The Importance of Repeat Viewings

While it is true that more often than not the most enjoyable viewing experience is the first time you watch a film, the most accurate representation of a film’s quality is during your second viewing. The second time around reveals plot holes, continuity errors and narrative structural problems-in a sense it unravels the film, separating the entertaining ones from the great ones.

It is interesting to note the shift in opinion when a film reaches home viewing. A great example is Zack Snyder’s hugely masculine sword and abs epic 300, which grossed $ 456 million internationally.

This is a film which, while entertaining its first viewing on the big screen, on second viewing revealed a film so shallow and with so little emotional connection it was hardly bearable. That is not even mentioning the filmmaking, which suffers even more than the story with repeat viewings. The use of slow motion becomes a parody of it’s self, and causes more groans and laughs than awe-inspiring moments.

An almost polar opposite is Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Shutter Island. This film, while not hated, did not receive the praise it deserved. A number of factors explain this: one is simply that because Scorsese is such a highly regarded filmmaker, that he chose a thriller disappoints people. But more important is the fact that most critics only viewed the film once before commenting.

Shutter Island is the perfect example of why Scorsese is a true master filmmaker. The film is so layered and perfectly thought out that it plays like two completely different films with each viewing.

The first time it plays as a perfectly put together hallucinatory thriller that leaves you uneasy and suspicious. The film features a twist, which is why many critics consider is lesser Scorsese. While it may be true that this twist in another film, by another filmmaker, might have come off as cheap and easy, in Shutter Island, repeat viewings reveal something else entirely. The second time around the film no longer plays as a thriller, instead it plays as a tragic drama. It also lets you realize how the twist was not only hinted at throughout the film but quite obviously laid right in front of you.

While it may not make either economic or timely sense for critics to view films more than once before reviewing, it does have to be put into consideration that a film may need a second viewing to fully grasp it. A good film will be enjoyable the first viewing but only a great film will provide its full rewards with repeat viewings. Great films like great wines mature and grow.

While 300 may have grossed double what Shutter Island did, Scorsese’s film will continue to be watched, enjoyed and studied for the next 20 years while no one will bother with 300.

It may seem like a strange comparison, or an unfair one, it is however a reality that a film needs to be able to stand up to repeat viewings and that it is a huge mistake for film critics not to take this into consideration.

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2 Responses to The Importance of Repeat Viewings

  1. This headline grabbed me, so let me weigh in here. I totally agree with your point about the value and necessity of rewatching to adequately grasp a film. Let me take it a notch further: I would feel terribly guilty if I wrote a review of a good movie based only on one viewing! I’m definitely from the school of “second viewings are best” if there is such a school, because I greatly enjoy getting past the “find out what happens” phase and into the stage of savoring the fine details that master filmmakers put into their work. I have even been known to watch a film on slight fast forward the first time through just to enhance my familiarity, and then go back to watch it on regular speed the second or third time around.

    This explains why I generally take a longer time between posts than other bloggers who cover similar territory. Not all films deserve that second viewing, obviously, but with my blog focused exclusively on Criterion films (and my Eclipse column at CriterionCast.com) I feel a moral obligation to do my best to immerse myself in these movies before I drop my opinion out there for the world to see. I don’t expect “everyone” to adhere to the same discipline but that’s the approach that works for me!

    • While I don’t agree with the watching a film slightly fast forward to familiarize yourself with it, to each his own, however, I do agree with everything else you said. I do think first reactions are important, but that cannot judge the overall quality of a film.

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