Take Star Wars, for instance. I mean the original trilogy, not the CGI-clogged remakes with Mannaquin Skywalker. When I first tried to see A New Hope, I could not stay awake through more than half of it. Thinking back, it couldn't have been because of the age of the flick. I was about eight at the time and loved movies from about 1970 to 1989, so I could still find wonder in the dated special effects. Really the acting killed it for me. Mark Hamil as the blond, starry-eyed youth? Carrie Fisher losing her accent part-way through the movie? It seemed silly and half-hearted. Not until the age of eighteen, after seeing the original trilogy three times and the prequels twice, did I "get" Star Wars. It was supposed to be a little cheesy. Meant as an homage to sci-fi serials and westerns, Star Wars became much more enjoyable upon repeated viewings. Not only did I make it through A New Hope awake, but I relished watching the entire original trilogy multiple times. It's like an inside joke when you think about it. Once you understand the kitch behind it, it clicks. Only in the case of Star Wars one has to find the samurais, the Nazis, the cowboys, and the sci-fi serials before it clicks.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show proved another stumbling block for me in my foray into unknown films. I knew of its cult following and, knowing nothing of the plot, I ordered it from Amazon. Within fifteen minutes of putting it on, I was sorely disappointed. "Okay. What the hell. This is stupid and cheap and all the music sounds the same." The latter is a rather biting statement for someone who listened almost exclusively to '76-'78 punk music for a few years, yet the remark was made all the same. Again, RHPS seemed dated and very cheesy. And, well, it is. Low-budget and tawdry as it is, I had to watch my copy three or four times before it grew on me. After the initial dead-panning, it got kind of funny. Then the music became pretty groovy. Before I knew it, I was envying Magenta's costume changes and had memorized all the songs and most of the dialogue. Now I own the soundtrack. Like Star Wars, it was more about showmanship, rock and roll, and Flash Gordon than realism. It just took some time to get over the over-the-top drag queen camp.
My most sacrilegious initially-disliked film would have to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Go on and throw the stones and memorabilia as I hide behind some furniture. I'll wait.
Are we good now? Okay, let me explain. My first exposure to Monty Python, after some sketches on Flying Circus came in the form of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Another blind buy like Rocky Horror, I immediately loved the elaborate musical scenes, the drab tone, and the dry humor. Thinking Holy Grail to be much of the same (and again hearing of an intense cult following), I bought the special edition DVD and prepared to be entertained. Some of my thoughts during the first viewing included:
- "Um, okay."
- "What is going on?"
- "Did they forget the plot?"
Again, I was far too critical of what I later found out was the first Python feature film of more than a collection of sketches. Plus, I was pretty annoyed at the lack of singing. The ending especially, if I remember correctly, came as the worst blow. The entire movie I'm sitting there thinking "This has got to get better. It's brilliant somewhere. It's got to be." But then, bam, they just sort of run out of film and the entire bloody plot dissolves. It was another four viewings before I was sucked into the whole idea of Holy Grail. Geekery just takes some grow time. Also, it helped that I found out why the Pythons had to end the film the way they did.
How To Let A Movie "Grow" On You
It might not work with everything, but I recommend trying it on a film you're persistent on loving.
- Keep an open mind to camp. If it's really low-budget with bad acting, keep on the lookout for irony. Savor it if you find it.
- Look at dated features with a dated perspective. Yeah, the ships in Star Wars are totally tiny models and the aliens are mostly puppets and masks. But when you watch old effects, imagine how amazingly mind-blowing it was to audience back then. It helps to visualize Red Foreman from That 70's Show going "Whoah" to the laser blasts of A New Hope when it was fresh in theaters.
- Watch it at least twice. Each of the films above took over three tries before I started feeling for it. If it seems terrible the first time, watch it again. No improvement? Try thrice if you're quite dogged or just give in to the film gods. As composer John Cage said, "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, 16, 32 and so on. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." I ought to have followed my own advice when I received American Graffiti from Netflix. Convinced it was an iconic soon-to-be-favorite, the slow pacing burst my excited bubble within the first twenty minutes. I didn't even finish it and slid it back into its little red envelope within the hour. Perhaps I'll do better next time.
Good luck, and happy film-watching.