Rewatchability

The Criterion Collection has released home video editions of some of the best films ever made. I love a lot of these movies. I own almost none of them.

Being a movie fan has always meant being a collector: of ticket stubs and posters, of battered VHS tapes, of stories and experiences. I've got a list of every movie I've ever seen. The Criterion Collection, which has been around since the mid-1980s and got its start on laserdisc, is dedicated to issuing movies that inspire fans to build collections. Dedicated buyers talk about spine numbers and release dates, and they lament when certain titles go out of print.

Like a lot of critics and movie buffs, I keep an eye on Criterion releases, but I find myself reluctant to purchase more than a few titles. This doesn't make me a bad fan or critic, though. It's just about my own default. I've come to realize that the most important factor for me in making home video purchases isn't a film's quality, but its rewatchability. There's a caveat to this, but in general, the two aren't automatically related.

For instance, I own the Criterion edition of Rushmore because it's my favorite movie and one I enjoy revisiting from time to time to see how it's aged and how I've changed. I was 16 the first time I saw it, and I'm 30 now. Criterion's Rushmore was the first DVD I ever received. (When I unwrapped the gift, I saw the disc was broken through an error in packaging. I went to the store to exchange it, and the clerk attempted to give me a non-Criterion version. I balked, not caring that he was confused, and I eventually got the right one. True to collector spirit, I still have that DVD on my shelf next to the Blu-ray, and I'm reluctant to part with the old disc for sentimental reasons.) I own a number of other Criterion titles, too, but not because they're Criterions. It's because they're movies I love and can watch again and again, like Dazed and Confused.

There are dozens of Criterion titles, though, that I don't want to own. They're movies I enjoy, or maybe just ones whose place in the film canon I respect, but that don't trigger for me the same desire that I feel for other movies. Rewatchability is how everyone makes buying choices; it's only when considering Criterion discs that I find myself conscious of it. It's as if the film's weight and shadow make me consider whether I should own it just for the sake of owning it, as if there's a film critic test coming up and I need to pass it by having the films of Stan Brakhage next to my copy of Coming to America. I'm not like this with other titles or imprints. It's just the Criterion ideal that can mess with my head if I'm not careful.

I had to learn that loving a movie and being able to watch it again and again aren't always the same thing, and that you can have a powerful, moving experience with a work of art that you never want to have again. (Call it the Darren Aronofsky Principal.) This took me a while to accept, too, because I'm accustomed to viewing movies on a basic continuum of bad to good, which can slip into "forgettable" vs. "ownable" if you're not careful. I learned to let myself off the hook and realize that I didn't have to own certain movies, or a certain number of them, to still love them. I could still care for those specific titles, still cherish those moviegoing experiences, without wanting to replicate them.

There is that caveat, though: I've found that, on occasion, it can be good to buy great movies and pristine releases even if I'm not sure just how often I'll revisit them. Maybe it'll be once a year; maybe once every three, or five. If a film hits you hard enough, it's OK to put it in your shelf just in case. It's the same way I own Infinite Jest but have only revisited it once in the eight years since I first read it. Rewatchability is still the goal, but if you're not careful, comfort becomes complacency. It's good to stir yourself up every now and then, to come back to a bold or daring film that works on you in the years between viewings. There aren't any hard and fast rules here. There's no math to figure it out. I'm working through it all the time. The most I can say is: I want to go back time and again to certain worlds, even if I might not feel safe there.