I think it’s safe to say most of us have been watching more films and television than usual recently. Deciding what to put on, however, can often take up more (frustrating) time than actually watching it, part of the perils of having too much choice and not much else to do but scroll.
I offer a deceptively simple solution: watch something you’ve already seen. Some will groan or raise a bored eyebrow faced with this repetitiveness, whilst others might find a comforting escapism in going back to an old favourite. The nostalgia it can bring can be reason enough to re-watch something: the familiarity and safety of something already loved should not be sneered at, especially in times such as these where those two qualities are hard to find.
But re-watching is important beyond nostalgia: another look can reveal things about a show or film that change everything you think about it, or at least add some interesting nuance. Sometimes it’s almost a necessary practise, when a first look at something perhaps revered as vital viewing just leaves you confused. A re-watch can be a powerful tool in understanding and appreciating things to their full capacity, and should not be disregarded too easily in favour of constant newness.
Take my experience with 70’s gangster epic The Godfather, one of my favourite films. The first time I watched it I certainly enjoyed it, with all the dramatic lighting and intense Al Pacino stares. But if I’m honest a lot of its intricate mafia business was lost on me, and the times where I’ve forced friends to try it for the first time since have necessitated several breaks for explanations about what’s actually happening, whose name is what, and which person in a dark suit we’re meant to be rooting for. It’s quite a lot to take in first time around. But when watching it again, I could take a metaphorical step back from the plot to focus on the spiderweb of details within, and it is these details which have made the film endlessly compelling.
During that second watch, and every time I’ve seen it since, I have found more and more to relish. I love to focus on each figure in the iconic first scene wedding and the set-up of their stories to come, and to track the subtle changes in how Michael, the principal character, interacts with his world as he morphs into someone almost unrecognisable by the films end. I can sit back and appreciate the power of the soundtrack, the editing, the direction, without simultaneously trying to connect the dots within the main story.
The more familiar I am with the story the freer I feel to interrogate it as well, casting a critical eye on the agency and power (or lack thereof) of the film’s women. Similar stories can be told about so many other excellent films and TV shows I’ve gone back to: on a second watch you can find deeper and deeper personal intrigue as well as a tighter grasp on the plot. There’s no imperative to over-analyse every little action, just a chance to take them all in.
It’s like the difference between working on a puzzle with or without knowing what it should look like when complete. Finally understanding how everything fits together at the end is exciting in its own way, but there’s also something compelling in being able to interrogate exactly why each piece fits together the way it does. The high stakes tension of not knowing how things will end is gone, leaving space to observe exactly how and why these endings happen.
Parasite, for a more contemporary favourite, is an excellent film for this kind of treatment. The true power of all the choices made by both the characters and the film makers can only fully be appreciated once you know what they are building up to, and, even then, interpreting each walk up or down the stairs, each camera pan demands much theorizing as to its meaning. I wanted to watch it again as soon I stepped out of the cinema, and Bong Joon-Ho has crammed so many subtleties in that film I think I could do so endlessly.
Saying this, not everything deserves multiple re-watches, and not everything needs multiple re-watches to be seen as brilliant. However, I’ll strongly defend the point that one mark of a truly great piece of television or film is its ability to stand up to being re-watched. Something you can come back to again and again knowing there is more to see, to interpret, to explore. Something that can still hold you once you know all the set ups, all the jokes, all the twists and turns. Something that also holds up outside of its original context and is not flooded with things once seen as ‘entertaining’ or ‘funny’ which are in fact simply lazy, offensive, discriminatory or generally (and rightfully) no longer tolerated. Films and TV shows that can’t stand up to the scrutiny that comes from a re-examination don’t need repeating, but those that do deserve celebrating.
For some people the allure of the new will always take precedence over going back to something they’ve seen before. But I think there is something particularly special in the re-watching experience, whether it’s the simple pleasure of nostalgia or the allowance of time and space for deeper appreciation of something great. For these reasons I stand decidedly by the importance of a re-watch. At the very least it’s one solution to the question of what to put on next.