Thursday, June 4, 2009

Re-Watching/Re-Reading Movies, TV Shows, Books: Just My Style

It was with tremendous pleasure that I read a recent column in the New York Times extolling the virtues of re-reading books. Columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg, who said he's fond of re-reading some of his favorite books rather than instinctively moving on to new material, wrote:

"Part of the fun of re-reading is that you are no longer bothered by the business of finding out what happens. Re-reading Middlemarch, for instance, or even The Great Gatsby, I'm able to pay attention to what's really happening in the language itself -- a pleasure surely as great as discovering who marries whom, and who dies and who does not.

The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does."

This was a wonderfully simple, yet insightful observation. We readers change all the time, influenced by our life's experiences. The books don't. I re-read The Scarlet Letter last year in preparation for a column and found Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic to be nothing at all like I remembered from my earlier readings of it while in high school and college. From my new perch -- as a married mother of three -- it almost seemed like it was a new book altogether. The story held more meaning for me than it did for me when I was 15, or 20. Ditto for Gatsby, which I recently read again. As with Letter, it seemed like a fresh literary experience because I have a more experienced point of view than when I first met F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby.

As for Klinkenborg's comment that when you're re-reading something you're no longer distracted by finding out key plot points, the same reasoning applies to re-watching movies or TV shows, particularly complex programs with layers of allusions like Lost, Alias and Mad Men.

Take the densely written drama Lost. When I watch a new episode for the first time, I focus almost exclusively on the plot, how the storylines fit into the meta-story of the show and whether they jive with past episodes and character backstories. Once the major twists and turns have been dispensed with, I can dive back into the episode during a later viewing and comb for hints, layers and connections while reveling in the subtleties I missed when I was busy obsessing about the storylines.

On this practice, I differ with The Spouse, who believes that once he's seen something he moves on. Been there. Done that.

Over the weekend, the movie American Beauty was on cable TV. I first saw it in the theater in 1999 with a friend. When it came to VHS (when everyone was still watching tapes), I got a copy and watched it with The Spouse who thought it was just "okay." In the years since, whenever I've suggested that we re-watch the movie, The Spouse has declined. However when we watched the last quarter of it this past weekend together, we noticed new things mostly due to our different perspectives, particularly because we're both in our 40s and the lead character, Lester Burnham is 42. (The experience didn't convince The Spouse to re-thinking his stance against re-watching TV shows and films.)

As far as the books I've read in the recent past which have thoroughly entertained me (such as The Time Traveler's Wife and the Harry Potter series I read last summer), I know that if I allow myself the luxury of re-reading them -- having already satiated my greediness to know what happens -- I will be able to, as Klinkenborg said, "pay attention to what's really happening in the language itself."

Are you a re-watcher/re-reader? If you're a fan of a complex show like Lost, how many times do you re-watch something? Is once enough?

No comments: