I often ask myself why we rewatch anything. Of course I know the answer, at least on some level, which I’ll touch on in a moment. But rewatching a movie or TV show isn’t quite the same thing as repeating most other activities. We repeat activities because we like them or we want to get more proficient at them, either for better health, advancement in our careers, simple enjoyment, etc. We might keep running because we want to be in better shape, and even if we take the same route every time we run, each outing is a little different. It’s the same with sports or other competitive ventures. Regardless of the activity, if we initiate some type of change, we (usually) don’t get bored.
Movies (and you can easily throw TV shows into this mix) are different. Setting aside the fact that movies can change (format, restorations, added/deleted scenes, etc.), let’s assume that we’re watching basically the same movie we originally saw days, weeks, months, years, or decades ago. That film hasn’t changed, but something inside us says, “I want to see that again, feel that again.”
When I was a kid, I saw The Poseidon Adventure (1972) every night for a week. I kept coming back for the adventure, the thrills, and the characters. Maybe I was also trying to replicate the feeling I got watching the movie for the first time.
Maybe we want the same thing, to capture a feeling, a time of life, an era. Maybe, if it’s a challenging film, we want to see if we’ve now learned something that will help us in our understanding. Watching Bergman as a 17-year-old and then as a 35-year-old probably won’t give us the same experience.
Maybe we want to reexamine the work of an actor, director, or cinematographer. Maybe we want to see the particulars of how the story unfolds, how the film is constructed, how the DP uses light throughout the film, or how the music contributes to the mood, tension, or sense of release in the film.
Or maybe we simply don’t remember much about a movie we saw years ago.
But something convinces us to revisit some films and not others. But here’s where the trouble really starts. Do I want to revisit a film that I have good memories of watching and risk losing those good memories? The greater the amount of time between viewings, the greater the opportunity for disappointment. Again, the film hasn’t changed, but we have.
This can be a terrifying thing. It’s sort of like going to a class reunion (which I don’t do anymore) and seeing someone you had a crush on back in the day. Usually this is a bad idea. Yet again, the movie doesn’t change; you do.
So how do you determine which movies to rewatch? For me, there has to be a glimmer of a good experience associated with the film to begin with. That could be an actor, the look/mood created, or even a single moment from a film that’s resonated with me years later.
Yet memories can be tricky. I watched Paul Newman and Lee Marvin in Pocket Money in a theater in 1972 (the same year I watched The Poseidon Adventure) and could only remember one line from the movie. Paul Newman and Lee Marvin play a couple of guys bringing 200 head of cattle from Mexico to the U.S. One character asks Jim (Newman’s character) what he’s going to do with all those longhorns. Jim answers, “I like to stick ‘em in things.”
The line is the only thing I remembered correctly about that scene. I disremembered what Newman was wearing, where he was placed in the scene (I thought he sitting behind the wheel of a car; he wasn’t), how he delivered the line. I remembered everything - except the line itself - completely wrong. This wasn’t a huge disappointment (although the movie itself was), but it just goes to show, memory is a tricky thing.
Some of these movies I approached with fear and trembling. A few I rewatched as research for my Great Movies library series. Others I was assigned to write about for other publications or for podcast preparations. And for some I simply thought, “Why not?”
So here is a list of some of the movies I rewatched in 2019, the general amount of time it had been since I last saw them, and whether I was glad I revisited them or should’ve left them alone:
Phantom Lady (1944) at least 6 years ago
I hadn’t seen this early film noir in quite awhile, so it was fun getting reacquainted with this Robert Siodmak picture. I wrote an essay on this movie in the March/April 2019 issue of The Dark Pages, so I urge you to check out that issue. Other than that, I’ll refer you to the short piece I wrote about it in my New Releases column earlier this year. Glad I revisited it.
Murder by Death (1976) at least 25 years
I laughed until I hurt when I saw this movie as a teenager, so I feared I would find it trite and boring after so much time. I didn’t laugh as much, but did I really expect to? Five legendary private eyes are invited to a castle (Agatha Christie-style) for a dinner party, but they’re really there to solve a murder, thus determining the greatest sleuth of all time. The cast is top-notch, including Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, and more. Glad I revisited it.
The Red Shoes (1948) at least 5 years
I screened this Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger film for an Epic Saturday presentation at my library, co-hosted by my friend Ann Glenn. I had forgotten just how spectacular the film is visually and thematically. If you haven’t seen it in awhile (or ever), I urge you to do so. Glad I revisited it.
Pocket Money (1972) at least 45 years
Paul Newman and Lee Marvin together in a modern-day Western should’ve translated to greatness. It didn’t. Should’ve left it alone.
WALL-E (2008) about 10 years ago, watching with my nieces
I watched this film during the Ebert Interruptus portion of the Conference on World Affairs earlier this year, led by Josh Larsen. Glad I revisited it.
Gremlins (1984) at least 30 years
I can’t really put my finger on my mixed feelings about this movie. I certainly admire what director Joe Dante did with this film, but something about it bothers me, not in its execution, but my reaction to it. Moderately glad I revisited it. Probably won’t see it again.
A Face in the Crowd (1957) at least 10 years
I think a lot of people have discovered or rediscovered this film during the past three years. I really can’t think of a more timely movie. I showed it at the library several months ago as part of my Great Movies series. When it was over, I asked, “What did you think?” What followed was total silence for several moments, and then, man, did we talk! Very glad I revisited it.
Melvin and Howard (1980) at least 35 years
Delighted to have revisited it. My favorite rewatch of 2019.
Fantastic Voyage (1966) at least 20 years
Still fun, and it looks great on Blu-ray. Glad I revisited it.
Breathless (1960) at least 35 years
I know I’ll get a lot of grief over this, but I originally saw Breathless in college and didn’t like it. I saw it again at Noir City 17 in San Francisco in January. I understand why it’s an important and influential film, but I still don’t like it. Glad I revisited it, but don’t ask me to watch it again.
Detour (1945) at least 5 years
I was delighted to revisit this film for my guest appearance on The Movie Palace podcast to help celebrate Noirvember. Glad I revisited it.
Rio Bravo (1959) at least 7 years
Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood when I first saw Rio Bravo years ago, but in looking at several possibilities for an Epic Saturday library movie at the library, I realized this movie is really amazing. Glad I revisited it.
Mr. Sardonicus (1961) at least 20 years
The first time I saw this William Castle movie, I was obviously much younger and thought the ending was awful. This time, I enjoyed it much more. Glad I revisited it.
Homicidal (1961) at least 20 years
Another film from the first William Castle box set from Indicator, I didn’t realize this was a rewatch for the film’s first 10 minutes or so. This is my favorite Castle film from that set. Glad I revisited it.
Split Second (1953) at least 4 years
My thoughts on this one from Noirvember. Glad I revisited it.
Marty (1955) at least 20 years
I showed this just a few days ago as the last film in our Great Movies library series for 2019. This clearly was one of the top audience favorites from this year. I shared that I saw this film when I was about Marty’s age (34) when I was also single and with no prospects. Without sounding too corny, the movie gave me hope. There’s something about it that’s funny, sad, and hopeful. People have been watching this film for nearly 65 years. There’s definitely something there. So glad I revisited it, even more glad I shared it with others.
The Window (1949) at least 10 years
Another Noirvember post. Glad I revisited it.
Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) at least 5 years
I was so thrilled to have seen this with live musical accompaniment last month featuring Voices of Light and the National Philharmonic. Absolutely superb. So glad I revisited it, especially in this setting.
Frequent (Comfort) Rewatches
Notorious (1946) Alfred Hitchcock (The Great Movies library series)
Casablanca (1942) Michael Curtiz
North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock
12 Angry Men (1957) Sidney Lumet (The Great Movies library series)
Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles
The Thing (1983) John Carpenter
The In-Laws (1979) Arthur Hiller
Out of the Past (1947) Jacques Tourneur (Noirvember library series)
The Killers (1946) Robert Siodmak (Noirvember library series)
The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston
I’d love to hear what you rewatched this year, good, bad, or indifferent.
Photos: Letterboxd, Spectrum Culture, Vox, Bloody Disgusting, Basket of Kisses, Cinematic Randomness, Medium, Film Forum, Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, Quick Horror Reviews, The Telltale Mind, Haphazard Stuff