Writers' Note: Second Time's a Charm
Sometimes our brains deceive us. This month's Writers' Note asked the BFBs about a film that they saw that they did not really care for upon first watch, only to consider it a masterpiece (or something close) after giving it a second go. Why did they decide to watch it again and which elements did they come around on?
I had no idea who Tom Ford was when I first watched A Single Man. To me, he was just another Joe-schmo with an equally generic name to boot. His name meaning nothing to me, I thought that the style he employed for his 2009 debut feature film was abstract and meaningless. Naked bodies floating through in orange-tinted pools, melodramatic action framing, Julianne Moore being a silly drunkard just because. Further, I watched this movie on a train, surrounded by other people, primarily Amish, whose eyes I felt upon me in that very public space. The elements didn’t mix well, and I reluctantly gave it three stars, probably feeling shame that I couldn’t appreciate such a sophisticated film.
A couple of years later, the movie popped up on my Netflix feed. I was in France, and I had been slightly radicalized by my teenage peers. I had an inkling that my younger self might’ve been mistaken by disregarding the movie. I also knew who Tom Ford was by then, and I could appreciate how he utilized color and movement to tell stories with respect to his unique fashion background.
The movie swept me off my feet. I was tuned into all the creative elements. Colin Firth’s performance drew me in and made me ache. The montage is genuinely stunning and I have really come to appreciate Charley’s role within the narrative. It has some of my favorite use of the art of the human body in any film – maturity is key, here – and the film’s slow-burn revelation is much more purposeful than what I had it pinned for.
I now consider A Single Man one of my all-time favorite films and I think about many of its shots daily. It gave me a new lens on Nicholas Hoult, who has done great work ever since, and I would even credit it for redefining my understanding of sexuality and heartbreak. It’s a great movie, and I’m so glad I gave it another chance.
Have I seen Nocturnal Animals yet? No.
I do not remember the first time I saw The Dark Knight. What I do remember though, is how much I didn't care for it. When you're in your early teens, you don't care much beyond the surface depiction in films or any "deep, philosophical" underlying message.
The Dark Knight was like every other superhero film to me; Joker-bad, Batman-good, good guy wins, bad guy loses.
Over the succeeding years and after growing my interest in film, The Dark Knight was hailed as the greatest comic book film of all time, Heath Ledger won an Oscar as Joker and the entire trilogy wasn't going to be touched anytime soon. I sincerely couldn't get my head around why, and when I got Letterboxd in 2020, I only logged it as "watched" without a rating or review.
Fast-forward to March 2022, and I'm walking out of the cinema scrolling my Twitter to tweets of Matt Reeves' The Batman – a film that had me screaming some ten minutes back – feeling that it still was not better than Christopher Nolan's take. That was when something clicked. I decided to rewatch Nolan's trilogy and I really did come to appreciate Ledger's performance and its exploration of hope, self-perception and the fragility of human principles.
I have gone to hold on in particular to the "Madness is like Gravity" quote because day after day it seems to manifest itself around me. What everyone said about The Dark Knight is right. (And no, I don't think Matt Reeves did it better).
I first watched Mean Girls (2004) in sixth grade at my friend's house. We idolized it and spent the rest of middle school (and high school) quoting the movie daily. However, I don't think I fully appreciated the witty intricacies until recently. Watching it in middle school, I genuinely thought that was what high school would be like. Now much wiser, I can truthfully say that high school has not nearly been as riveting as it was at Northshore. I've probably watched Mean Girls about a dozen times, but every time I rewatch it, I find more easter eggs.
There is a scene where Cady tries to get Aaron to catch Regina cheating on him in the project room above the auditorium. Cady and Damien eagerly try to lead him there even by staging a robbery in which a masked Damien steals Cady's purse and runs into the projection room above the auditorium only to find a teacher with another student.
The scene is ludicrous, but it totally flew by my head when I first watched it. Now that scene is one I look forward to most. It's also very different watching a movie when you are the age of the characters. Usually, that makes it easier to relate to them, but I wouldn't be so bold to say I have many things in common with the characters in Mean Girls.
I think it is the best rom-com/chick-flick, whatever you want to call it. The dialogue is so clever and unique; the movie has its own holiday (October 3) and terminology such as "fetch." It's one of my comfort movies, and I think it's due for another rewatch.
2007: I’m a teenager and love 28 Days Later and Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. I enjoy Men in Black and I, Robot and find Will Smith’s one-liners hilarious. Enter the marketing campaign for I Am Legend – the trailer, the posters. I am the prime target for marketing a one-man show starring Will Smith and a dog taking on the infected. I’m so excited to see some zombies get capped by a wise-cracking hero. What I finally experience is boredom and frustration as Smith watches TV, gives his dog a bath, and plays golf on a boat – barely interacting with zombies – and when he does, they are little more than cartoons.
2021: I’m no longer a teenager and I’m living through a major global health crisis. I take an online class in film adaptations with a community college and I get to revisit a movie I barely remember but feel vaguely disappointed at its mention. This time, I watch I Am Legend after reading the radically different novella by Richard Matheson. I experience the movie with more respect and an appreciation for its potent emotional stakes. Smith’s performance as a lone human is powerful. His one-liners serve not as mere humor, but as an appreciation for the little things of life that used to matter. His character, Robert Neville, embodies and remembers the legends of the civilization that once was. He reveres the activism and courage of Bob Marley and he attempts to reconstruct social norms with mannequins. His conversations with his German Shepherd Sam are mundane and heartbreaking.
The beauty of I Am Legend is its themes. Unlike other viral apocalypse movies, it is about hope in the face of the most hopeless situation imaginable. Neville living in infected-occupied New York City is not by necessity, but by choice. He stays to accomplish his initial mission and beat the virus. Neville doesn’t take cathartic pleasure in shooting the creatures in the head; his every action is aimed to cure them. The first time in the movie that he chooses to kill them is in an act of pure rage and the only time he comes close to nihilism it is clear that he has lost his way. Although Alice Braga’s Anna – a latecomer to the story – has an annoyingly simplistic perspective on the apocalypse, she acts as a parallel to Neville’s optimistic view that he will succeed in fixing this. The themes in I Am Legend didn’t change from 2007 to 2021; I simply became a more observational viewer.
-Lydia, Nicholas, Sophie & Josh