“I saw all these films more than once, and they yielded up more riches on second and third viewings. For me, that’s a pretty good definition of a work of art: The more you see of it, the more you see in it.”
It’s always reassuring to have one’s predilections confirmed by someone you respect. Most of the films I watch and the running list I keep of those I hope to see soon I have already seen, often many times. For Christmas my oldest son gave me a year’s subscription to the Criterion Channel. All the films I have thus far watched – Stevie, Boudu Saved from Drowning, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Metropolitan, Vivre sa vie, The Horse’s Mouth – I first saw decades ago, fondly remember and now have a handy excuse to watch again. There are more than a handful of films I have seen perhaps a dozen times each – The Wild Bunch, The Godfather I and II, Rio Bravo, The Third Man, much of Laurel and Hardy – and will happily watch again.
The same is true for books. I know people who are appalled by the notion of reading a book or watching a movie even twice. Yet, paradoxically, the only books and films worth reading and watching are those worth rereading and rewatching. You wouldn’t go to the Art Institute of Chicago, visit Hopper’s Nighthawks, scratch it off your list and vow never to see it again. Then again, you probably wouldn’t watch a super-hero movie even the first time.
The author of the statement at the top is the late Terry Teachout. His brief piece appeared twenty years ago in the January 2002 issue of The American Enterprise. “A Canvas For Good Painting and Bad” is part of a collection of articles by twelve writers titled “Are Movies Art?” Terry concludes his contribution like this:
“Film, like a canvas or a piece of paper, is only as good or bad as what a living, breathing human being puts on it. I saw a lot of perfectly awful movies in 2001, but even while I was squirming in my seat it never occurred to me to conclude that movies aren’t art. The poor ones are just bad art. A medium capable of giving us Citizen Kane or The Searchers or Chinatown doesn’t have to apologize for Pearl Harbor.
“Well, maybe just a little.”