A couple days ago there was an interesting piece in the Guardian about whether critics should see movies more than once, and whether that was fair to viewers who, for the most part, are likely to only see a movie one time. You can go here to read it.
I think of myself primarily as film lover before a reviewer or critic. If I think a film deserves a second viewing, and I liked it enough to do that, I don’t mind going again while it’s in cinemas, especially if I go with someone who hasn’t seen it. Though I grant that not everyone has the time or the money to see movies twice.
And there are certainly times when I’ve not liked something much the first time, but really enjoyed it the second. Off the top of my head, titles like Michael Clayton and Edge of Tomorrow.
Some filmmakers, like Paul Thomas Anderson, their films are so dense and demanding they really require extra viewings. I think that’s OK, too. I haven’t seen Inherent Vice more than once, but I’d like to. The Master, There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, and Boogie Nights, all affected me in new ways from seeing them again.
I’ll often see movies I liked again when they’re released on DVD/Blu-Ray or VOD to confirm that they were as good as I remember. In fact, as regular readers of FITI will know, one of my strongest criteria for quality in cinema is rewatchability.
Which brings me to the interesting case of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).
While I was in Toronto this week, a friend who loves movies but sees fewer than I do asked me what I wanted to go see at the cinema. He suggested a list of possibilities, including Foxcatcher, Unbroken, The Theory of Everything, Wild, and Birdman. Some of these I’d liked a lot, enough to mention them in my end of year lists, but not enough to want to watch them a second time so soon after the first screenings.
I offered to rewatch Birdman, which I gave a largely negative review, and went so far to call it the most overrated movie of the year, due to all the awards its been receiving. It’s an Oscar front-runner in a couple of categories, Best Picture and Best Actor.
Maybe all those accolades started to undercut my confidence in my own opinion. I certainly started to wonder whether I was missing something profound in all the excitement around the film. The fact I was willing to sit through it a second time suggests there was something about it that lingered in my mind, maybe even more than, say, The Theory of Everything, which I doubt I’ll ever want to see again. (For the record, I find biopics, no matter how good they are, rarely reward a second viewing.)
So, I went to see Birdman again. Here’s what I learned about it (and my changeable mind) from a second go:
1) I still think it’s a too cynical and heavy-handed movie for me to really appreciate all its creative machinations, even as I admired some of those efforts. Its themes are confused, its conclusion empty, and it still doesn’t appear to really be about anything. So no big shift there.
2) I did like it more than the first time around. The performances are more fun, and much funnier, than I had remembered. Edward Norton is terrific. He gets to riff on his own reputation as a demanding artiste, with which he clearly has a ball. I really enjoyed his connection with Emma Stone. Their chemistry is bubbly. And also, kudos to both Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough for their fine work.
3) I enjoyed a character element that didn’t stand out in the first viewing—the way Riggins confuses love with adoration, something Amy Ryan’s character points out. That, to me, is one of the more interesting, less sour ideas. But what does it say about the film, or about me, that it didn’t resonate the first time?
4) The swooping, prowling camerawork, which was the thing I originally singled out as one of the best things about the film? I liked it a lot less the second time. In fact, I think it sometimes just draws attention to itself, rather than broadening or enhancing the story or character drama. It puts an exclamation on the movie’s meta-narrative, and I think while it works for some sequences, it might just be a little too on-the-nose, adding to the overall self-seriousness. It could use a lot less of that.
5) Keaton. His courage and lack of vanity is really something to see.
6) Overall, I think I may have been a little too tough on it the first time around. It has a lot of ideas and ambition. I need to give it credit for that. I think my expectations going in the first time were pretty high, the second time much lower, so I was able to find more that I liked.
But, that said, I don’t disagree with what I wrote in the first review, maybe just a bit of my tone. It might not be the most overrated film of the year. Now I’m thinking that’s probably Foxcatcher.
I guess, all this to say is, I’m as human as the next person who writes about film. But I strongly subscribe to the idea that if a second viewing is possible, if you think it’s going to change or add to your first impression of a film, or if you have some unsettled questions about a it, you should do it. Why not? We’re all film lovers here. How else would you rather spend your time?