Groundhog Day; or The Comfort of Familiarity

Today is Groundhog Day and, as ever, I will be watching Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis' 1993 timeloop comedy. I've been watching Groundhog Day on Groundhog Day since 2011, making this year the 8th year I've marked this tradition.

For the most part, I only really watch films once, so the fact I'm up to my 8th rewatch of Groundhog Day is noteworthy. How noteworthy? We've all survived the first month of this blog without me going full-on geek, but it's time to get real; here's a graph I made using my Letterboxd diary data to demonstrate just how noteworthy having watched the same film 8 times is for me:


The number of one-shots in my diary simply dwarfs the number of films I've rewatched even once, let alone 8 or more. So let's just look only at the rewatches:


It's quite something. The pattern to me is pretty obvious; the majority of films I watch twice are a films that I've seen by myself/with one group of people and then wanted to show to another group of people (often my parents in my role as cultural arbiter at home). The films I've watched three or more times represent less than 4% of the films I've watched over the last few years; eight or more watches are less than half a percent.

Since 2014, my aim has been to try to watch 200 films a year. Some years I've just met that goal, other years I've managed to get over 260 films in. But for four years, I've managed to get 200 films in a year. This accounts for the disproportionate ratio of single-watches to rewatches. It's something I do feel guilty about from time to time. In the pursuit of watching as many films as I can, I have to contemplate the marginal value of rewatching a film I've already seen this year vs. watching one I haven't yet seen. The consequence of this is that I rarely get the chance to re-evaluate films I wasn't necessarily convinced by the first time, or to go back and really dig into why I loved a particular film. I am, by the act of always moving forwards, forced to take my first impression as my last impression for a lot of films, and I'm aware of how short-sighted that is.

But the flipside is that if I come back to a film more than twice, odds are it's going to be something I want to keep coming back to. Sometimes it's that a film is so compelling that I have to watch it again: the fact that Don Hertzfeldt's It's Such A Beautiful Day and World Of Tomorrow both appear high up on my list is a testament to how densely packed his films are. Often there's a sense of tradition around these films: there's something about watching the same films at Christmas every year that just feels right. Sometimes there's an external factor that merely suggests it would be appropriate to rewatch a given film, such as Groundhog Day.

Or, there's an even simpler explanation for some of these films: they're the films that just make me happy. I've long had a soft spot for the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker masterpieces Airplane!,
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
, and Top Secret![1], and even having watched them so many times over the years, they still make me double over with laughter. My absolute favourite film in the world is Annie Hall, with this blog's namesake Play It Again, Sam not far behind it: I rewatch both these films every summer, often on holiday, and each time I watch them I feel a little warmer inside.

None of these are particularly serious films. They're all fun. It's just easier to rewatch sillier films than more serious films. I hold 2001: A Space Odyssey in very high regard, but my god I couldn't watch that over and over again, and I wouldn't reach for that if I needed comfort in cinema. I can't in good conscience tell you Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a better film than 2001, but I can tell you which one I've seen more, and which one I'd watch again sooner.

In the end, tradition begets tradition. The more you rewatch something, the more you rewatch something. The more you take it to heart. The more you come to know it inside out, to almost be able to recite it line by line. The more you can learn from it, and the more you can come to appreciate it. To experience something over and over again is to be shaped by it in some way. Wait, which film was this blog post about again?

  1. Not to mention a love for their persistent use of exclamation marks at the end of their film titles. ↩︎