one of the values of re-watching the film would be to better understand the film so you could “parse out an explanation.” For me, re-watching comes down to better understanding of the film. Roscoe’s query about 8 1/2 is a good one. Can you really fully understand that movie on one viewing? And there are other films that are complex and difficult that “getting it” on one viewing is almost impossible.
Your overall impression may not change, but your understanding of the film could change quite a bit, couldn’t it?
Actually, I think impressions can change, too. Haven’t you had your expectations get in the way? Or what about not being in the right frame of mind? The time of your life and the experiences you’re going through can also change your impression of the film.
“I’m in my early/mid-twenties, but I feel pretty much the same now as I do about films I saw as a child (I then and now saw major differences in quality between a Dunston Checks In and a The Empire Strikes Back, however inchoate that understanding was), maybe because I only began watching better films at around 17.”
Trust me. You’re a kid. With age and experience, you’ll find things in films that you didn’t spot, or couldn’t understand without some time and life under your belt. NOTORIOUS is not the same film to a 17 year old that it is to a person in their 40s. Not trying to patronize, sorry, but I think you’ll see the truth of this later on.
6.The pleasure of introducing a favorite to someone else and (hopefully) seeing them enjoy it as much as one did the first time.
I dunno… I have ADHD and am easily bored, so that must be a part of it.
And every now and then I become frantic for something NEW.
Even if its a Ving Rhames TV movie on Hallmark.
You can’t judge a movie in one viewing unless the movie is very simple. There are plenty of details you can miss out.
J&K said: " I think it’s a problem in our culture that we feel we must keep moving towards the next big thing before we’ve had time to contemplate what’s sitting right before our eyes. I would much rather carefully consider a few things than rely on my instant visceral reaction to everything."
I completely and wholeheartedly agree with this.
Roscoe said: “With age and experience, you’ll find things in films that you didn’t spot, or couldn’t understand without some time and life under your belt.”
Agree with this as well. You may not want to rewatch a film 6 months down the road (some people do, sometimes I do), but you can certainly watch a film again 2, 5, 10, 20, 40 years down the road. What you get out of a film has to do with your own personal experiences. As you grow older, and change as a person, these films often reveal not just small details you hadn’t noticed, but completely different interpretations of plot and character, not to mention that the cinematic knowledge that you have been gaining over the years will allow you to have a more insightful critique of every aspect of the film. (Just to note, this is not always a good thing. There have certainly been films that I have rewatched years later, and thought “Wow, this is really sloppy”).
It has recently been discussed in the Is Vertigo the Greatest Film of All Time thread, but I say again that Vertigo is a perfect example of a film that almost requires rewatching. It is so slippery, and so obsessive, yet has captured some element of the human experience that is so palpable, yet always beyond our grasp, that we join in the obsession, very slowly that first time, but much more quickly with each subsequent viewing. Plus it is just flat out beautiful ( a quality in many films that by itself merits a rewatching)
Agreed — it was a very interesting experience to watch the first half of VERTIGO again, watching carefully and keeping in mind that Madeleine isn’t what Stewart thinks she is. There’s one remarkable moment where Madeleine flinches visibly under some questioning from Stewart — viewed this way, it is clearly Judy thinking that Stewart is on to her.
“I would much rather carefully consider a few things than rely on my instant visceral reaction to everything.”
I realize that films are meant to be seen straight through, but with my ADHD I often space out and have to rewind.
This is one reason I prefer the home viewing experience. So if I am into a film I would rather consider as much as possible the first time round.
Mysteries in particular I don’t enjoy re-watching so much, but Hitchcock is a special case. I’ve seen the original “Man Who Knew too Much” a few times.
Sci-Fi is different, since the spectacle is the thing most often, with every thing one big reveal, and usually no last minute twist.
And I would agree that puzzle-box movies like"Memento" sometimes require a second time in order to put the pieces in order. (Speaking of which, anyone seen “Ghajini” the Bollywood remake of “Memento”?)
What if you need multiple viewings to understand that you misunderstood the film in the first place?
Oh yeah, there’s that too^
I love movies that are still murderously confusing after multiple viewings. They don’t end, there’s always more.