Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My highest ranked movie I'd seen only once

Given how much Alfred Hitchcock has been in my life lately -- seeing two of his movies for the first time this year, and also rewatching Vertigo for a recent podcast discussion -- it seemed like even more of an oversight than it usually does that I'd seen my favorite Hitchcock only once.

So I took steps to correct that about a month ago, renting Rear Window for an overnight at a hotel that was a Father's Day present for me. I didn't watch it at the time, but got to throw it on with my wife this past Sunday night, when the rental was within five days of expiring.

Not only was this my favorite Hitchock movie I'd seen only once, it was also my favorite movie, period, that I'd seen only once. Rear Window currently slots in at #29 on my all-time list on Flickchart, eight slots ahead of Schindler's List, my next highest single viewing.

Now that I've corrected that, I suppose I have to figure out when I'm going to sit down a second time with Steven Spielberg's 1993 best picture winner, a consummate one-timer if ever there was one.

And now that I've corrected that, I may need to do some more correcting. I feel like the very foundation of my feelings about Hitchcock and his movies has been shaken.

It pains me greatly to say this, dear readers, but my second viewing of Rear Window was a slog.

The first sign of trouble occurred when I checked out the film's running time. An exhausting weekend in which I'd stayed up way too late on both nights had left me excited for Rear Window to be about 90 minutes, which is what I fully expected it would be. As it takes place exclusively inside L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries' apartment, I have always thought of this as a lean and tight movie. In fact, its apparent leanness and tightness are two of its attributes I have celebrated most chiefly when discussing the works of Hitchcock.

Nope. Rear Window is 113 minutes. I felt myself start to worry a little bit.

Now before I go any further, let me remind you that I was very tired on Sunday night. Not only had I had two late nights, but also two days out that were various degrees of trying, due largely to my kids being shitheads. Add to that the inevitable biological impact of a stark change in the weather. Just in the past few days it's gotten a whole lot hotter, a possible early promise that this summer will make up for the wimpy one we had last year.

So it will be impossible to purely judge the basis for me liking Rear Window less than I thought I did. Viewing circumstances always factor in to these things, and the circumstances for watching Rear Window were unfavorable to me, to say the least.

But boy, was our viewing of Rear Window a slog.

My wife felt it too. She had not stayed up as late as I did on either Friday or Saturday night, but we did have a whole discussion earlier in the day about how exhausted we both were. This is something you discuss regularly when you are a parent. So she was not at her freshest either, but she wasn't nodding off like I was. Still, she also found that it seemed like a bit of a chore.

"I mean, it's an old movie," she said, acknowledging both the likelihood of a different pace and the need to come in with different expectations.

But Rear Window didn't feel like an old movie when I watched it the first time. It grabbed me by the lapels and demanded my attention. And according to my memory of it, it had me on the edge of my seat. It seemed fast and momentous and bursting with a kind of nervous tension that became the tonal building blocks for the modern thriller.

Where was all of that on Sunday night?

I don't know, but I'm not prepared to say it's lost for good. All I'll say is that I've got to rethink this whole Rear Window adulation. At the very least, it now seems a tad ill-informed. I'd say that I will quickly prioritize a third viewing, to be held at a time when I'm fully awake or at least effectively caffeinated. But another conclusion of that discussion with my wife about our exhaustion was that it was part of our human condition. I posited to her that even if she spent a month alone on an island, sleeping whenever she felt like it and putting only good things into her body, she'd still feel exhausted. This depressed her, but she also realized the potential validity of my theory.

So in short, I may never be significantly more rested and alert to watch Rear Window than I was on Sunday night. Not enough to make the difference, anyway.

As I discussed here, though, a movie that you love should break through your corporeal weaknesses. It should be the very antidote to your exhaustion. So now I must consider the possibility that I don't love Rear Window.

Well, if Rear Window is not my favorite Hitchcock movie, then what is?

Flickchart tells me the answer is North by Northwest. And fortunately, this one stands up to recent scrutiny. I saw North by Northwest for the second time just two years ago, in 2013, and I was enthralled by it. The way I felt about North by Northwest after that viewing was the way I expected to feel about Rear Window after this one.

But am I ready to be the guy whose favorite Hitchcock movie is North by Northwest? I was comfortable with it being my #2, but #1? I don't know, it seems too mainstream or something. As though Rear Window were not already a mainstream answer to that question.

Perhaps the real answer is that I need to rewatch my #3 and #4, which are Rope and Rebecca. I remember loving both of these without hesitation. Then again, that's what I felt about Rear Window as well. What I thought I felt, anyway.

Second viewings can be dangerous. Sometimes, they don't have the effect on you that you think they will, that you hope they will. Might make a person wonder if they're better off just seeing the movie once and living contentedly in the memory of how enjoyable it was to watch that one time -- even if that could be a false memory, or a memory that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

But that's a pretty poor solution. If you suspect a movie might drop significantly on a second viewing, it likely means you know there's something wrong with it. Probably always better to find that out than to go on worshipping false idols. You can't really be sure you love a movie until it has had the same effect on you at least twice. And with movies you love, you should always want to deepen your appreciation of them by experiencing them again and again.

And besides, I never would have suspected Rear Window would be anything other than magnificent on its second viewing. That it wasn't magnificent for me was a total shock, a shock I'm still trying to grapple with.

Before I leave you today, I want to reassure you of something. I still like Rear Window. I still like Rear Window quite a bit. I especially still like the final 20 minutes. I just never expected it to be so hard to wade through the rest of it to get to those final 20 minutes. I never expected there to be so much Window dressing, so to speak.

Lesson learned? Maybe I'll just rest comfortably with my recollections of the brilliance of Schindler's List, after all.

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