Somewhat ironic

Posted by · 3:50 pm · December 8th, 2009

One of the numerous problems I always had with the late critic Pauline Kael was the pride she took in seeing a film only once before reviewing it, and in maintaining that she would never go back and revise an opinion later. While I could understand this stance from a professional point of view — Kael was nothing if not opinionated, and it was no doubt necessary that her opinions be seen as absolute, unwavering and not subject to change — from a human standpoint it always seemed silly. While the great majority of movies don’t need or deserve repeat viewings, why deny yourself the pleasure of seeing films you love a second or third time, or of watching a film more closely to understand how the filmmakers made it work?

Penned by Todd McCarthy on October 11, 2001 in relation to David Lynch’s then on-coming “Mulholland Drive,” and in an age when the internet had not yet begun to make traditional media sweat.

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22 responses so far

  • 1 12-08-2009 at 4:34 pm

    RichardA said...

    Because watching a movie is a $10 luxury. It better be good the first time around.

    Imagine if Pauline told people to watch the movie five times before finally liking it.

  • 2 12-08-2009 at 4:40 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “It better be good the first time around. ”

    That’s, I’m sorry, kind of stupid. It’s not about “before finally liking it,” it’s about being willing to give a film multiple looks.

    But clearly you don’t understand, so…onward.

  • 3 12-08-2009 at 4:44 pm

    Me. said...

    Out of the blue but I’ve always wondered what’s your favorite movie Kris.

    I know Guy’s is Gone With the Wind.

  • 4 12-08-2009 at 4:46 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It’s lame but I tend to differentiate between “favorite” and “best,” if that makes any sense. Favorite, probably “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Best, I’m cliche: “Citizen Kane.”

  • 5 12-08-2009 at 4:50 pm

    Zac said...

    If I see a bad movie, 99 times out of 100, I’m never seeing it again.

    If I see a good movie, depending on how high I think of it, I’ll want to see it again. Case in point, I saw Minority Report 3 times opening weekend.

    The truly great movies get better each time you see them. I didn’t have Children of Men on my Top 10 of 2006 when I initially made the list. Over time, though the movie stayed with me to the point where it is in the Top 5.

  • 6 12-08-2009 at 5:17 pm

    Joel said...

    I didn’t like “Minority Report” the first time I saw it, but now I hold to my opinion that I’ve seen no better film from this decade.

    On the other hand, my favorite film ever is “12 Angry Men,” and I knew that the first time I watched it. It defined why I want to be a film critic, and does so with each viewing.

  • 7 12-08-2009 at 5:43 pm

    Chris said...

    I generally agree with you on this one, Kris. Certain films demand multiple viewings, not because they aren’t clear enough on the first viewing, but because as pieces of art they allow themselves to have multiple layers and to be equivocal. A good or intriguing film can be read like a novel – if there’s something that interests you then you might find sparks of it somewhere else in the film and thus one viewing might not be enough to solidify your opinion.

    Therefore I’d say that a film like “The White Ribbon” which I find has a whole range of flaws, deserves a second viewing because it’s content is richer tha one viewing could ever disclose. Sure, watching films is expensive, but if you don’t want to give what it takes to experience a work of art, then why bother at all?

  • 8 12-08-2009 at 5:59 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Interestingly enough, I just watched The White Ribbon, and I felt similarly. I generally dislike Haneke’s work, but it’s undeniable that he works on multiple layers.

    Thanks for getting it.

  • 9 12-08-2009 at 6:03 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Funny, while I like “The White Ribbon” quite a bit more than Kris, I thought it was one of Haneke’s least elusive works on a first viewing — it shows its hand pretty clearly, I thought.

  • 10 12-08-2009 at 6:08 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I would argue that, for me personally and aside from broad comedy that loses a bit of punch, every film gets better with repeat viewings.

  • 11 12-08-2009 at 6:10 pm

    Mark Maiden said...

    Was it Hitchcock that said, “The first time you watch a film. The second time you “see” it.”
    OK, maybe that’s a little pretentious, but could you imagine seeing “Vertigo” once?!

  • 12 12-08-2009 at 6:39 pm

    James D. said...

    Here is my thing.

    Have I changed my mind about films? Absolutely. The most recent example would be Zodiac, which left me bored to tears when I saw it, but now I think it is one of Fincher’s best works.

    However, it doesn’t come from watching a film multiple time in the course of a few weeks. It takes months of reflections, moments of being reminded of the film in a certain situation, and so on. And that is the problem with things like Oscars and all other awards. Would the Academy seriously give Crash the Best Picture award if they had to wait longer to reflect?

  • 13 12-08-2009 at 7:28 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    James: allowing time is part of it, but in the case of Lovely Bones, I think there are certain visceral elements that just don’t register initially. It’s a different issue than what you’re arguing, but I agree with that too.

  • 14 12-08-2009 at 8:34 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Mulholland Drive is probably my favorite film of the decade. David Lynch is obviously someone whose films need multiple viewings. All the best directors make films that warrant multiple viewings like the Coen brothers, Fincher, Nolan, Aronofsky, PTA. The list goes on.

  • 15 12-08-2009 at 8:58 pm

    Wade said...

    This is a bit off topic, Kris, but have you seen Richard Corliss of TIME’s top 10 of 2009 list? It’s… interesting.

  • 16 12-09-2009 at 7:15 am

    Lance said...

    Kris, now you are calling people stupid…oh wait you made it sound nicer by saying “kinda stupid” It’s not only rude but it comes across as if no one should be able to have a different opinion as you. I don’t even know why you allow comments after your articles.

    “It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you’re the smartest person in the room. ” – Broadcast News

  • 17 12-09-2009 at 8:25 am

    taptup said...

    Let it be, Kris. I don’t think this was necessary.

  • 18 12-09-2009 at 9:01 am

    david said...

    I think a critic should be allowed the flexibility to change their opinion about a film. I know, I do sometimes. Just because they put their initial reaction in print, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to retract that column if the film opens up to them in a different way after repeated viewings. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a good professional practice to do this frequently, but on an occasional basis, I wouldn’t find any fault with it.

  • 19 12-09-2009 at 9:43 am

    Hero said...

    Thank you for these posts about how we view and think about art. It’s given me a lot to chew on as far as my own reactions to movie, and I just had something of an epiphany. I’ve never had trouble explaining pretty immediately why I liked something, but I frequently need time and multiple viewings to explain why something didn’t quite work for me. I wonder why? If you have any further insights, Kris, I’d be happy to read more posts on the subject.

  • 20 12-09-2009 at 3:09 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    This is why, and I say this with great reverence for the work you guys do, I could never review films for a living. I know too well that certain films have grown on me overtime, and I could never live with knowing that I have a legacy of a certain position on them that was not thoroughly considered.

    Best example I can think of would be Christopher Guest’s A MIGHTY WIND or Michael Mann’s MIAMI VICE, two films I was intially “meh” on that I now consider to be among the films of the decade.

  • 21 12-10-2009 at 12:03 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Lance: Yes, to me, the idea that films cost money so they should “be good the first time around” is, indeed, kinda stupid. Sorry.

  • 22 12-10-2009 at 2:00 am

    Eunice said...

    I agree with the general opinion that there are certain films that should be watched more than once in order to appreciate them better. I had this experience with ‘Children of Men’, which came out a few years ago, and which bored me to death at first, but now, upon seeing it a couple of times since then, has become one of my favorite movies of that year. It also allows you to see elements of a film that you didn’t pay attention to before, or just dismissed.