About Face: Thoughts on “Second Impressions”

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In the May/June issue of Film Comment, you’ll find Philip Lopate’s essay “Second Impressions”, a detailed and fascinating account on the issue of re-visiting films over time and why multiple viewings of a particular film can expand one’s affection for the work, or inevitably lessen the impact of it as well. It’s a strikingly candid approach to an often complex and personal scenario. The idea of re-visiting films, with some distance and age, remains the backbone of film analysis, a key factor in understanding how and why we think about movies in certain ways.

In college, my first Film History teacher introduced me to the writings of Jonathan Rosenbaum and J. Hoberman, still for my money the two best American film critics working today. The cornerstone of their analysis was and still is the idea that films evolve over time, and the critic must revisit these works in order to evolve with them. This ended up being the perfect slap in the face for a Tarantino-infused student confident he had a firm grasp of the film world. Yet their words still ring true eight years later, and I revisit films all the time, some expanding, others contracting in importance. It’s the gamble we take as cinephiles to re-visit time-capsule emotions that might not exist in the same way any longer.

Lopate’s article brings to light a great deal of inner struggles the film writer experiences with historiography, preconception, and criticism in general, struggles that make film one of the most dynamic mediums ever. But his words also reveal how susceptible we are to specific time and place, emotion, and rhythm. Some films might seem slight at one point in our lives but change dramatically upon second viewing, not because the film changed, but because we have. This is a haunting feeling, maybe even a disturbing one, resonating from the idea that we can pass such clear- cut judgement on a piece of art then have an about face years later, merely because we sit from a different perspective. But the best film writers address this situation exactly how Lopate has, with compassion, respect, and love for the medium in which they are constantly battling.

My biggest about face came with Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, a film I despised upon theatrical release because of it’s seemingly overt contempt for the viewer and cop-out ending. But in the years since, I started screenwriting and teaching, and went back and viewed Adaptation again. This time I found the film mesmerizing, ground-breaking, and incredibly humane. Nicolas Cage’s dual performance as Charlie and Donald is one of the most complex ever, and when their bond finally breaks, its as devastating and sublime as film gets. All of the movie’s “contempt” had faded away, revealing a passion for challenging the traditional methods of filmmaking and expression. The first time I watched Adaptation I wasn’t a writer, but by this point I considered myself just that, and it made all the difference. I’m curious if any you Match Cuts readers have had a startling about face either way, and if so, why? Feel free to share in the comments section.

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One thought on “About Face: Thoughts on “Second Impressions”

  1. This made me go back and reread Kent Jones’ Film Comment (May/June 05′) article on Andrew Sarris where he states “Sarris’s openhearted stance before the wonder of cinema (is) the polar opposite of Kael’s famous one-viewing/one-judgement credo”

    That article also made me realize how enjoyable Sarris’s The American Cinema really is. So glad I own that book.

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