18 June 2008

Upon Further Review

Why do the films we love improve to us with subsequent viewings? Good question and I'm glad I asked it.
The first time we watch a movie it's to follow the story being told. Our view is rather flat, akin to listening to a song and just hearing the lyrics, not being quite aware of the phrasing or the instrumentals. It is with second and third viewings of a film that we start to appreciate how the story is told.
Notice the uncrinkling wrapper on the counter top in No Country for Old Men, why did the Coens focus on it and isn't it interesting? The iconic opening and closing shots in The Searchers are more poignant with each viewing. The faces in the streets of Vienna in The Third Man become more interesting. The interplay between Jean Harlow and Clark Gable while Harlow bathes in Red Dust. The rain in the Big Sleep. The dark wet mood of Blade Runner. Note the relationship in To Have and Have Not between Bogart and...Walter Brennan (you thought I was going to say Lauren Bacall but the Bogie/Brennan dynamic is worth following too). Stanwyck's seduction of Fonda in The Lady Eve (Sigh!).
Great films have great moments, great relationships, great cinema photography, great vision. In any good Cagney movie you start to notice his hands, like the way he rubs them together in Roaring Twenties or the way he touches Blondell in Blonde Crazy. So precise, so delicate, yet so masculine and confident. Like Burt Lancaster and how nimble he is on his feet. Lancaster was about as graceful walking as Astaire was dancing. In the really good films Cagney and Lancaster's physicality become all the more significant and pleasurable.
You also pick up sounds with increased viewings like the way Woody Allen uses music, I don't know that any director does it better. Or the ping of the sonar in Das Boot or the sound punches make in Raging Bull.
Movies have too much going on for you to be able to pick up everything one time through. A movie that has a good story to tell and tells it well is worth repeat viewings. You see camera angles and actor's mannerisms, you hear ambient noises, you understand director choices. In other words you start to appreciate why the story was so compelling the first time.
Yes it's nice when films aren't formulaic, but all the originality in the world won't save a film unless its told in an original interesting way.


david l said...

Sir, this was a well written article and I completely agree with your tendencies when it comes to rewatching the movies we love. I go through binge streaks of certain films all the time, and it just betters my understanding and appreciation of the film so much more.

Juke said...

While I understand & appreciate your POV, I find the opposite to be true. Stylistic changes in acting & writing, advances in cinematic techniques & overall facts of a contemporary culture, renders most flicks archaic & creaky. Good stories are key, yes, but if the storyteller is lacking in delivery? it's not entertaining.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

A free tip, Jake, for an expert on writing: the personal pronoun is capitalized.

kitano0 said...

Totally agree with your view on Woody Allen's music selection. It would be great if he assembled a collection on cd. I have the "Manhattan" soundtrack and it is beautiful. Your other obsevations are spot-on as well.

WebsterPot said...

Our experiences of movies change because we do.

Each time you watch a movie, you are a different person. You have lived some more life.

Some movies you appreciate more because you understand the cost of hard choices, the rarity of true love, and the skin-blasting intensity of the Ark of the Covenant.

Dave said...

I have to agree.

When I watch a movie for the first time, either on the big screen or on DVD, I'm paying attention to the story as it moves along - quickly. The next time I watch the same movie, I already have an idea of where the story is going, so I can absorb more of what I believe is the ambiance of the movie. What's going on in the background and at the edges.

Pick any movie and this is true. You get the main story in the foreground and another layer of action from the background.

robbe said...

right u are, dave.
and theres more.
cinema is actually telling a story on several different layers. each layer tells the story in an other way, thus forming a joint-work of art. image is one layer, sound, editing, story, acting are others. but those are the most obvious layers
genius directors/actors, or whatever, start telling it a few times over in other things (like handgestures) or background storys or colour, light, artistery and so on.

the condition to a really good film, i find, is the complete and subtle mixture of different layers telling the same story

i think, riku, u find re-watching ur favorites interesting because u start noticing those layers.

Anonymous said...

i completely agree. i was actually thinking about that the other day, when i was watching my favorite film, The Godfather. No matter how many times i watch it, it never fails to fascinate me and provoke me to probe deeper into the story and characters.

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Anonymous said...

That is both true and false.

Some movies, such as Heat, GoodFellas, or Raiders of the Lost Ark, gain power as they get watched more and more often.

However, others that are based almost entirely on style and nothing deeper, such as anything by Tarantino, become grating or their flaws become more evident. That could also mean that I simply never actually liked the movie, and it just took me a while to realize that.