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Criticwire Survey: Movies That Changed

The Criticwire Survey on movies they've seen differently at different points in their lives.
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Ferris

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, "What is the best film in theaters right now?" can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.

Q: In describing her shifting relationship with Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim, Carrie Rickey writes that it's "the same film I saw in college, but I’m not the same person and the early 21st century is not the same culture as the early 1960s, when Truffaut’s film was made." Do movies change for you over time, and if they do, what's one that has?

Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly

I think if art *isn't* changing for you over time, you're probably doing it wrong. Some things develop layers and resonance they couldn't possibly have had if you first encountered them at a much younger age; other things reveal themselves to be superficial, or simply lose their appeal as you mature. At the risk of venturing into the minefield named Woody Allen, my re-watch of Manhattan a couple of years ago -- for the first time since I became a parent -- made me incredibly uncomfortable in its attempt to normalize the romance between a middle-aged man and a teenager. I simply couldn't quite get past the ickiness. The sad thing is, for many people, they *want* the books, movies and music they fell in love with in their adolescence to seem just as wonderful decades later, and can cling to the way they originally experienced them. It's risky opening up to the possibility that the meaning of a piece of art can shift for us, because we don't want to lose the memory of positive experiences. But the flip side is opening up to something that was once inaccessible suddenly becoming vital and extraordinary.

Peter Howell, Toronto Star

This is a very interesting question, one that reminds me of a famous Rolling Stone article called "The Dog Is Us." There's no doubt our perspectives change as we age, and things that we found funny or rebellious in our youth don't quite do it for us in middle age or beyond. I wish I could think of a film as significant as Carrie's choice of Jules and Jim to apply this thought to, but at the moment I'm stuck on Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In my 20s, I thought Ferris was hilarious; in my 50s, I'm thinking maybe he really was an asshole. He shouldn't have taken his friend's dad's Ferrari, you know?

Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com, Some Came Running

If the way you apprehend a movie emotionally doesn't change over time, there's either something wrong with you or something wrong with the movie. That's not an absolute law, but it's a pretty good rule of thumb. To take Jules and Jim: watching it in one's late teens or early adulthood, one is apt to think: "It's about me!" or about "us," and of course, it is; watching it later in life, one sees that it's also about the way youth romanticizes itself, and the impossibility of sustaining that (not to mention the idealism that goes along with the romanticization). As a kid I could see the tragedy in Citizen Kane, but it took longer for me to get the sadness. And of course Bernstein's ferry reverie in that movie is best understood by someone who's got a few years under his or her belt. Oddly enough, the one movie I "get" in exactly the same way I did when I first saw it when I was ten or so is Alphaville, which is of course in a sense a kid's movie anyway. 

Keith Phipps, The Dissolve
Graduate

The film that's shifted most profoundly for me over time is The Graduate, which I used to see, when I watched it as a teen, as being about a smart, promising young man who gets sidetracked by his affair with a mean woman instead of doing what he ought to do: pursuing the girl of his dreams and breaking out of the trap of suburban conformity. When I revisited the film as an adult it seemed a lot more complicated, to say the least. I still like Benjamin Braddock. It's just that now he seems a bit more like a naive dope to me. And where I'd never felt anything for Mrs. Robinson before beyond distaste -- she ought to know better! -- this time my heart went out to her. She used to study art. Now she can't even talk about it. For all the swimming pool imagery I'd never noticed that it was Mrs. Robinson who was truly adrift, having floated away from what used to make her happy. I didn't know that life could do that to a person, and it never occurred to me that she might be trying to save her daughter from the same fate.

Craig D. Lindsey, Nashville Scene, RogerEbert.com

I do believe that people's perceptions of movies can change as they get older and wiser. One big example of that for me is David Gordon Green's George Washington. When I saw it late one Saturday night over a decade ago, I could barely finish watching it, mostly because I kept dozing off. When I revisited it years later (fully awake) for a piece I was writing about movies from the South, I found it to be a striking, artful portrait of Southern lower-class living, with impoverished blacks and whites collectively trying to make something out of nothing. It took me a decade of maturing as a movie-watcher to understand its vision of a hopeful, post-millennial South.  

Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter; Jigsaw Lounge

Game

If E.B.White was right, and the best writing is rewriting, then maybe the best watching is rewatching. I can be quite a doltish viewer of films -- it took me half a dozen goes to uncrack the plot of Get Carter -- and quite often it's the second or third time that's the charm. Fincher's The Game and Lee's The Ice Storm have been the two which have gained in nuance most significantly with each rewatch (what was in the water back in 1997?): The Game struck me as a smart little thriller first time round, then by the fifth go it was on the fringes of my all-time top ten. I haven't dared risk another rewatch of that one.

Then there's Tarkovsky's Solaris, which I'd say most clinchingly supports Heraclitus's contention that it's impossible to step into the same river twice. I must have seen Solaris six times on screens big and small over the last 30 years. Depending on my mood and level of maturity, it has seemed the dullest or the most deftly complex of works. And further complications were added when I saw the Soderbergh "remake" (which at the time I reckoned superior to the Tarkovsky) and soon after finally read Stanislaw Lem's source-novel (unambiguously a cut above both its "adaptations," neither of which do justice either to the scope of Lem's ideas or the fragile wonder of the visuals he describes).

On balance, it's best to regard the novel and the films as three planetary bodies of closely interlocking orbits -- it's only when you're standing on one that you can get a properly clear appreciation of the other two -- and, as all astronauts know, you can only ever stand on one planet's surface at a time.

Richard Brody, New Yorker

Pretty much every movie that's any good changes for me every time I see it; this may even be the definition of a good movie -- one that's sufficiently complex and mysterious to yield up new wonders with infinitesimal shifts of viewing angle and to seem, on its own, to change over time like a living thing. Of course, some seem to overripen or rot -- the unfortunate experience of losing an enthusiasm -- though I find that this happens to me very, very rarely, because, if a movie is any good, it's due to excess, to overflowing the boundaries of the story or the subject, of a single doctrine or a single point; there's always something more to catch the attention, or the breath. I've written about a former longtime blind spot -- regarding the later films of Francois Truffaut, which, to my mind, meant those after The Soft Skin, from 1964 -- which is why I even missed out on The Green Room in first run. (It's always a problem to club filmmakers, or any artist, with the pleasures of the early, funny ones; very few artists of any real merit actually get worse.) I used to be fairly immune to the art of Alfred Hitchcock. (Truffaut... Hitchcock... is there a pattern here?) Of course, I saw the music of his images, but it seemed to me a frozen music, one that was stifled in midair by the suspense plots to which they were tethered. In the eternal battle between suspense and surprise, I found the latter to invite the meander of experience through infinite possibility and the former to narrow it to deterministic expectations, which is why the one Hitchcock film that meant something to me was The Wrong Man. As so often happens, an idea gets in the way of immediate aesthetic experience (the proof that the idea is a bad one). I yawned my way through The Birds until, watching it again after decades of neglect, I saw ("saw") its sexual fear, its political paranoia, its hectic tone of a world despoiled by human arrogance -- heard for the first time the overtones and dissonances. There's another conflict implicit in that erstwhile resistance -- the one between script and image -- that could also give rise to a self-critique.

Robert Greene, Sight & Sound, Hammer to Nail

I generally find that movies do not change for me over time, or maybe they just haven't yet. I think what I see in movies is sometimes so specific and idiosyncratic (I'm acutely aware of forms, rhythms, senses and themes and often idiotically confused about plots, characters and traditional "meanings") that cinematic experiences cohere very quickly for me and harden in my mind. Breathless is still the same movie that excited me as an undergraduate, even if that excitement has generally faded. Nothing seems to tip the scales too much -- I've gotten married, had kids, become a New Yorker, lost my hair, yet I still think Peter Watkins' Edvard Munch is my favorite film, just like when I was a 22-year-old college student in North Carolina. I still see the same movie. Having said that, I did cry uncontrollably during Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful when I first saw it and I'd, um, like to think that I wouldn't see the same movie today?

Carrie Rickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Murmur

Even more than Jules and Jim, Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart changed the most radically over time for me. (I've written about the algorithm by which I can chart the change.) Sometimes I change, sometimes the culture changes and sometimes I look at a movie I once loved and it's like re-encountering an old boyfriend and wondering, what did I see in him? In the 1970s when first I saw Murmur, it was the height of the sexual revolution, my own and the culture's, it seemed jazzy. But when I looked at it again in the 1980s, Malle's semi-autobiographical tale of a stepmother who sexually initiates her son looked liked child abuse to me.

Edward Douglas, Coming Soon

I'm not sure that there have been many movies that have changed over time for me although there have been a few that I've appreciated more on repeat viewings. I remember hating Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket the first time I saw it with a friend, but it definitely grew on me later on as his style changed and developed. A lot of movies that I watched in the '80s that I wasn't that into just got better over time, some didn't really stand the test of time or I remember loving but watching again more recently made me realize that if they were released today I'd probably hate them or have problems with them. But it's really older movies that sometimes change… more recent movies that I watch multiple times, I generally feel the same way each time.

