I’m curious about the nature and degree of re-viewing practices. I tend to re-view films a lot. I noticed that last year, about one out of every four films I saw was something I had seen before.
One reason for re-viewing is to get closer and deeper into films or filmmakers whose work we already feel a strong degree of comfort and familiarity with. These are works whose cinephilic pleasure is more or less assured. Our previous, pre-existing response to the work is not likely to be seriously questioned. But these repeat visits are nevertheless valuable. They take us further, each time, into the work and its constituent details (its very ‘molecular structure’), allowing us a greater intimacy and thus fluency in thinking and talking about it. For me, some examples here might be: Hitchcock, Hawks, Renoir, Fassbinder, Lang, Lubitsch, Demy, Wong, Wes Anderson.
Sometimes, this can be taken to obsessive extremes. There are films one has watched more times than one really needs to, chiefly because their pleasure-giving capacity is endless, even if (at this point) each subsequent viewing yields diminishing returns in terms of critical insight. Nevertheless, these films are evergreen, hard to tire of. I know I’ve probably done this with: e.g. Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort, Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, Wong’s Happy Together, Hartley’s Surviving Desire, and (idiosyncratically) Roman Polanski’s Frantic.
A somewhat different reason for re-viewing is a filmmaker one feels an affinity for, but whose work is challenging enough to not make us feel completely comfortable. Perhaps we are on our way to cultivating a reasonably well-developed appreciation and understanding but the work hasn’t fully opened itself up to us yet. Occasionally (not always), these films might also make huge sensory demands on us, making them impossible to even fully apprehend on first viewing, thus making repeat viewings essential. For this category, I’m thinking (in my case) of Godard, Marker, Resnais, Straub-Huillet, Brakhage, Costa, etc.
When the closing credits of Costa's Colossal Youth were rolling, I remember Darren leaning over to me to say that he was ready to watch the film all over again, right there and then; I felt exactly the same way. I saw my first Ruiz, Three Crowns of a Sailor, last week, and had the identical feeling. Even as I was watching Three Crowns, enjoying it immensely, I knew that the film, in its fleetness and density of invention, was already eluding my ability to ‘affix’ it to my memory in a strong and lasting fashion.
Sometimes, the reason for re-visit is frustration and difficulty. One reason I was thankful for the Abel Ferrara blog-a-thon a year ago was that I had mixed feelings about Ferrara at the time. There was much I admired about his work but I also felt blocked by his films in some ways—they didn’t allow me the clean, clear, unproblematic access to ‘getting’ them and loving them that I had (with much less effort, it seemed) with so many of my favorite filmmakers. That has since steadily changed (more on Ferrara in a soon-to-come post). Another example filmmaker here is Bertolucci, whom I’ve had trouble with; I hope to give him a renewed try at some point.
All too often, reading a great book or essay is sufficient reason to revisit a film or oeuvre, to ‘see it through new eyes.’ This happens to me a lot, most recently with Nicole Brenez’s book on Ferrara. Other examples: Tom Gunning on Fritz Lang; Chris Fujiwara on Jacques Tourneur; Adrian Martin on late 20th-century Hollywood cinema (Phantasms); Gilberto Perez on Dovzhenko, Godard, and Renoir (The Material Ghost); Robert Philip Kolker on the neo-realists, Godard, and Antonioni (The Altering Eye). Last night, after reading some appetite-whetting words about it, I sent away for a book on Woody Allen by surrealist-influenced Positif critic Robert Benayoun. I haven’t been an Allen enthusiast for many years now, but perhaps the book might end up spurring some Allen revisiting.
There is also the matter of Time. There are films I saw 10 or 20 years ago in my early film-buff days that have receded almost completely into oblivion. Perhaps this is less of a problem for the tender-aged cinephile but for someone like me who was born the year Godard made Contempt (1963), the memory bank needs recharging every now and then. To make things interesting, I won’t of course be seeing those films with the same 'eyes' I did back then. And as time goes by, since we are constantly in flux—always in the process of ‘becoming’—how can we still cling confidently to evaluations we made years ago?
Finally, there is the opportunity cost to be dealt with: every re-viewing automatically means foregoing a (new, strange, vital…?) experience with a film we’ve never seen before….
So, if you feel like it, I’m wondering: What are your re-viewing practices like? Do you revisit films? And do you do so less or more than you used to? Are there some filmmakers or kinds of films that particularly lend themselves to revisiting? And any other thoughts you may have on the subject….
So, several years ago, soon after seeing Jean-Pierre Melville’s Leon Morin, Priest at Cinematheque Ontario, I pulled Rui Nogueira’s book on Melville, in perfect condition, from under a big rickety stack at a Binghamton used-bookstore. I bought it for three dollars. I mentioned this at the time to James Quandt who seemed surprised: “That’s a rare book—you should hold on to it.” This morning, surfing Amazon, I discover that used copies are going for as much as twenty-four hundred bucks. Crazy.