Should you re-watch films that seemed great to you when you were 15? In my experience, this is usually a bad idea. I say 15, but it could be 18, or 21 or even 30 –pieces of art that make a big impression initially can sometimes disappoint on later viewing/reading/listening. But if you don’t check them out again years later, you might be recommending absolute rubbish to people. Some things of course – like ‘The Maltese Falcon’ get better. But others – it’s not just that they disappoint – it’s that they make you wonder who you were, what kind of a shallow fool you must have been. They make you worry that maybe you’re still a fool now. Maybe you’re clapping your hands, this very minute, like a wind-up chimp, at some piece of mediocre nonsense. It’s unsettling.
Anyway I’ve done it twice recently. The first was ‘Wings of Desire’ which I hadn’t seen since it first came out, but didn’t even doubt for a second that I would find it equally great. And it wasn’t that it was terrible. It was still beautiful, and still a great idea. But something about the writing. After about 45 minutes I couldn’t take any more. Maybe it had been a long day. Maybe I was tired. But it was just noise. Noise that wouldn’t stop until I ejected the DVD. But I did feel very bad about this. Later, at Pete’s insistence, I watched the film with the director’s commentary – and this I would definitely recommend: a) because you don’t hear the script (b) because you get to hear Peter Falk discussing his scenes and (c) because you discover the original ‘custard pie fight’ ending – which is well…remarkable.
The second occasion was Jean Cocteau’s ‘La Belle et La Bete’. Again – it wasn’t terrible. Just whereas when I was 15 I thought it was a marvellous work of art, now I saw it more as a source of high comedy. ‘La Bete’ in particular (who is played by Bungle who went on to achieve great fame in Rainbow) and his way of hissing ‘Belle’, or spitting ‘chaque soir’, is very entertaining. I’m too scared to watch ‘Orphee’ now – I don’t think I could bear the disappointment if it turned out to be less great than I remembered it.
The exciting possibility exists that maybe this works in reverse too, and films or books that you originally thought were abysmal would maybe be amazing given a second chance.