Not the kind of re-watching that comes naturally, over time, when you remember how much you liked a movie the first time you saw it and decide to watch it again. I do that, too.
The kind of movie re-watching I’m writing about is different. It happens when a movie gets a grip on my psyche. When as I’m watching it I find myself falling in a slow headlong for the actors. Where, when the snow blows, a chill runs through my body, and when the music creeps in, I pull knees to my chest and hunker down.
It’s the kind of movie where I don’t take leave of my chair nor the screen until the credits run, and as soon as the credits run, I know I want to see it again. Now.
Sometimes I’ll wait a day. This time I waited two.
I first saw Transsiberian on DVD with Jim on Saturday night. Jessie (played by Emily Mortimer) is a recovering alcoholic photographer whose train-loving missionary husband, Roy (played by Woody Harrelson) has booked an eight-day train trip from China to Moscow as a way to infuse their troubled marriage with adventure and, hopefully, make Jessie happy. Their cabin mates are a guapo Spaniard backpacker named Carlos (played by Eduardo Noriega) and his much younger and very quiet girlfriend, Abby (Kate Mara). You know Carlos and Abby are trouble the moment they tumble into the shared cabin.
When I watched the movie again, last night, I pleaded all through it with Jessie to not fall for Carlos’ traps. Yet, the fact that she wouldn’t listen to me—it endeared her to me all the more. I love Jessie—so street smart and mature, yet so not in control.
The first movie to get a hold of me this way was an indy production that came out in 1984: Choose Me. I was 23, went to see it at The Guild Cinema on Central Avenue in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill. That time it was Keith Carradine (Mickey), Lesley Ann Warren (Eve), and Genevieve Bujold (as radio talk show host, Dr. Love) that pulled me in. And the music—Feelin’ right, you’re my choice tonight—by Teddy Pendergrass.
I watched the matinee, walked out into the too-bright sun to Bow Wow Records a few doors down, bought a cassette by Teddy Pendergrass, and went back to see the movie again. I even saw it a third time, the next day.
Looking back, my first clue that movies could affect me this way came in 1973. That’s the year Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford starred in The Way We Were. I was 12 years old, and my best friend and I took the city bus to Winrock Theater to see the movie. Afterwards we rode back in silence and walked slowly from the bus stop to our houses. Once inside, I disappeared into the bathroom, drew a bath, and sat in the tepid water for half an hour, crying. I couldn’t get over how Streisand’s activist Katie and Redford’s military man Hubbell could love one another so deeply yet be incapable of creating a life together.
Now with movies out on DVD, it’s easy to indulge in my once-in-a-blue-moon obsession. Last movie before Transsiberian that I watched twice in a row was Sex & Lucía. That time it was actor Tristán Ulloa who captured my imagination. Short and with hair like a rooster, he played a writer, Lorenzo, who, once he finds a woman to love—or, rather, she finds him, enamored as she is with his books—he can’t suppress his debilities and become the man he wants to be.
As goes Lorenzo, so went Jessie. I suppose Mickey, Eve, and Hubbell all did, too. Complex humans, good and bad fighting for dominance. Maybe that’s what pulls me in—a desire to know that epic struggle. Like a song that gets etched into my brain, the characters cut grooves somewhere inside me, and once there, I can let them go.
I will tell you this. My obsession with certain movies doesn’t last. I went back recently and re-watched The Way We Were and Choose Me, and whatever it was that got inside of me those many years ago, it’s no longer there.
Which is a good thing, I think. Much as I enjoy the infatuation when it hits, I wouldn’t want to spend all my days watching then immediately re-watching movies.