The Second Time Around

“Dude, it was way better the second time.”

Whether you’re into movies, poems, music, or Kant, I can pretty much guarantee you’ve said this, or something like it, at some point. Though second viewings can sometimes detract from your original experience of a film, they just as often result in an increased enthusiasm—especially if you’re trying to analyze the movie. You see more. You understand more. You enjoy more.

Generally, I’m a big fan of this phenomenon. After all, enjoyment is pretty enjoyable. But every once in a while, the whole thing backfires, and you find yourself hoodwinked into thinking a bad movie (or novel, or theory, or work of art) was actually good—“Oh, it actually had some really cool stuff going on now that I look at it again.” Take for example, Brian DePalma’s craptacular Blow Out (1981, with John Travolta), on which I recently had the extreme displeasure of writing a very short paper.

In lieu of the vitriolic rant I’ve brewed up against this film’s general soullesness, inanity, and self-importance, I will merely say that I hated Blow Out the first time around. My heart sank right into my lower intestine as the credits rolled up and I realized I would have to watch the film again. DePalma’s films make very effective second viewing traps, because they do actually have a visual plan and definite patterns that will become readily apparent and “reward” you for finding them. I knew that if I wanted to avoid falling into the film’s pretentious clutches, I would have to seriously scrutinize my evaluative process.

The key turned out to be taking a thorough look at the three possible responses: appreciation, enjoyment, and liking. Though one usually accompanies the others, there is a definite distinction between each. Appreciation constitutes an understanding of the film’s design. Enjoyment refers to the experience of pleasure while watching the film. And liking implies an approval of the film’s overall effect. Obviously, these responses are interrelated, since it’s hard to enjoy a film that you don’t have at least some understanding of, and even harder to approve of one that makes you feel unpleasant. The same, of course, can be said of really any text—you can’t fall in love with Chekhov before you dig into his subtext; you don’t get down with Philip Glass until his patterns make themselves apparent.

The danger arises when these separate responses get jumbled together and are confused for integrated aspects of a single process. If you’re not careful, the increased appreciation that accompanies a second viewing can result in an increase in enjoyment that translates into a higher opinion of the film. You’ll pat yourself on the back for figuring out the filmmaker’s plan, and then you’ll pat the filmmaker’s plan on the back so that you can feel like figuring it out was worth the effort.

So, beware! Just because DePalma’s zoom shots serve specific purposes, doesn’t make his usage “interesting,” or “good.” Just because you see a plan the second time around, doesn’t mean you have to like it. Analysis of any kind should lead you to appreciation, but not always to approval.

-By Gus Spelman ’11

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