The Cinematic Pendulum

September 8, 2020

I have a habit of repeat watching, and sometimes this is for a purpose I believe to be valid. When people kept praising Call Me By Your Name, I rewatched it to see whether my indifference to it could be changed (it could). When I had a discussion with someone about whether one should separate the art from the artist vis-à-vis the current climate around #MeToo, I rewatched American Beauty to test whether my love for Kevin Spacey’s performance as middle-aged suburban husband Lester Burnham could be faltered (it couldn’t, although that’s a whole other debate). I have also rewatched The Shining three times, each time aiming to up my opinion of it, each time succeeding just an ounce but never quite adhering to the craze. 

 

At other moments though, I know I am repeat watching for the wrong reasons, the primary one being a fear of being forever changed by a film. Of course, that is the point of cinema, but I don’t mean the ‘adopting a new way of living’ or ‘seeing the world as it actually is’ type of change. The deal is, simply put, that I am often worried that a film will make such a strong, haunting impression on me that the credits will roll to a blubbering mess, scarred by the film that has brought up every trauma a twenty year old has to her name. My grandmother for instance still discusses her experience with A Clockwork Orange, which I was not fazed by in the slightest, and John Carpenter’s Halloween had one of my friends checking for Michael Myers in her wardrobe for years. Such stories have made of spectatorship for me a type of risk, as though I could at some point watch a film that indelibly alters me in a supernatural kind of way. Some over the years have succeeded – the soundtrack of It Follows haunts me to this day –  but I am often reluctant to discover any new ones that might affect me so badly I am unable to function properly (a worst case scenario, but not unlikely).  

 

Credit: Allocine 

 

 

Lockdown was the opportunity to finally catch up on all of the classics I had somehow avoided or missed out on watching. There was one catch though: with my tentative approach to film in my most sensitive of moments, choosing a film during a global pandemic became what I started to nickname the cinematic pendulum. With the amount of emotions weighing on the world’s shoulders, picking a film ended up becoming a heavy vacillation from one extreme to the other. At one end, I was buried in the comfort of familiar films, films I knew would not affect me or change the fragile quality the world around me had taken on. I was not one to watch a three hour gruelling Argentinian misery during a global pandemic when I could have been curling up with Gaylord Focker and Bridget Jones instead. So it was that, locked down with my film fanatic roommate and not-a-film-fan-but-open-to-anything boyfriend, we set out on multiple film franchise marathons I was sure wouldn’t panic or offend me (at this point, I am to be treated like an elderly woman or a very young child). There was the week of Harry Potter, closely followed by The Conjuring and Annabelle universe (horror films, although as much of a risk as any, often don’t have that deeply introspective quality I believe will send me off the rails). There was the day after we sent in our essays that we decided to have a ‘crap film day’, during which we watched Showgirls, set out for the second one, then watched the trailer and thought it looked like a student film, so opted for The Fanatic instead. Those were the days when I typed in feel-good and comedies.

 

Allocine

 

At the other end of the extreme, I was voracious for fresh outlooks on life, films I should have watched long ago but somehow hadn’t. So it was that there were the MUBI days, where we made our way through all of Celine Sciamma and the Vengeance Trilogy. There were the films I finally got around to (Scarface), that I watched alone, for university (My Beautiful Laundrette), for personal reasons (Walk The Line), because I was told to (Bande à Part). I realised that none of these films haunted me as I had feared they would – they might not have been doing the same pick-me-up job Forrest Gump found a walk in the park, and Walk The Line had me in floods of tears, but they did nothing but deepen my love for cinema. And even if some of them weren’t exactly what I needed – Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste didn’t exactly do it for me – they were still there, a part of the mosaic of cinema I was crafting for myself along the way. This did not take away the sense of culpability that repeat watching creates in me though. Every time I watched a Friends or gave in to The Devil Wears Prada, I felt like I was taking a step back and being a ‘bad cinema lover’. But it was at the heart of lockdown that I realised that, all worries aside, rare are the films that come along and destabilise our – albeit sometimes fragile – states of mind. Perhaps I was simply being a romanticised, sensitive cineaste whose life is always so aggressively impacted by the heart-wrenching qualities of an old French film, forever destined to a life of misery and endless self-reflexion. But as I see it, it could go both ways. If my reaction to Sing Street was to fantasise about being in an 80s style rock band and change my hair colour, why couldn’t a film take me to the other extreme of the cinematic pendulum, forcing me to obsess over a particularly disturbing scene night and day? Our minds are quick at capturing images, and even quicker at reminding us of them. 

 

But maybe after all is said and done, such speculation can simply be put down to laziness and a need to constantly be at ease by what appears on my screen. In the comfort of my own home, lockdown taught me to risk it a bit more. I still give in to a How I Met Your Mother or Call My Agent episode during breakfast. But that’s just treating myself and as I’ve learnt to get out of the familiar, I’ve also learnt to give myself a little leeway. My ‘to watch’ list may still be long. But I’m making my way through it, bit by bit, and not even the It Follows soundtrack can stop me.

 

Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor

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