Thursday, September 18, 2014

Play it again, Sam (and again and again)

...Going back to the same pop-culture fare for seconds, thirds, and thirtieths isn't so abnormal. If anything, my re-consumption habits are tame compared to some of you, who have have read Harry Potter more than 10 timeswatched Friday more than 100 times, and spent more of your waking life with The West Wing than Aaron Sorkin. Musicologists estimate that for every hour of music-listening in the typical person's lifetime, 54 minutes are spent with songs we've already heard. Forget the next big thing. We're all suckers for the last big thing. 
Pop culture is a relentless machine of newness and manufactured surprise. We queue around the block for new comic-book-movie installments and crash HBO Go to watch season finales. And yet, I have spent 100 hours of my life watching a movie I could perform verbatim in my living roomWhy do we spend so much time with stories whose endings we already know?
Well, I'm certainly no stranger to this phenomenon, and I imagine most people who love movies feel the same, though a topic like this obviously goes far beyond just movies. There are a couple of other reasons why repeat consumptions of pop culture is so ubiquitous that the article doesn't go into, that bear mentioning here. One is financial: when you can't afford to spend as much money as you like on new CDs and books and Blu-rays, you may find yourself with little choice but to return to the older ones you already have in order to pass the time.

Another reason is critical. There are those who advocate repeat viewings of certain movies in order to get at certain truths, or perspectives, or themes that may have eluded the viewer the first time but are worth the effort at discovering. This may apply more towards the pop culture aesthete as opposed to the casual consumer, though. Many people watch movies for no other reason than enjoyment, and may not be that interested in anything more. If they don't like a given movie, they're not likely to return to it because so-and-so said they're missing out on something deeper.

Chasing Amy is a movie I return to a lot, for many reasons, both critical and personal. I saw it when it was first released, I own the Criterion DVD, and it's a movie I feel I know inside out. Using the criteria cited in the article at the top, I wanna see if the reasons given for repeat consumption line up with my attachment to this movie. I suspect they do, to one degree or another, but let's look anyway...

- The simple reason: one simply likes it. No argument here. From a critical point of view, it remains director Kevin Smith's best movie, in my humble opinion. It takes the lessons he learned from Clerks and Mallrats (good and bad) and applies them towards a story where his raunchy humor and geek sensibility is wedded to a sensitive, modern love story about trust and friendship and discovery in a relationship. It's an unconventional romance which doesn't end on a happy note but does leave the protagonist changed. It's a rom-com that doesn't feel like it's been market-tested to death or made to fit into a certain demographic, and it features characters I feel like I could know in real life. Plus, it's funny as hell. 

- The nostalgic reason. Omigod, definitely this. When I first saw Amy, I was beginning to discover and enjoy independent films; I was an aspiring comic book creator, just like the protagonists; and I was in love with a girl who was out of my league, just like Ben Affleck's character. In watching Amy, I'm automatically taken back to this period in my life because this movie encapsulates so much of what was important to me back then!

- The theraputic reason. This one's a little harder to quantify, if I'm reading this right. Amy ends on a melancholic note, and I accept that because it's the ending that makes the most sense to me, given everything that leads up to it. Do I hope things will end differently sometimes? Do I try to imagine how it could've worked out had one or two things changed? I'm not sure. It's not something I can remember dwelling on to a great degree, but it would not be out of character for me to occasionally wish for a different outcome. Still, I think my general cynicism tends to overcome my optimism, most of the time. It's hard to address this one because it's not like I come into Amy the same way I do to a love-conquers-all kind of movie where the outcome is never in doubt.

- The existential reason. This sounds a little bit like what I said about finding new truths upon re-consumption, but I think this is meant to be on a more personal level instead of a critical one. There are times when I find new perspectives in old movies, and that's certainly possible for me with Amy. Maybe it'll take another viewing or two. I dunno.

One thing the article doesn't go into in detail, which is quite surprising, is the connection to all the reboots and sequels that dominate Hollywood these days. Sticking with the familiar is a formula that currently pays dividends for the major studios because it minimizes financial risk, but I imagine it's also possible that they're feeding the urge for nostalgia that permeates a good deal of our culture. The biggest filmmakers - guys like Nolan, Cameron, Tarantino - seem to be the only ones who mainstream audiences will take a chance on when it comes to original ideas, and even they're not guaranteed studio support sometimes. It's no wonder we end up consuming the same product again and again.



  1. There are many reasons to watch a movie several times... and for me it's a different reason for every movie: I watch my all-time favorite A Star is Born (1937) is both existential and therapeutical. I'd rewatch Mister Roberts to pay more attention to actors I didn't like so much the first time I watched, like Jack Lemmon (not that I disliked Jack, I just wasn't such a big fan). I'd rewatch Citizen Kane to pay attention to Welles' camera work, because I usually pay more attention to the story. And...well, I rewatch Finding Nemo because I just love it! :)
    Good reflection!

  2. That's a good point you bring up - singling out different aspects of a film in order to appreciate them better. Wish I'd thought of that!


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