Josh Spiegel, Sound on Sight

"The Royal Tenenbaums"
"The Royal Tenenbaums"

I can't imagine that movies don't change over time to anyone, frankly. I'll mention one example here, but who I am can drastically change my opinion on a film upon repeat viewings. Sometimes, that can be for the worse -- childhood nostalgia can only obscure a movie's inherent badness so much -- but it can often help that film grow in my estimation. The example I'll mention here is Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. I distinctly remember seeing it amongst a sold-out crowd on opening night in a small art house theater near Buffalo, New York; all of us, it seemed, were laughing boisterously at the consistently dry humor and sight gags -- each Dalmatian mouse was a cause for giggles, for example. I watch it now, though, and I'm struck by its emotional core far more than I was at age 17. Now, it's hard not to recoil at Royal's rebuke at his emotionally neutered son Chaz asking if he's OK -- "The fuck you care?" -- as much as it's hard not to be overcome when Chaz tells Royal, at the close of a masterful tracking shot, that he's had a rough year. The greatest films are those which offer new avenues to consider years after their release; these films don't stay static, but remain dynamic and flexible in our minds.

Edwin Arnaudin, Ashvegas

For the most part, movies don’t change for me over time, other than ones I adore growing more beloved. But there are a few that have taken me multiple tries over the years to “get” them. With The Squid and the Whale, I wanted to love it because Wes Anderson was a producer, I was a fan of Noah Baumbach for co-writing The Life Aquatic, and the trailer cracked me up. The first time I saw it, there was a lot I liked but it felt slight (“minor Baumbach”?) and Owen Kline’s sexual awakening felt too dark, but numerous people whose tastes typically line up with mine loved it so I didn’t want to abandon hope. I tried again a few years later with the same result, but a few years after that I gave it another go and the material clicked the way I’d hoped it would the first time (“the filet of 2005 independent cinema”?). I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop on Punch-Drunk Love, so perhaps the fourth time will be the charm for that one.

Kenji Fujishima, In Review Online

8 1/2

To the first question: Yes, I absolutely believe that movies can change for one over time, once one has gained more life experiences that may well alter the way one may look at a given film, given the wider perspective that older age theoretically affords. As for a film that has had that effect on me, though… well, I'm actually going to twist your question a bit and offer a film that I believe may well change for me over time, but perhaps hasn't quite yet. 

In a previous Criticwire survey, I admitted that Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 was a film that I never could quite get on board with, despite its near-universal acclaim as a groundbreaking classic of cinema. At the end of my response, though, I left open the possibility that it may be a film that will open itself up to me more in later viewings… and while I technically haven't revisited the film that recently, I do recall that, on my last viewing, I did feel like perhaps I was coming closer to possibly identifying more with Fellini's alter ego, Guido Anselmi -- or, if not necessarily him specifically, then of the flawed humanity he represents and the ways he tries to use art to exorcise his demons. For all I know, maybe the next time I watch 8 1/2 I'll finally come to embrace it wholesale.

Piers Marchant, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Pop Matters

While I can think of countless films which I have grown to better appreciate after repeated viewings (certainly Rounders and Punch Drunk Love pop into mind), I take the question to mean examples of films where my fundamental understanding and empathy have evolved. No one film immediately strikes me, but there are two elements in film upon which my opinion has changed. To wit, I used to be able to watch any amount of gore -- realistic or otherwise -- and remain largely unscathed. Now, in my late 40s, that stuff affects me pretty deeply. Though it's sitting on a shelf somewhere, I've not been able to watch either Hostel film for this very reason (well, that and a dislike of the other works of Eli Roth). The other thing, unsurprisingly, is how easily moved I am by nearly any film involving a parent and child. Given those two examples, you can see why Prisoners gave me fits. 

Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot

Flash Gordon

A rather obvious and popular choice, I'm sure, but the 1980 Flash Gordon was, for 6 year-old me, a great adventure movie that I wanted more of. I didn't care that Aura was slutty, or catch the Fellini references, or even really understand the impromptu football game. It was Flash having to save the world, and doing it awesomely in a universe where physics don't apply and planetoids float in an atmosphere.

Nowadays, of course, I watch it and see a movie laden with innuendos, pop-culture jokes, insanely campy contrasts for humorous effect ("What's this?" "Humanity" "MADNESS" "Flash"), and yet it still retains that heart of adventure, and visual wonder. I was going to say RoboCop worked similarly, but at 14 I'm pretty sure I caught on that it was satirical, though maybe not the full extent of it.

