This conversation has been edited for clarity and length and includes mild to moderate spoilers for “Gilmore Girls,” “Titanic,” “Love Actually,” and “Inside Out.”
Amy Andrews, managing editor of Online: Today I want to talk about this idea I’ve been calling “repeatability”—that is, re-watching movies or TV shows, re-reading books, re-listening to music, etc. To start off, I want us to go around and talk about our philosophies of repeating. Are you a person who re-reads books, re-watches movies, re-listens to music, that kind of thing?
Abby Muller, managing editor of Arts and Culture: When I was younger I used to re-read everything constantly. If I went to the library, I would try to re-read the books before I returned them. Anything I got before sixth or seventh grade, I probably re-read like… upwards of five times, probably more. And Harry Potter most of all, obviously.
Gaby Hick, Arts and Culture staff writer: Well I mean, I think every single person has re-read Harry Potter. And if you haven’t there’s something wrong with you.
AA: That’s just a given.
Chantal Marauta, Arts and Culture staff writer: I’ve never read Harry Potter.
AA: Oh my god.
GH: Okay, so you’re leaving. [Laughter] Music is definitely its own category, because I would say if I like a song I listen to it maybe 10 times in a row. And maybe I’m particular, but I’ve also seen movies twice in a row. I really like “The Breakfast Club.” “Little Miss Sunshine” I’ve watched 14 times. There was a specific period of time when that movie was very meaningful. Books—John Irving’s “Hotel New Hampshire,” I’ve read at least four times. But I think it’s also because I have a very poor short-term memory, so I just forget and I read them again and it’s like experiencing the story a whole other time.
CM: The only book that I found myself sort of gravitating towards again and again is Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell To Arms,” just because it has this really detailed description of Milan, which is my hometown, so by re-reading it, it kind of takes me back. I’m more of a really bad re-watcher of movies, especially chick flicks, just because I get stressed very easily, and if I’m in a mood one night, I’ll want to watch a movie—I’d rather know how the movie ends or how it progresses so I’ll know if it’s going to make me feel a certain way or I’ll know what to expect.
AM: I was trying to think of specific movies that I know I’ve seen a million times, and there are only a couple that occur to me off the top of my head. “The Last Airbender,” the M. Night Shyamalan version of Avatar, is so bad. It’s like maybe the worst movie ever made. I have made a lot of people watch Avatar with me because it is one of my favorite pieces of media ever. And I feel like, to emotionally get over having finished this beautiful, wonderful story, the best thing to do is to watch it be butchered as horribly as possible for the entertainment value. So I’ve made a lot of people watch that with me.
GH: You’re so sadistic.
AM: Everything else I re-watch is mostly for the comfort reason. But that one is to torture my friends.
GH: What about the repeatability of something like a show? Say, a ballet. Because I’ve seen “The Nutcracker”—the first time my mom took me I was four, and apparently I stood up in the middle of the first act and said, “When are they gonna talk?” really loudly. But I’ve seen it every year since. I can recite it. Well, there’s no speaking.
AA: Can you do the dances?
GH: Absolutely not, because I’m an uncoordinated person, but I know exactly what happens every minute. And the music, obviously, is the same—bless you, Tchaikovsky.
AA: Do you feel like it changes? Like, do you appreciate it more now that you’re older, or is it more like, nostalgia? Do you see the same production every year?
GH: Yes, the Toronto Ballet. It kind of marks the beginning of Christmas, going to see it. It’s interesting because it used to be just my mum and I. And now it’s my cousin, who’s a little girl, my aunt, my mum, and I. So the people who have come to see it grew. I guess in the same way as what you’re saying, showing the same movie to a number of people—it’s not just for me.
AM: I really like musical theatre, and there definitely are shows that I’ve seen that I would not bother to see again. Even if they were free, there are shows that I’ve seen that I would not see again. But there are shows that were like, fine, but not worth 30-plus dollars, 50-plus, 60-plus, whatever, for a ticket. The most recent example of one that I have seen and would continue to see again is “Cabaret,” which I love. I saw it the summer after sophomore year of college, and I saw it again at Brown last fall, and then Amy and I just saw it like a month and a half ago, and I would go see it again. Stuff changes between productions, and I enjoy seeing what changes and seeing how that changes my interpretation of the show.
GH: I feel like seeing things, particularly shows like a ballet or a musical, knowing what’s going to happen makes you particularly attuned to the minutiae of it. If, for example, this is a true story, one of the flowers falls and breaks her ankle onstage—
AM: Oh no!
GH: Then you notice! But yeah, I think shows are particularly interesting things to see over and over. And then you can rank them, you know.
AA: I was thinking about that because I’m also pretty into musical theater and the show I’ve seen the most is “Wicked.” I saw it most recently this summer when I was in London, and the weirdest thing about it was that they sing the whole thing with British accents. Which like, you would think is obvious, but they’re singing “dahncing through life” instead of “dancing through life,” and it was just throwing me off so much. For most of the other people in the audience who were used to British accents and were probably experiencing “Wicked” for the first time, they would be totally used to that. But being really used to listening to the cast album and, like, American voices, I found it very, very strange to hear them speaking with that accent throughout the entire show.
AM: With more subtle differences like that—I’ve listened to the “Hamilton” cast album approximately 900,000 times in the last six months. They’ve been doing these excerpt performances of it, like at the White House and on the Grammys, and any time there’s like, any very slight difference in the delivery of the line I notice the difference. It doesn’t bother me or detract from the performance, but there’s a part of my brain that I can’t turn off that’s like, the timing was slightly different that time.
