Movies We Watch Again ... and Again

Why do we watch a movie more than once? Maybe we were so stunned by the film that, by watching it again, we can study it more deeply and gain more understanding of its riches, (for me, “Birdman” is a recent example). Then, we might decide to see that same film yet again, because now our eyes can visit every part of the screen, pick up every background nuance, squeeze out every drop of meaning...

Other films we see may not stun us or challenge us, but seep into our emotions and go so deep that we well-up or even weep, either with sorrow, or with a deep joy, and these films we re-watch not for the studying but…  Well, it’s like visiting a dear friend for the comfort you know you will receive, and you want to feel that again.

There is nostalgia here, and you come back to the movie to feel again what you felt the very first time – that first watching that moved you so.  You want that feeling to cover you again like an old soft quilt. (Some people watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every Christmas!)

For my first example of a stunning film I keep rewatching, I’ve picked “Point Blank,” 1967directed by John Boorman and staring Lee Marvin.

I just put it on a half hour ago because, knowing I was writing about it, I wanted to check the sequence of the opening with what I remembered.  I meant to see the first five minutes and sat there for half an hour because this film still fascinates me.  I have seen it at least five times over the years.

The plot is very simple: Lee Marvin and his best friend commit a crime.  They’re take is $93,000.  The best friend AND Marvin’s wife betray him.  His best friend shoots him, leaves him for dead, and his friend and his wife escape with the money.

We’ve seen this ‘revenge’ story more than a thousand times.  But not one directed by John Boorman.  I think this a masterwork, both in the direction and the performance by Lee Marvin.

From the very beginning, Boorman plays with time, intercutting past moments with the current story – but no, it’s never confusing.  Never.  The flashbacks are short, often without dialogue, and they grow in meaning every time they come.  Imagine this: a very early scene in a long hallway, almost a tunnel. It might be the arrival hall of an airport, and Lee Marvin is walking down the hall, coming at us as the camera pulls back.  All we hear are his steady footsteps, loud in this hallway and beating like a clock.

He looks good, wears a nice suit, and does not portray a man who is angry and vengeful.  No, he looks purposeful, but with no particular emotion.  We don’t know how he survived the betrayal and the two shots that took him down.  All we know is that he is back and time has gone by and he has been given the address where his friend and his wife are living.

While he is walking down this hallway and we are listening to the metronome of his hard shoes on the hard floor, the film cuts to scenes of his wife in her home, rising, dressing, putting on make-up.  But all these cuts are played with Marvin’s loud steps continuing.  A great choice because as we watch her moving through what she thinks is a normal morning, we also hear this ‘clock’ ticking away.  Even when we cut to her in a beauty salon getting a treatment, it is only his steps we hear.

We watch her coming home to her apartment, and when she closes the door behind her, it is suddenly kicked in by Marvin, who has a gun and who never stops moving, gathering her up with one arm, then dropping her on the floor outside of the bedroom, and, still moving, kicking in the bedroom door and advancing on the bed, looking fierce now, firing his gun into that bed – all six shots.  Then, and only then, he realizes that there is no one in the bed.  He looks surprised, confused a moment.  As if, in his mind, he has lived this moment so many times…it takes him a few seconds to change realities.

It’s as if he IS a man in a tunnel, a tunnel in his mind.  His wife, now a drugged and depressed woman, tells him that his best friend doesn’t live with her anymore.  Marvin, still holding his gun, sits on the couch and so does she.  He doesn’t look at her, deep in his mind, in his thoughts, in his tunnel.  She says that she can’t sleep, that she’s been dreaming of him.  He still doesn’t look at her.  She watches him and says, “How good it must feel, being dead.  Is it?”

This is said to him again in the film by another character, and, of course, we wonder.  Is this man some kind of ghost?   It isn’t that he doesn’t function normally.  He can smile and con his way past people – in order to go further down his tunnel, toward his betraying friend, and toward the next man and the next, in order to get the money he feels he is owed – that $93,000, as if he’s missing a piece of himself, something that was taken out of him when he was betrayed and shot.  It’s not about money at all, not about what he can buy.  Maybe that missing piece of him is his past, his heart.

I present my personal awards for the directing, editing and best actor for this film.  And I feel……  Oh, excuse me.

I’m sorry.  I have to go now.  I want to watch it again.

Copyright Gerald DiPego 2015-2017