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

Last year, I had a book published called My Year of Chevy, which detailed the twelve months I spent watching and analyzing every single movie Chevy Chase was ever associated with. In the section on Caddyshack, I dealt with this very issue, writing about how that film held different meanings for me over the decades. I first saw it in 1981, when I was about 13 years old. At the time, I loved the R-rated naughtiness of the movie. Caddyshack had boobs, and poop jokes, and bad words. It exposed me to stuff that, at that tender age, had previously been forbidden, which of course made it irresistible. In my twenties and thirties, I noticed and appreciated the skilled construction of the film more. Despite the broadness of the humor, it's wonderfully acted (especially by the late, great Ted Knight) and contains some cleverly-executed visual gags. The whole "Baby Ruth in the swimming pool" scene is a fine example. Watching it again in my forties for the purposes of the book, I responded much more to the subtext in the comedy. Caddyshack is, at the end of the day, a stinging satire of elitism and bigotry. Bushwood Country Club represents elitism at its most reprehensible, while the characters played by Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray, and Michael O'Keefe represent those who are rejected based on religion, appearance, and/or economic class. The "screw the snobs" message in Caddyshack really hits a nerve with me these days, especially since it seems as though the people in this country who want to quash diversity are getting louder and louder. To them I say, in the immortal words of Al Czervik, "Hey everybody, we're all gonna get laid!"

Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder

Godfather
Being the son of immigrants, the first of my family born an American, I always related to the difficulties Michael Corleone encounters when trying to assimilate in this country in The Godfather films. But ever since becoming a parent I increasingly find his father Vito's sacrifices for his children worth contemplating. That they may have inadvertently set the stage for Michael's alienation and ultimate self-destruction now makes the crime saga an instructive cautionary tale about a parent's proverbial best laid plans.

Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film

Letter From an Unknown Woman, directed by Max Ophuls, starring Louis Jourdan and Joan Fontaine, has had shifting significance for me. Trying to pinpoint why my twelve-year-old self reacted so strongly to it when first seeing it on TV, I cannot really explain. I did always understand the glow and truth in the mesmerizing performances, and how beautifully Ophuls implants obstructions -- a marching band, a horse-drawn carriage, a servant who cannot speak. The film had become more and more of an emotional riddle. The screenplay by Howard Koch is based on a story by Stefan Zweig, whose writing as a whole I rejected for a long while. After seeing it recently, now, Letter From an Unknown Woman stands as a masterpiece about the chance of choice, the mechanics of longing, the dangers of devotion, and the dictum of circumstance.

Scott Weinberg, Fearnet

I used to think Terry Gilliam's Brazil was about escaping reality to find love. Now I think it's about how reality destroys love.

Jeff Berg, ABQ Arts, Las Cruces Bulletin

They do change for me over time....one that comes to mind right away is Bonnie and Clyde. Always marveled at it until the last time I watched it about a year ago and it just didn't "catch." It has started to seem a bit old and outdated, but not enough to give up on it. The Searchers strikes me the same way now and it just seems so racist that it is hard to watch. Maybe that is why it is such a good film; it makes one think every time. 

Sean Chavel, Flick Minute

The Graduate is an obvious answer. Seeing it at age 12 versus seeing it age 22, by then, it's no longer a happy ending.

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second 

400 Blows

I too will be opting for a Francois Truffaut movie: The 400 Blows. It's one of the film's I've grown with (and not grown out of, or grown bored of). While I've found that Antoine Doinel is the figure that one automatically and unquestionably empathizes with regardless of age, what's really interesting is how one approaches the surrounding cast the more one develops. For example, Antoine's mother shifts from benevolent bogeyman and symbol of constraint to a figure of some sympathy when one has experienced the complexities of adulthood and responsibility, while the light-hearted father figure becomes the boy's worst enemy by association.

The experience of watching an autobiographical piece such as The 400 Blows is also shaped considerably if the viewer chooses to pursue further the examination of the events that shaped Truffaut's tale. In reading Antoine de Baecque's well-satisfying biography of Truffaut one is struck with the realization that the path that led to Antoine Doinel are far more complex than any kind of straight answer can do justice to, in turn further complicating the attitude with which one approaches such a movie. 

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

They do, from time to time for me. Mostly, it has to do with any major changes in my life. For example, prior to having a dog, Marley and Me was a sad movie for sure, after getting my puppy and losing a pet around the same time, it became a devastating movie to watch for a bit. Another example would be Take this Waltz. I first saw it while in a long term relationship and didn't respond to it in a particularly strong way. I happened to see it again shortly after being broken up with, and the break up scene in that film became something that hit close to home in a way that few films can. So yes, they do, though mostly due to life experiences as opposed to merely growing older or something of that sort.

