Moving Pictures
Feb 14, 2024, 06:28AM

Bubble Emulsion

Watching a film you've seen before is like settling into a warm bath.

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Some people insist they only watch movies once, even good ones, and mention that they can't understand why anyone would do otherwise. This undermines a film fan's entire belief system. It's like saying you've only had pizza once. “I enjoyed it, but didn't feel the need to eat it again.”

If any theme binds decades of film criticism together, it's not necessarily Jean-Luc Godard's vague notion that “cinema is not the station, it's the train,” likely a response to the Lumiere Brothers' The Arrival of a Train scaring the hell out of some viewers at the theater. It's that film fans and reviewers watch movies over and over. They watch them until scripts are inadvertently memorized, until trivia questions about the film can be needlessly answered, and until new previously unseen things can be uncovered, as if noticing an extra doing something weird in the background is equivalent to finding a new angle in the Zapruder film.

But more than anything, watching a film you've seen before is like settling into a warm bath. Life is chaos, whereas rewatching faked life is pure and predictable. Better for me to rewatch The Assassination of Jesse James for the 11th time, to the point that Brad Pitt turns to the screen and says, “There's nothing left for you to see here, Affleck's going to shoot me again in about 25 minutes.”

We have movie marathons, days in which trilogies are consumed, and drunken stupors in which watching multiple submarine films seems like an impressive idea. I haven't just watched good movies too many times, I've watched bad ones more than twice, and even depressing films like Monster, Grave of the Fireflies, The Plague Dogs, and Synecdoche, New York.

When someone says they've only seen a good film once, it throws a wrench into the nostalgic operation. Why? Didn't they feel the need to watch it so many times as if to absorb its power through osmosis? Did they have something better to do? These ciphers will often mutter their dismissal to the effect of, “Yeah I only saw The Departed once, it was good,” and then stare through you, as if to suggest that the world is so magical that the idea of rewatching a movie is an act of defiance.

What's troubling is that they're right. Most of the time it's been totally unnecessary for me to watch a movie more than a couple of times, and I'd be a more balanced human person if the time spent watching a few movies in double-digit numbers was instead spent doing or learning something, anything, new. This isn’t to say that consuming movies and books a few times is without merit, but that, it's fine to move on.

When the single-viewing watcher and the voracious appreciator meet, it's not just a clash between movie-watching habits, it's often a clash of personality types. They do like movies, but approach them more pragmatically and think of them as just a movie, whereas the person who goes on a Paul Thomas Anderson binge wants to get lost in the films, and forget his or her life for more than a few hours.

If you happen to bump into someone who only watches movies once (like Pauline Kael’s ghost, for instance), and start trying to justify yourself, it's best to reel it in a little. Watching a film you know is a good way to relax, and it’s nice to discover elements you previously overlooked, and your favorite movies are likely better than the new dreck coming out, but these aren’t the only reasons.

The best solution is to try and get that onetime viewer to sit down and watch a movie for a second time. They might enjoy the experience. And when they eventually text you on a Sunday about having spent all of Saturday watching heist films over again, you’ll have reached another person, and wasted their day.


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