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Filmism.net Dispatch March 5, 2021

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I've recently realised a new dimension to being a movie lover I'd kind of intrinsically known but never articulated before; the way our relationship to a given movie changes for no other reason than the passage of time.

Once again in outlining this idea I have to invoke the oft-repeated refrain that no work of art is ever finished, only abandoned. If you don't know it it's the idea that the creator will never be 100 percent happy with their work, but that they have to stop making changes and alterations at some point because it has to be packaged and released for consumption.

We all (especially the writers, directors, cast and crew involved in a movie) consider that when a work of art like a movie reaches that point, its position is fixed. And that might be true as far as its position in pop culture, but in the mind of a movie viewer, it can morph and change with every viewing.

I was struck with this phenomenon recently in rewatching a fairly forgotten action thriller from the early 2000s, Tony Scott's Man On Fire. It stars Denzel Washington as a former special forces soldier who's become a PTSD-afflicted drunk after the terrible things he's done, but who gets a new lease on life after taking a job as the driver and bodyguard of Pita, the cute little daughter of a rich Mexican family, who's played with aplomb far beyond her years by Dakota Fanning.

It was the point when the late, great Tony Scott pushed his usual use of visual experimentation to extremes, with subtitles, burnished slo-mo, overexposure and organic crash cuts virtually splattered across the screen in a neverending mosaic that suited the location and story (scrappy, ugly, dirty, violent and menacing).

At the time I found the overstylised aesthetic irritating, and I remember plenty of the reviews being fairly negative. Back then the world was reeling from the reveals of Agu Ghraib prison, and anything with such nihilistic violence was bound to touch nerves.

I never would have supposed at the time I'd watch it again at all, let alone as many times as I have (probably about six at this stage). But every year or two, something draws me back to it. At first it was the scene where he's captured the crooked cop and the leader of the underground kidnapping ring (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JU326dvQ2g) and (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izxkFm060yU). I couldn't watch the ice cool Denzel (he even does the walking-slowly-away-from-an-explosion-without-looking--back) dispense that brutal justice enough.

Somewhere along the line, I watched more scenes on YouTube, then gave the whole movie another go... and another, and another. Now it's one of my go to's.

What's changed? I have no idea. I'm in awe of Dakota Fanning's performance, only 10 years old at the time and with more talent in her little finger than plenty of contemporaries decades older than her, but I like to think I appreciated that on the first viewing. Denzel Washington is, as always, endlessly watchable, and no matter how bad a movie he's in the camera absolutely loves him.

Maybe it's the number of little kids who've come along in my family and the notion that they can give you so much, especially if you always thought children only took things from life (time, money, etc) instead of giving.

At it's heart it's a love story between a man who doesn't think he deserves to live and a little girl who shows him that everyone deserves forgiveness and acceptance no matter what they've done, and I love the scenes of them slowly forming their bond just as much as the savage justice he systematically doles out to the people who take her.

But this isn't a review of the film. What I'm getting at is that my relationship to the movie has changed, even though the movie has stayed the same.

But the opposite can happen. You can watch a movie, be enjoy or be impressed by it and then see all the flaws (in fact, not be able to see past them) the next time around. It happened with me some time in the last 12 months when I watched Avatar for only the second time since it was in theatres. I flat out hated it, and before it was even over I knew I'd never watch it again.

But this is about a lot more than just liking a movie and watching it again, or not liking it and not watching it anymore. It's about how your feelings about a movie change, how you can just be so-so about a movie when it comes out and then a decade and a half later it becomes like a warm blanket. Or even how you can see another movie, realise there's stuff you don't like about it, and then the next time (or few times) you watch it, those same elements make you actively angry.

Your opinion about a movie is constantly changing. But if the movie doesn't change, what does?

We do, thanks not just to other movies we see that give extra context to new ones we watch (and old ones we've already seen) but changes in our own lives and the new perspectives they give us. We have a relationship with every movie we've watched no matter how fleeting, and it's never the same because we're never the same. We're the variable. There's something fascinating and kind of beautiful about that.

On screens recently was the high profile Apple dramedy On The Rocks. I mention it here because of what a fan of Sofia Coppola's I am, and how much I (like the rest of Generation X) love Bill Murray and how great Rashida Jones often is. So I was quite astounded by how inert, dry and bereft of any dramatic life the movie was.

I also absolutely, utterly and completely hated Wonder Woman 1984. It was the worst example of the worst kind of cynical, cash-grabbing, superhero bandwagon-jumping tripe I've seen in a movie in this genre for a long time (and that's a low bar anyway). With awful performances, a confusing storyline, a studio marketing committee's stamp all over it and shoddy VFX, it's like a bunch of directors in Hollywood all had a secret bet over who could spend the most amount of studio money on the worst possible movie.

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