For most films, once is enough. That isn’t to say that they are necessarily bad or weak, it’s just that they either reveal all their worth on first viewing or that the effort of watching them again seems unnecessary.
Then, there are films that one effortlessly watch over and over again. What makes them so compulsively re-watchable? This came up in discussion recently with The Princh, whose name will be revealed if she gives me permission. She opined that she can watch certain films over and over again because she is on the lookout for something new to delight her. This seemed right to me, but it didn’t seem like enough.
The answer as to why I personally watch things over and over again hit me recently while watching The Magnificent Ambersons for the billionth time.
As I was watching it I realized that movies I re-watch are really little worlds to which I like to return and live in for a while. The attraction is precisely that they are so familiar. I know every corner of the them like I know every corner of my Chicago neighborhood.
But then this happened:
Towards the end of the movie, there is a cut to the above headline, which advances the plot. Nothing special about that. But then I was thunderstruck by what I saw in the upper-left hand corner. There was a theater column written by Jed Leland, a major character from Orson Welles’ previous film Citizen Kane.
What this said was that people in the town the Ambersons’ town read the column of a character from another movie, and that both films were of the same world! With this quick visual, Welles expanded both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons into worlds that existed complexly and quite independently of my being a part of them. When I was not watching them, they whirled around in their enormous, self-contained universe.
From now on, when I revisit these films, I will know that there is more going on behind the screen than I ever imagined. I may not know what it all is, but it justifies my feeling of a world I can visit and dream in.