Behold my 1000-plus words way of asking you this simple question: how many times have you seen The Dark Knight?
Here's a little story I probably tell too often (it's even in my "Meet the Team" bio): Long ago, at an art school that should remain nameless (I hated the place too much to give it any kind of credit), I studied film production, with the crazy notion that I would be the one to bridge the gap between Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino (this was in the mid-90s, when all film students just wanted to be the latter). And while I wasn't any good at being the kind of leader necessary to be a great director, I thought I was on track to (at the very least) become an Oscar-winning screenwriter.
Then, in the middle of my freshman year, I went to see 12 Monkeys. And when it was over, I stayed in the theater and I watched it again. I believe this to be the moment when I decided that I no longer wanted to be a filmmaker and wanted to be a film watcher. But it would take me another year of school -- during which I changed the names in my dream from Spielberg and Tarantino to Gilliam and Hartley -- to realize that I could be a ... professional movie theater employee!
Years more would go by before I actually realized that I was better off writing about the movies than attempting to write for the movies, and fortunately all that time managing multiplexes gave me an extra niche to write about, as well. This week's column, however, despite its long-winded introduction, is not about how I came to write "The Exhibitionist." It's actually more specifically about that repeat screening of 12 Monkeys 12 years ago. Because thanks to The Dark Knight's box office success reportedly linked in part to repeat business, I've been thinking about the few movies that I've actually seen in the theater more than once.
Honestly, I can't remember there being any repeats prior to 12 Monkeys. And that situation was actually an accidental double viewing. I had arrived late for the movie and walked in after it had begun. Thinking I'd missed a lot, afterward I hid in a restroom until the ushers were gone, and I strolled back into the auditorium and watched to see the beginning. It turned out that I'd only missed about 30 seconds, but after the realization, I couldn't seem to tear myself away from the screen. I was too in love with the movie.
Of course, I didn't pay twice for 12 Monkeys, so the experience can't technically be considered "repeat business." Since that time, I've only paid to see a few films more than once in a theater. Yet even when I worked in a movie theater and didn't have to pay, I had better things to do with my time. With most of the movies I went to see twice, I did so because I was really excited about the movie (Being John Malkovich was one) and so I brought a friend, hoping to introduce him or her to it. Unfortunately, almost always the friend wasn't as excited as I was, and so I decided to stop dragging people to movies I'd already seen.
I guess I can understand how people in the suburbs might want to see The Dark Knight two or three times in two or three weeks. The local cinema probably doesn't offer a lot of better options. Here in New York City, it's a little different. I don't get why someone would want to see a repeat when there's so many other movies, new and old, playing nearby. Especially at $11-$18 a ticket, depending on whether it's a regular or IMAX ticket. But then, I don't even like to watch a lot of movies for a second time on video, because there's more than a century's worth of films I haven't seen and should see before spending another 2 ½ hours of my life with The Dark Knight, regardless of how good it is.
Tons of people definitely disagree with me, because there are apparently a lot of fans who are seeing The Dark Knight again and again and again. Perhaps they're the same people who are getting so riled up over negative reviews of the movie. Perhaps they're so obsessed with the film that it's become a religious experience for them. Is it possible that any of them are actually returning to the movie because they're dragging a friend to see it for the first time? Or could it be that people think the movie is so good (still #1 on IMDb good) that it's the only thing worth seeing, ever?
It doesn't have a lot of laughs nor does it have an interesting twist or puzzle, elements that normally warrant a movie to be enjoyed, or at least watched, over and over. If anything, I'd think too many repeat viewings of The Dark Knight would expose it as being not quite as good as it seemed the first time around -- maybe it's even easier to see during the second viewing how correct David Edelstein is about how poorly directed those action scenes are.
Am I against repeat business? Nah. Certainly it's good for the movie theatre business, though probably more so if you actually wait to make your return visit in the third or fourth weekend rather than in the first or second. Plus, I'm sure that I'll do it again someday. In fact, last week I went to see Man on Wire, and I wanted to immediately watch it again. Unlike 12 years ago, however, I don't have so much free time on my hands. Still, I've been recommending the documentary, which is by far my favorite film of this film so far, to everyone I know (it opens wider this Friday, August 8. Go if you live near any of the cinemas showing it). And more than simply trying to send people to the theater to see it, I want to tag along, too. I'd love to see the look on my non-cinephile friends' faces when they first discover how entertaining it actually is (in theory, a documentary about a tightrope walker doesn't sound all that exciting).
I probably won't actually see Man on Wire again in the theater (unless you're buying), because I still have to see Herzog's must-see-theatrically doc Encounters at the End of the World. Also, there's an Elliott Gould retrospective happening here this month, and I've never seen Altman's The Long Goodbye or California Split even once, so I might as well check them out on the big screen. But since I think Man on Wire is a much better film than The Dark Knight, I'm hoping that some people do find their way to seeing it more than once. Films like these can definitely use the business, let alone the repeat business.