This week I was taken to task on our message boards – not for being fat
(that’s what the comments section below is for), but for having
recommended too many comedies last year. The person took issue with my
enthusiasm for what he saw as a large number of comedies, but not
necessarily because they weren’t funny. Here’s what he said:

Not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with loving comedy,
just saying it is the rare comedy that is truly worth repeat viewings
with the mind turned on[.]


In another post he said:

Shouldn’t movies be rewatchable just as great books are rereadable? Of
course, for that analogy to work, I’d have to believe people still read
books. Ah well.


Leaving
aside his intellectual snobbery (which I full endorse! Huzzah!), I’m
intrigued by this guy’s point. He’s articulating what I think has been
a major change in the way that audiences relate to movies – they’ve
gone from being disposable entertainment to collectible entertainment.
And this might not be the best turn of events.

When I say
movies used to be disposable entertainments I don’t mean that they were
considered things that could be thrown away (although they were. A huge
number of silent films are completely, irrevocably lost because nobody
bothered to hold on to them) but rather that they were intended to be
watched once, or a few times. For decades you could only see movies in
theaters, and while there were annual revivals of particularly popular
titles, your average filmgoer would likely see a movie one time. TV
added more options and changed the audience’s relationship with film –
you could now see old movies that would have otherwise been
disintegrating in studio vaults, for instance – but you were at the
mercy of the station’s programmer. With the exception of holiday
favorites who knew when you would next get a chance to see a particular
movie.

Things began to change with home video. Suddenly movies
became collectible objects*; instead of only seeing it in theaters or
hoping to catch a showing on The Million Dollar Movie, you could watch
a movie whenever you felt like it. Today you can watch them wherever
you feel like; I have a handheld thing that holds 80 gigs of data –
that’s 20 to 40 movies, depending on compression.

In the past
I’ve bitched about how the easy access to movies has made them less
special. In a better world having all of the greats of film at arm’s
length would lead to a greater cinema literacy, but to my eyes it sure
hasn’t. If anything, knowing that a movie will be on DVD in four months
after the theatrical release has led to people being lazier about
seeing films and the idea of seeing movies – once a great and exciting
social activity – has been demoted to something you do when you’re
trying to get some sleep.

While this access has led to movies
being less special, I think it may have led us to expect something more
out of them, something that isn’t always necessary for a film to be
worthwhile. The more we consume movies at home, by buying DVDs, the
more concerned we become with the idea that the investment in that DVD
be a sound one – are we getting our money’s worth? And the math for
that is simple: will this movie be rewatchable?

It’s sort of
interesting that the guy uses books in his post, since how many of us
buy books based on the idea that we’ll read them three or four times?
Of course books are bigger time investments than movies – we’re getting
our money’s worth because we’ll be reading the book for days (this is
an example of why comic books are the single worst way to spend your
money). My shelves are filled with books that I have read
once, and will likely never read again. I thought Jeffrey Eugenides’
Middlesex was brilliant, but I can’t imagine why I would pick it up
again any time in this decade. Does that make the book less worthy,
less good in some way? Of course not. Could another reading of the book
open up new themes, meanings or imagery for me? Sure, and the book is
so well written that I think it’s almost guaranteed that I will pick up
new things another time through. But there are still so many other
books out there, and frankly sometimes one and done is enough.

The
same thing goes for movies. I saw Superbad at San Diego Comic Con last
July… and haven’t seen it again since. I don’t even own the DVD. I
would watch it again if I had a friend who wanted to see it with me,
and I would watch it again if I came across it on cable. I’d watch it
again, but don’t feel the need to do so. I loved the movie the first
time I saw it, and any coverage I gave it on the site reflected that.
And to be honest I’m okay with that; I wasn’t advocating that you
become domestic partners with the movie, just that you go out and see
it.

The truth is that not every movie is built to withstand
multiple viewings. They don’t all have to be; the really, really good
ones – the classics – should be able to withstand a viewing a year
without falling apart, but not every film has to be that way. Sometimes
movies just have to work on the day. Unless the day is when you’re
buying the DVD for 20 bucks and sticking the case on your display shelf
for eternity. Now the movie has passed from something that you can
watch and enjoy into something bigger, more meaningful. People come
over your house and see it on the shelf. It’s an indicator of your
personality and your lifestyle. Once upon a time movies had to earn two
hours in front of your eyes, but today they have to earn an eternity in
your collection. That just seems like too harsh a standard.

Don’t
take this as a defense of mindless, dumb movies – there are plenty of
damn smart movies I’ve seen once or twice and never again – I saw
Children of Men twice in theaters and have never even opened the DVD
case, just to use another example of a modern movie. It’s funny – I
used to watch new movies on DVD a minimum of twice in the first few
months I had them, now I almost never buy new DVDs at all. It hasn’t
been a conscious decision, but I feel like I’m saving myself from
burning out on these movies too early. The great films of the past were
movies that held up over time but were also movies that I would see
once or twice a year, if even that. There’s something to be said about
moderation when it comes to how many times you see a film; how will any
movie hold up to the test of time when you’re subjecting it to that
test every three or four weeks?

*I do understand that for the hardcore, people who collected prints and the like, they always were.