Marc V. Ciafardini, Go See Talk, Big Fanboy

Movies and films most definitely change and challenge us over time. Aside from some intentionally cerebral titles (can you hear me Shane Carruth??) that speak to us on different levels across decades, there are some special pics that deserve praise for their welcoming and underlying diversity.

Films tend to be inherently multi-layered and that makes their stories fun, meaningful and satisfying to different age groups/demographics. Nothing new there but some stories are best revisited after years apart and by that token, in my opinion, films like Casablanca, Risky Business, Volunteers, The Thing, and Animal House, which I have seen countless time over the years, have revealed themselves as more elaborate, full-bodied and layered features over time. Part attributed to universal themes but also attributed to growing tastes, these titles, nostalgia aside, reward the viewer for multiple trips down the narrative rabbit hole... but that's just what I think.

Pat Padua, DCist, Spectrum Culture

Definitely. I was 17 when I first saw Kurosawa's Ran, during its initial release, and at the time I thought Kagemusha was the better movie. But when I saw Ran again twenty years later it blew me away. I read movies differently at different ages. I've seen Jacques Tati's Play Time half a dozen times in twenty years, and in my twenties I saw Hulot as simply a failed romantic. But over the years Tati's compositional distance made it clear to me that Hulot's charming observation of life came from observing life at a deliberate, alienating distance.

Christopher Campbell, Nonfics

While not just one movie, the first thing to come to mind was the Up documentaries. The series now consists of eight separate installments revisiting 14 individuals every seven years, from age 7 to, most recently, 56. The first time I watched them I was in my late 20s and so found 28 Up to be the most identifiable. And the last time I watched them all was when I was in my mid 30s, so of course then I was most interested in 35 Up. It's an obvious choice, I suppose, but the nature of the perspective involved isn’t much different than how other movies change for me over time. Especially high school movies, which were one thing before I was in high school, another thing during and another thing after. 


Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

I remember seeing Edge of Seventeen at a film festival when it was on initial release and it was an uncomfortable, absolutely squirm-inducing experience for me. But a few years later, I saw Edge of Seventeen again, and it resonated for me in a way I embraced. I know the film hadn't changed, I had. 

John Keefer, 51 Deep

Any film that's imbued with life and passion and tremendous craft will surely age with you in ways you can't as of yet even begin to comprehend. Or maybe you're one of those people who has made up their mind to stop all growth and forward movement. New ideas are shut out of your head. Your loveless marriage is tolerable to a degree. You hold the same beliefs you did when you were 13. You are most likely the kind of person who has loud public arguments. The world becomes more incomprehensible to you year after year and you blame the world and not your myopic view of life. I hate you, whoever you are, and you hate me too and one day we will destroy one another. I loved Blown Away when I was a kid and now I do not because it was always bad but I liked explosions when I was ten and still do but not enough to like that film. I'm now three years older than the characters in Grosse Pointe Blank are supposed to be and that fills me with terror but the film also seems more like a familiar old friend than a supercool modern take on the screwball comedy. And Ghostbusters is and shall forever be Ghostbusters but now I get what was going on in that scene with the ghost floating over Ray's bed. Oh and google 8 1/2 and Roger Ebert for a better understanding of what this question is all about.

Ethan Alter, Television Without Pity

Leaving aside recent headlines (and I swear this choice isn’t a pledge of allegiance towards either side), that film for me has to be Annie Hall. My first viewing -- circa age 14 -- came on the heels of back-to-back viewings of “early, funny” Woody Allen movies like Bananas and Love and Death and even alongside the non-stop hilarity of those movies, it struck me as his flat-out funniest film. It was only revisiting it two romantically-challenged years later that its sense of melancholy really came through, tipping the scales in the direction of tragedy. It’s formal sophistication became more evident to me over time as well, as I learned more about film technique through classroom and independent viewing.  After my first brush with Pulp Fiction, for example, I found myself zeroing in on the structural games Allen plays in depicting the course of Annie and Alvy’s relationship; and re-viewing it in the wake of Memento, the movie became a treatise on the way we use (often selective) memory in shaping the narrative of our lives.  To this day, it’s a movie that’s always evolving for me, which is the primary reason why it’s not only my favorite Woody Allen film, but also my all-time favorite film. 


LEGO

Q: What is the best movie in theaters? 

A: The LEGO Movie

This article is related to: Criticwire Survey


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