“Play it, Sam”

June 17, 2009


So obviously “Play it Again, Sam” would’ve been a better title in regards to this articles point, but I’d hate to perpetuate the incorrect phrasing of “Casalanca”s most misquoted line, so if you’re one of those few people who still didn’t know, Bogie really said “Play it, Sam.” Okay.
I was thinking about movies, specifically about what draws many of us to watch the same films over and over again. I know of many people who simply won’t watch a film a second time. They see it, they know what’s going to happen and they see no reason to visit the same material again…there are millions of other movies out there to watch for the first time, after all. Others will watch almost any movie multiple times, some very often. Those of us that are at least medium level film buffs are between those two extremes. I own quite a few DVDs, many I watch every year or so, some I watch several times in any given year. If I go to the trouble to buy a film, my intention is usually to watch it at least once a year, to view it with commentary and the complete package otherwise a rental would cover all bases.

So what does a  second (or multiple) viewing of a film give us? Why do those of us that do this do so? I’ve read Roger Ebert and other film critics comment on this in their own columns before, I’m sure I’ve pilfered some of their reasons into my own in some form, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read their opinions so said pilfering is unintentional and done unknowingly.

For most films, the first viewing is all about story. You follow the plot, wonder what’s going to happen, determine if the ending gives you the full payoff for the time you’ve invested in watching it. For many, this is what a film is all about, so once that part is done the film has in effect been exhausted for that particular viewer.  Many people will revisit some of these films if the first time around was thoroughly entertaining. If an action, horror or comedy movie, a second or third viewing may yield the same excitement, thrill or laughs that the first did. But non-genre films on second viewings can give the film buff time to watch for things other than story. A second viewing allows the viewer to take note of the acting ability, the directorial perspective and technique, the subtext, the success of particular shots, the framing of a scene or the cinematography. With the arrival of DVDs there’s also the chance to view great films with commentary now. Of course, some commentary tracks are pointless but on some DVDs they can add a lot of  worthwhile knowledge to a fan, if given by the right director or cast.

Films I’m personally drawn to the most for multiple viewings become that way to me for a variety of reasons. “Casablanca” is like listening to a favorite album or looking at an amazing painting. Watching it becomes a matter of marveling at the acting of Bogart and Bergman, loving the contrast of black and white in remastered high quality digital video as perfect shots are restored to precision, listening to the music that is essential to the film and in several scenes takes center stage. “Casablanca” for me is like reading “A Prayer for Owen Meany” or listening to “Highway 61 Revisited,”  something that delivers each time and expands a little more. Few films carry that much weight, but being a huge Hitchcock fan I find many of his require multiple viewings for different reasons. “Vertigo” for much of the same reasons as “Casablanca,” and also because it makes a little more sense each time you see it. “North by Northwest” for pure fun, the action never ceases to be entertaining. “Psycho and “The Birds” because they are near perfect fright films. “To Catch a Thief” and “Dial M for Murder” just to see Grace Kelly.

Some movies for me just work for unknown or a multitude of various reasons, they never grow old. For me those include “Dazed and Confused,’”  “School of Rock,” “High Fidelity,” most recently “The Dark Knight.”

Then there are movies that are ritual, for certain holidays. My wife and I watch “Bad Santa,” “Gremlins” and “A Lot Like Love” at Christmastime every year. I watch John Carpenters “Halloween” and Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” every October because they are the perfect horror films and they work every year.

In short, and here if anywhere I’m probably recapping and rewording what Ebert and many other film critics have said before. A favorite film watched at the end of the day can be the crowning touch on a great day or a pick-me-up on a lousy one. They can work as full immersion to move out of what you’re doing at the time or they can be like a few favorite pieces of music and simply play in the background while other things are going on. You can show a key scene to a friend who’s never seen them before or analyze them in a way you’ve never done before. In short, a great film is a masterpiece worth experiencing again, especially on those times when nothing new looks remotely close to being worth your time.


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