I met someone recently who simply does not watch a film twice. This I find utterly astonishing, I suppose on some level I understand that with a plethora of new experiences to be had in this world, the act of going back over a film, game, TV show, book, anything that you’ve already enjoyed and doing it again might seem like an inefficient use of time, time that could be better spent discovering something new. After all, you’ll never get through it all in one lifetime.
But in this season where there is nothing on TV but the stuff you’ve already seen a thousand times, I feel that now is the ideal time to acknowledge the benefit of going back for a second time around. I’ll be talking about films, but feel free to replace verbs as applicable.
The Second Time Around
The first viewing is always the most intense and pure, you take on board the material as the creator intended. Without intentionally fighting the obvious focus and looking for the minor details, you see exactly what you are supposed to, when you are supposed to. Often the background will be laden with subtle elements that help foster the feel the creator intends, or to unconsciously elicit feelings in us without our being aware, and only the second time around do you notice the tricks employed, the hints laid out for the twist at the end, or the easter eggs squirrelled away around the frame.
It may be a cliche’d example these days, now that the film is approaching twenty years old, but the single-frame cuts of Tyler Durden in Fight Club can fly by so quickly on the first viewing that you may only spot him clearly once or twice, perhaps altogether missing the fleeting glimpses worked in by David Fincher. Next time around, will you look for them? And how does the film change knowing that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time?
I for one watched The Dark Knight repeatedly in cinemas and again on home release, and while I can say that there are diminishing returns there are still subtleties in the performances of the cast that I appreciated more and more in each viewing. After one or two viewings I tried to approach the film critically, with the intent of studying it in detail, and one day I may pick that film apart here, but each time I watched, I took away something new.
Adding Something New
In a recent Top 10, we discussed some of our favourite prequels, including Monsters University. If you haven’t already done this, watch Monsters Inc, followed by MU, followed by MI again. The dynamic between our two protagonists changes fundamentally, the fact that they live together, their attitude towards work, which takes the dominant role in which situation. Then take their position at MI, suddenly becoming a far more impressive feat when you know that they clawed their way up from the mail room, up to the top of the scarefloor scoreboard.
I have been watching a lot of YouTubers recently who analyse films in detail (and recommend both NerdWriter, George Rockall-Schmidt, and The Closer Look), and in studying film then I have gained what might be referred to as “Film Literacy”, in that I can pick up on a good transition, clever use of colour or scene composition, but it’s something that has come from years of wasting time watching films and by listening to those who have done the same, or who have worked in the industry. I can no longer watch a film I loved when I was twelve and enjoy it like I did when I was young. Perhaps I can enjoy it more, or more likely I can enjoy a film that bored me at the time.
A New Experience
Once you’ve watched a film once, you cannot watch it for the first time again. Can you enjoy a film in the same way when you’re at the cinema, compared to when you’re at home and can pause to put the kettle on at any time? Is it different to watch a film alone, with friends, with someone you love, with family? We can we laugh heartily at a horror film in the company of friends and a pizza, but get chills when watching it alone and in the dark. Comedy is a genre that is made infinitely better for having people around you laughing with you (which is why canned laughter works so well) but on your own it takes a particularly funny film to evoke more than a chuckle.
Lighting, time, mood, company, all of these can inform your experience of a film, you may walk away from a film disliking it because you were sitting in an uncomfortable chair, or simply have been in the wrong frame of mind due to circumstances beyond the film’s control, it’s not the film’s fault, and deserves a second chance. Alternatively it may require another viewing in less enthusiastic company to realise… actually the film you enjoyed only a short while ago was actually pretty bad.
To say that you enjoy watching a film over and over again is not to say that you watch it the same way. And the same is true of television, books, and especially games.
So I have to ask, what have you read, watched, played, repeatedly? Do you prefer to just keep ingesting something new, and not looking back? Talk to us in the Comments, or on our Facebook page. I’m curious.