Ann Althouse has written a post about rewatching movies.
To watch something the first time is to respond to some mysterious mix of your own imagination and the various things you’ve heard. Maybe something about a poster or some feeling about a movie star pulls you in. Then you find out if it was what you thought it would be or if you’re surprised in a good way. But rewatching a movie, you know basically what’s there, and you’re making a choice to relive what you know or you have a sense that there are places in there where new things can be found. It’s a richer, deeper experience. Oh, that reminds me of what Andre says about marriage — as opposed to an affair — at the end of my most rewatched movie, “My Dinner With Andre.”
Ann and I part company there–I wasn’t all that keen on “Andre” the first time I saw it–although perhaps if I watched it now I’d like it. But her remarks resonate nevertheless, reminding me of my own earlier comments on love, the theme and variations vs. the symphony.
It’s true that rewatching a movie involves a type of love. Same for rereading a book, or going to a play we’ve already seen. We know what to expect in the general sense, just as we know the character of the beloved. But there’s always some sort of surprise amidst the repetition, and part of the surprise is that we ourselves bring new knowledge and experience to it.
One of my favorite authors, Jorge Luis Borges, wrote a story entitled “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” about a writer who set about re-experiencing and recreating Cervantes’s writing of his novel Don Quixote. Borges’s story is a gently humorous dig at, among other things, literary criticism; but it also makes the interesting point that a work can be exactly the same, but if the context is different the work itself changes for the reader.
With film rewatchings, the context is never the same. I watched familiar favorites of mine post-9/11 and often saw something new and different in them than before (see this for a recent reassessment of “High Noon,” for example). The same is true of the romantic movies I loved as a teenager, although this has nothing to do with 9/11 but more to do with age; the old Zefferelli “Romeo and Juliet” says one thing to a nineteen-year-old and another to a fifty-something-year old, although it speaks volumes to both.
It turns out, now that I think of it, that my favorite rewatchings over the years don’t include many new movies. The only one I can think of is “Groundhog Day.” But that seems appropriate; isn’t it what that movie is about? Keep doing it till you get it right, with deepening understanding every time.