Should you have to watch a movie three times to get what it’s about?
The first time Dana Stevens watched The Master she left the theatre not knowing what it was meant to be about. So she watched it again. After the second attempt the movie started to unfold, so she gave it a third try. This time she still didn’t know the answer to the “what’s it all about” question, but at least she had a strong theory.
In a beautiful post she shares her joy over the process of uncovering layer after layer in a movie through multiple viewings. She assures us that it doesn’t feel like homework at all, but like “luxury”.
But to be honest the very idea of her watching this film three times and still not “getting” what it’s about makes me worried. If it takes her, a professional film critic at Slate, three times to get the hang of it, how many watches will be required for me, an ordinary moviegoer? Will even five times be enough?
Expecting a lot
With the risk of appearing narrow-minded – isn’t it to expect a lot from an audience to watch a movie over and over again in order to appreciate it because it’s so hard to understand?
I can see that this isn’t such a big deal for someone who writes film criticism for a living and gets to watch movies for free. If the press screening isn’t enough, I assume you can get another ticket, or otherwise your employer will pay for it.
But for me, who is just one in the crowd, one of the few who still insists on never doing illegal downloads, one who prefers to watch films in theatres and who actually pays for every visit? It gets bloody expensive to be honest. Maybe it makes me a pussy, but if I’m going to watch a film three times before I have a clue about it, it’s going to hurt.
And how could I possibly motivate – not just myself, but my family, which is harder – that I’d like to spend all that money watching a movie I’ve already watched recently – not because I loved it so much the first time, but because it was obscure?
Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t mind to pay attention when I watch a film. I don’t ask for movies to be “dumbed down” until they reach a point where you can text message, terrorize your neighbors with popcorn or take a nap and still know exactly what’s happening in the movie since it was overly obvious from the beginning. I love and embrace movies that linger, movies that will whirl around in my system for a couple of days before they finally sink in, movies that I can talk about and think about for a long time to come.
But three required viewings? No way. At the most I can consider watching a movie twice, but that is extremely rare. When I gave Wings of Desire a second chance it was because I had slept through the first time and it was twenty years back in time. I’ve said that I might give Tree of Life another try one day, but I can’t truthfully say that I’m in any hurry.
I’ve got so many unseen classics, so many films that I’ve been recommended and would like to check out to myself, so many unknown territories that I’d like to explore – directors, countries, genres, eras in film history.
That’s where I want to spend the time and energy I have available for movie watching. Not on hammering on the same coconut movie time after time until it eventually – maybe – opens up to me.
Perhaps we should be grateful after all about critics admitting how many times they have watched a film before being able to write about it. It serves as a piece of consumer information, a preparation for what to expect.
You could also say that they’re doing the work for us. If I read the insights Dana Stevens has reached after all her viewings before I watch the movie myself, it could become a shortcut to my own understanding and save me a few extra tickets.
On the other side I think openness about how many times you had to see a film before being able to write about risks to put a gap between film critics and ordinary people who just love to see movies and think that once should be enough.
Despite the multiple-viewings-is-required reputation that now is surrounding The Master, I still plan to see it, provided I’ll get the chance (it hasn’t yet got any Swedish release date).