Movie Mortality

Published on July 12th, 2011

Alex looks at the one question he asks himself almost every time he watches a movie.

About halfway through watching any given movie at home, a particular thought goes through my head. It doesn’t matter how many times I have seen the movie I’m watching, or if I am watching the movie for the first time. Invariably, I’ll end up asking myself the same question, regardless of the situation: is this the last time I’ll ever watch this movie?

As I was watching The Color of Money recently, I came to the conclusion that I was about as sure as I can be that I will never watch this movie again. Barring James and I doing a really extensive Martin Scorsese, Paul Newman or Tom Cruise podcast, I will never have a reason to watch it as ‘research,’ as the movie wouldn’t rank as one of the most interesting works in any of those filmographies. I suppose if we do a retrospective of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s career I’ll have to watch it again, but that’s the only reason I would watch a movie again that I don’t particularly care about either way. This isn’t exactly a movie you suggest to a friend, and it certainly isn’t one you try to get a girlfriend to watch. Thematically, the movie isn’t particularly interesting; the Iggy Pop cameo is not a commentary on Reaganomics. It’s just a very watchable movie starring very watchable actors.

I had seen The Color of Money once before, about six or seven years ago when I was becoming the Paul Newman superfan I am now, and I didn’t exactly love it. I had been wanting to watch it again, however, and I found that pretty much everything I thought then, I still feel now. It’s an entertaining, but mostly forgettable, movie that can basically be boiled down to a sort of ‘Rounders, but instead they play pool and Knish has a way bigger role.’ Or Martin Landau’s character, I suppose. A mix of both. Whatever.

The problem with realizing this was that, while I didn’t care much for the movie, there were a number of moments that I loved. This movie has some really unique cinematography, particularly in the pool scenes (and I don’t mean unique in a ‘he really loves collecting snap bracelets’ sort of way). Paul Newman is predictably enjoyable, and Tom Cruise is actually kind of great, particularly in the Werewolves of London scene. Cruise’s character is so over the top that his performance is essentially the personification of Christopher Walken (as Bruce Dickinson) saying, “Cock of the walk, baby!” And Cruise nails it.

This is a movie that is nothing exceptional, but it has a few things I would want to talk about with somebody. I would probably like talking about the movie more than I actually like watching the movie. The Color of Money is no Taxi Driver, though; it’s more like Shutter Island. It’s an enjoyable movie to watch once or twice, but in the grand scheme of movie history, nobody really remembers it anymore. Nobody is clamoring to talk about Cruise’s performance now because The Color of Money is pretty forgettable, not to mention the fact that I doubt anybody I know under 30 has even seen it. And maybe that’s why I don’t like the idea of never watching a movie again; if somebody like myself doesn’t care to watch a forgettable movie again, that movie is essentially dead and buried.

The night before watching The Color of Money, I watched a couple of favourites from years ago, movies I hadn’t seen in close to a decade. Less than 10 minutes into Reservoir Dogs, I knew without a doubt that I would watch this movie again at some point in the future. With Narc, however, I was less confident. While Reservoir Dogs has aged well, and will always be interesting if only for what it did for independent cinema, there’s really nothing about Narc that demands to be watched anymore. The editing is, at times, unfortunately ‘early 2000s,’ and it is now a pre-The Wire cop movie existing in a post-The Wire world. While the latter aspect isn’t particularly problematic, as the murder case actually remains pretty enjoyable, it does remove some of the things that made the realism of Narc more disorienting in 2002. What really seems disorienting now are the changing colour schemes throughout the film, and those will eventually look as dated as the excessively 1980s moments of The Color of Money. But like The Color of Money, Narc has some pretty good moments, including a couple that are fucking great. The opening sequence is absurdly engaging and intense, and the last shot of the movie actually poses a question I wasn’t expecting throughout the movie.

WARNING: This clip features some pretty graphic violence. It’s from a cop movie set in Detroit, so you get the idea.

Watching Narc again, I was pleased with my choice. The negative aspects of the movie were far outweighed by the positives, and I had forgotten the movie ended so interestingly. As much as some of the colour alterations were annoying, some of them were actually really effective. Jason Patric’s performance was as good as his facial hair/toque combination was hilarious, and the vibe of a classic Serpico or French Connection-type 70s cop movie was present throughout. All of that being said, there was something about it that I just didn’t love anymore, something I couldn’t figure out.

