It has been argued that films are best watched in a theatre and in one sitting. And it would probably be fair to say this is how films were designed to be viewed. But that does not prove this is the best way to do it. In order to keep this discussion simple, let us agree to ignore the obvious fact that a theatre has better sight and sound and home viewing allows for better, cheaper food. We can focus on the basic difference between watching a film straight through uninterrupted versus breaking a film up into two or three parts to be viewed over a space of time. As usual, we should begin with an email sent to me:


"Solaris.  Wow.  I watched it in two nights, because I had to, and
you're right, that's better.  However, I'm not sure that a movie that has to be watched in two sittings is necessarily a good thing - a movie seems to me to be designed to be watched in one sitting.  if it gets boring, that's its fault." - t


True, but just because you can watch a film over two sessions does not mean it couldn't be watched in one, as I would argue is the case with Solaris. I am interested in just such films, those which could be enjoyed either whole or in parts. This way there is a real and valid choice. And the question is not how to make a boring film tolerable, but how can we get the best experience possible.


The basis for watching a movie in parts the first time is rooted in the way people read works of literature. People tend to read books one segment at a time over a span of time. What are the advantages of doing it this way? First, time away offers an opportunity for subconscious processing. Often in high art, the meaning of the whole is suffused through every part in accordance with the demands of coherence (and gobbledygook). The point is watching even the first 30 minutes of a film should give you enough to begin forming a sense of the larger meaning. "But wait," you say, "Why can't I just process it after I see the whole thing one time?" Well, you can. But remember you only get one chance to see something for the first time. Allowing for some interval reflection (go ahead and click now) affords you the ability to enjoy the latter portion of the film having already begun to form a sense of its overall meaning. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to see a film again, for the first time. This could be the closest thing to it. It is.


In fact the idea of waiting is already built directly into many films. For example, Tarkovsky gives us many long sequences where we can just meditate to the sound of his father's poetry or drive through a tunnel on the way to the airport. These are like little intermissions built right into the films. Antonioni and many others also provide such pauses.


Intervals allow not only processing but informed anticipation, which can prime and heighten your sensitivity to the work. You yearn for the story's completion. But why rush it?


Action movies need not apply.


Of course, the final viewing session should be of sufficient duration as to allow emotional immersion. Obviously, it would not do to sit down to watch the last three minutes of a film. Common sense should be applied.


Films amenable to this strategy:


1.     Andrei Rublev

2.     Solaris

3.     Children of Paradise

4.     Once Upon A Time In The West

5.     Once Upon A Time In America




            April 2007