Friday, January 13, 2017

Over and Over

I’ve met people who hate seeing a movie or TV show twice. “What’s the point?” they ask. “I know what is going to happen.” They are in the distinct minority however. For most of us, knowing what is going to happen is one of the elements we find so comforting. In an uncertain world, it’s nice not to stress about an outcome, even a bad one. The devil you know, and all that: in the case of some horror films that might be literal. Kids especially like the familiar as parents well know when their DVD player starts spinning Annie for the 103rd time.

Back in the Paleoelectronic days of my youth there were no consumer video players. Videotape machines did exist, but they were large costly devices used by broadcasters. They were so expensive that for the first decade of commercial broadcasting in the US, most TV shows were broadcast live to spare the expense of taping ahead of time. Yet, there were still opportunities then to rewatch favorite movies at home. Independent TV stations, such as WOR in New York, commonly played the same movie every day for a week. If it was something boy-friendly such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Forbidden Planet, or King Kong, you can be sure I watched it (if possible) every one of those days. To this day I can speak the dialogue along with the characters in all those movies.

Our patience for such repetition fades as we age. I don’t think I could force myself to watch the same film every day for a week nowadays without the promise of a big cash prize for doing so, but there are still movies I like to revisit – not every day but from time to time – be they classics like The Philadelphia Story and Gilda or recent guilty pleasures such as Scott Pilgrim vs, the World. That’s what DVD shelves (and Netflix) are for.

Why do we enjoy the repetition beyond the simple comfort of knowing who or what is scratching on the other side of that door? Part of it – at least as adults – is nostalgia. A particular film connects us to our past in some way. Maybe it reminds us of the time in our lives when we first saw it or maybe (especially in recent flicks) some theme in the film evokes something from our past. The same can be said of favorite songs. That’s why on average 54 minutes out of every hour we listen to music are dedicated to familiar songs. However, playing an oldie on the stereo is just a 3 minute commitment instead of a 2 or 3 hour one, which is why we do it more readily.

According to Cristel Antonia Russell and Sidney Levy (rf. The Temporal and Focal Dynamics of Volitional Reconsumption: A Phenomenological Investigation of Repeated Hedonic Experiences – with an intimidating title like that they must be onto something), in addition to nostalgia and the joy of the familiar some movies have therapeutic effects. We find something in them that helps us work through something in our own lives.

Then again maybe we just like the movie. We can’t always give reasons for our affections – and not just (alas) for movies. Now that I think of it, it has been too long since I last watched The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) for every single one of the reasons (and nonreasons) above. Time to crack open the DVD case and do it again.

The Beach Boys - Do It Again


  1. When you think back on the Stone Ages of technology we have indeed gone far. Who woulda thunk? Carrying a computer type device with you that allows you to phone home and watch movies. Wow.

    We didn't have a WOR around here, but if something familiar came on like Wizard of Oz or some other annual broadcast, I'd sit in front of the TV set and watch it. I remember repeatedly watching many of those old Weissmuller Tarzan films as a kid along with The Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, etc.

    I re-watch a lot of movies too. I guess it's nostalgia or I just like the movies. I can't say how many times I've re-watched The Thing From Another World by Howard Hawks or Forbidden Planet, or just about any Harryhausen, or even newer movies like Alien, Star Wars: A New Hope, or Bladerunner. I think part of it (at least for the second or third time) might be I might want to see if I caught everything the first time around. After that it might just be the set designs, etc. After that who knows?

    It's kind of like comfort food to me particularly if you're under the weather and your brain isn't firing on all cylinders, repeat watching is somehow comforting.

    With music it's a bit different, as I'm always up to hear something new, but then I do re-listen to older stuff too, and get the yen to hear a particular song. But then classic rock stations are built on repeated listening. I somehow equate where I was in time more easily with music. I can remember when I first hear Dark Side of the Moon, and when I first heard The Who Sell Out, etc.

    1. I still like to discover new music too. But the first thing I do when I find something new that I like is to play it again, so I suppose from that point on it’s an oldie. Yes, songs can take us back in time as effectively as anything, aromas included.

      Nowadays we can add bingewatching TV series for those long under-the-weather days. Hmmm…maybe enough time has gone by for me to enjoy the whole of Firefly once again.

  2. Yeah I'm a sucker for watching and re-watching movies. Hell, October is pretty much comprised of movies I've seen before but act as a celebration of sorts for the season.

    There is also a comfort element to revising a story and characters that bring you some kind of happiness. It is one of the reasons I love revisiting MST3K episodes so much.

    1. It's kind of like being at a house party with old friends while sitting unobtrusively on a couch sippin' a Jack Daniel's. Even though you're not interacting and your friends are telling the same old stories, it's still nice to be there.