Reservoir Dogs turns out to still be, well, Reservoir Dogs. Few movies draw you in as well as that movie’s opening scene does, and I can’t even imagine how much I would have loved it had I seen it in theatres in 1992. But let’s not act like it doesn’t have its flaws; while there are inventive and still remarkably engaging scenes like the opening, ‘The Commode Story,’ and Michael Madsen dancing to Stealer’s Wheel, there are long scenes where nothing particularly entertaining is happening. Honestly, it’s kind of dull at times. But it’s still undoubtedly a great movie, one that will be forever remembered because of all the things that work, despite having more than a couple lulls. Both Narc and The Color of Money have fewer dull moments than Reservoir Dogs, but I wouldn’t argue for either of them to be remembered over Tarantino’s directorial debut. I would, however, be more comfortable if all of these films would simply be remembered.

Movie tastes are a completely subjective thing; I’m pretty sure I say that exact phrase 4-5 times a week. You might like Forrest Gump; I might not. It doesn’t matter really, we simply both have our opinions, and in this case especially I would gladly argue with you and try to explain why I think you’re wrong. But even in that case, you’re never actually wrong; I just happen to think you are. You probably think the same about my opinion. I am not going to try to tell friends of mine, or anybody for that matter, to watch Narc or The Color of Money, as I know that I’m not really passionate enough about either to really convince anyone. If you didn’t see these movies in 1986 or 2002, chances are you never will. And that’s fine, but it’s also kind of sad.

Movies take a long time to make, or an absurdly long time to make if you’re working as an editor for Terrence Malick or Stanley Kubrick. At the core of any good movie is a good idea: The Social Network is a reflection of close to the last decade of modern society, and Inception is about doing what makes one happy, as well as the filmmaking process. And these, for the most part, will be movies that are remembered by moviegoers for years, primarily because the ideas are interesting and will only continue to be. But for every one of these, there are a bunch of movies that had a good idea, yet won’t be remembered at all, normally due to execution issues somewhere along the line. I’ll remember having seen Source Code in a couple of years, but chances are few others will remember the Jake Gyllenhaal time loop thriller at all.

That is not to say that Source Code was a great movie, as I was pretty pissed off at that movie by the time it ended. The ideas were fascinating, and the execution was great for 80 minutes, but then everything got fucked up, and I don’t try to talk people into seeing it like I have The Social Network, Inception, or Reservoir Dogs. Source Code is much more like The Color of Money or Narc. I don’t need a prospective lady friend to approve of Source Code, but it would be a major red flag if she found nothing enjoyable in David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s commentary on the modern trend of celebrity.

The reason Source Code made me so angry was mostly because it could have been in that list with Inception, or at least the similar list that we find lesser-known cult favourites like The Fountain in. When I was thinking about the movie as it played in front of me, I thought that this would probably be something I want to watch again. By the end of the movie though, I knew I didn’t really want to. And while thinking about it now, I’m kind of curious to watch it again, that interest is similar to how I felt before pressing play on The Color of Money again a week ago. I know exactly what I’m going to get, and that something wouldn’t be good enough for anybody else to really need it.

So why do I watch these movies again? I know there are better, similar media to Narc and The Color of Money. I could have watched an episode of The Wire again (probably the one where Omar takes the stand). I could have just watched Rounders. But I chose to watch the more mediocre movies because I simply wanted to remind myself that somebody does care about them. There is a good chance I will never watch either of them again; even outside of being an obsolete format, my Narc DVD is now probably worthless. But I have seen these movies, and I do remember what I like about them. The movies might not work as a whole as well as Reservoir Dogs does, but the things I did like will remain with me, or at least make me want to watch the Werewolves of London scene once or twice a year on YouTube. I don’t need to see these movies anymore, as I have absorbed what I liked. There is only so much to absorb in any given movie, and some just don’t have enough to make me want to watch them every few years for the rest of my life. But these are movies that did, at one point, mean something to me. I did used to think Narc was something a girlfriend should like; I have an ex that can attest to this. Had I been 16 when The Color of Money was released, it would have probably been something I showed a girlfriend, too. But it wasn’t. And Narc isn’t anymore.

I was wrong earlier, when I said that movies I know I’ll never watch again are “essentially dead and buried.” That’s not true. These movies do still exist. They’re movies I either used to care about a lot, or wasn’t the right age at the time of their release to get fully wrapped up in them. These movies don’t really disappear, they have just sort of found their way out of my life. Time passes, things change. Editing styles start to look dated, ideas that you once found fascinating now feel a little boring. And then you move on. There will always be a small number of movies that you watch every couple of years, checking in to make sure they’re still as great as you recall, but there will also be a much larger number of movies that just don’t mean anything to you anymore. Asking myself if I’ll watch a movie again isn’t morbid; it’s probably more rational than choosing to pass the time by watching a movie. It’s not really a question of whether these movies remain alive or dead in the grand scheme of movie fandom, it’s just asking whether or not you really want to see this movie again. And it’s okay if you don’t.


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