Thursday, January 22, 2004

Once, Twice, Three Times a Classic

Aaron Haspel posted A Critic's Dictionary several days ago, but it took me until this morning to have a minor epiphany about what it is I disagree with. The salient paragraph, which I would take a (small amount) of issue with is this...
Surprise! Nothing is worth seeing or reading that isn't worth seeing or reading twice, and the second time you know how it turns out. Dickens wrote three endings for Great Expectations; Hollywood tests movies with alternate endings all the time. What happens in the last two pages or the last thirty seconds just cannot make that great a difference. The chick in The Crying Game is really a dude, and Kevin Spacey's Keyser Soze, OK? If you're watching a movie or reading a book to find out what's going to happen, I suggest, with all due respect, a more productive use of time, like filing your corns or catching up on the details of Britney's annulment.

While I agree with the basic premise that nothing is worth seeing that isn't worth seeing twice, I would, in fact, go Aaron one better and say that nothing is worth calling a classic (especially in terms of cinema) that isn't worth seeing thrice.

A couple of case studies.

The Usual Suspects: Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze. In the initial viewing we are in suspense, it's a puzzle to solve, we have the "ah hah" moment at the end. Second viewing we can watch to see how the director left clues for us, we can enjoy the irony of being in on the joke. Third viewing it remains a sharply written, well acted film, and even though we are familiar with the twist, it remains fun.

The Sixth Sense: First viewing, same as above. Second viewing, similarly, not too bad, because it is enjoyable to see where clues had been placed. Third viewing, don't bother, it's a bore.

Of these two, I would argue that The Usual Suspects is the really good movie, and that it takes the third viewing to establish that. Even a mediocre movie might deserve a second look, just to figure out where the mirrors were hidden, but there does have to be something beyond a twist to sustain a third viewing. Whether it be great dialog (see yesterday's post, here, for a snippet), great direction (Citizen Kane, it is of little consequence that you know what Rosebud is), or great acting. There are also movies, such as The Crying Game, or Memento that are all about the twist or the gimmick and hardly rate even a second viewing. However, in the case of The Sixth Sense, which is a clever movie but not a great movie, a lesser film may deserve, or at least remain enjoyable, for a second viewing.

Terry Teachout also had something to say on this (here), and thanks to Terry for a mention yesterday. Futurballa had a record (for this humble blog) number of hits. Welcome to our visitors from About Last Night. Thanks for stopping by.

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