AA: Maybe going along with live shows and moving into the music direction, is concerts. I don’t know if you guys have ever seen like the same artist more than once, but one of my favorite bands is the Decemberists, and I saw them in Boston last spring and then this past fall, and it wasn’t as exciting the second time. The first time was so like, “Oh my god, I’m seeing these people that I have wanted to see live for so long, and now I’m finally seeing it,” and the next time was like, “Yep, I’ve seen this before, cool.”
CM: I saw Paul McCartney live almost five years ago. And towards the end of his concert he sang “Hey Jude,” and there was this back-and-forth with the audience where he was like, now the girls, now the guys, and everyone was just singing along cause everyone knows the lyrics to “Hey Jude,” and there were fireworks, and it was just a really big spectacle. And it gave me goosebumps the first time I was there watching him. I’ve rewatched his concerts online, and I’ve got all his concert albums, and every time I listen to “Hey Jude” there’s always the same back-and-forth. I thought that I’d get really tired of it after a while, but every time it never fails to give me chills. It’s just a really powerful moment, because it’s Paul McCartney singing with the audience, and Paul McCartney is just this big legend.
GH: I studied chorus and voice when I was in high school, so if I hear someone sing something and I really like the way they do it, I just listen to that moment over and over. Which gets a little obsessive. And then my roommate comes home and is like, please stop listening to that song. But it’s also the duration thing. Because you can’t just sit down and start a book, unless it’s a short book, and read it over and over, because there goes 50 hours. But a song, it’s three minutes.
AM: On the subject of things that are fast to re-read—I like fanfiction a lot.
AA: I was waiting for you to say that. I was like, when is Abby gonna talk about fanfiction?
AM: Right now. Fanfiction is not necessarily short. I’ve read some that are upwards of 250,000 words, which is like a couple of novels. But if I feel like reading something, I’m not gonna sit down with something over… like, 35,000 words unless I have reason to expect that it’s going to be very good. And one that I’ve been coming back to a lot in the last year, I’ve read about a million times. It’s about 10,000 words long and it’s online, so you can read it on your phone, like, walking to class. I took a little break from that for a couple months, but I then re-read it again the other night. At that point, I can also anticipate every word and every paragraph, I’ve read this thing like a million times. It took me like 15 minutes to re-read, because I know how it goes already.
GH: I mostly re-read articles, because they’re quick.
AA: I have a list of YouTube videos that I like to watch because YouTube videos are short. I literally have a folder in my bookmarks called “Pick-Me-Up,” and it’s all YouTube videos. A lot of times I’m like, “Well, I’m sad, I want to watch “Parks and Rec,” the greatest show of all time.” But I don’t have enough time to watch all of “Parks and Rec,” so I will watch a clip.
CM: I do that!
AA: Or I will watch the bloopers—
AM: The bloopers are great.
AA: The bloopers are only like 15 minutes as opposed to a whole episode, which would be 22 minutes. So that’s much more reasonable.
GH: Poems are nice to re-read too.
AM: What’s your go-to poem?
GH: Well, there’s this thing you can do on the Poetry Foundation website where you can browse by theme or topic or feeling. So there’s one that’s “love,” and then “unrequited,” “break-up,” “at the start.” So if you’re feeling in a particular mood you could do that. My go-to is Mary Oliver. Probably my favorite poet. She’s very grounded in the natural world. She’s very easy to read. e. e. cummings. Pablo Neruda, if you’re feeling particularly ready to mingle. And then T.S. Eliot.
AA: I’m not a fan of T.S. Eliot at all. But I have read some T.S. Eliot poems… so I know for a fact that I wouldn’t go back to those.
Do you ever watch a movie, read a book, and are like, “I never want to go back to this again,” either because it was bad, just objectively bad, or something that’s good in whatever way, something that you’ve enjoyed, but for whatever reason you don’t want to ever revisit it again.
CM: My dad loves old movies—I guess the Italian version of Charlie Chaplin, his name is Totò. Basically they’re all these old black and white movies, they were filmed in the ’50s, ’60s, and it was just a completely different form of comedy. I don’t really enjoy most of his films, but once I was watching a film with my dad. And it wasn’t a film that I would go back to, because I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I enjoyed the experience. It did make me laugh, it was a night that I was in the mood to maybe try something new, and since I was with my dad, it kind of brought us closer.
GH: There are movies I’ve seen that are just so emotionally devastating—“Wall-E”? I cried for three hours after that movie ended. I don’t know what it was about the little robots. They found love.
AA: In a hopeless place.
GH: Oh my god, that movie just ruined me. I loved it and I would love to see it again, but my mom had to drag me out of the movie theater washroom because I was just sobbing. Just going like, “But they’re so beautiful!” Pixar ruins me.
AA: Pixar kills me sometimes. Like the first 10 minutes of “Up” are emotionally destroying, and I saw “Inside Out” over the summer, with Abby actually, and I cried every tear in my entire body.
GH: When he lets go of the wagon, what’s his name, the creepy elephant thing?
AM: The what? Oh, Bing-Bong.
GH: When he gets off the wagon, oh my god.
AA: Yeah, I just like sobbed the whole second half of that movie. And then my mom kept being like, “I want to see this movie,” and I was like, “You should watch it, it’s excellent, I will not watch it with you.” Like, I do not want you to see me cry this much. And also because it is about, like, family relationships, and I was like, if you cry, I don’t want to see that either. No crying can happen.
AM: I saw “Inside Out” a bunch of times. I really really liked “Inside Out.” But also a Pixar one—so “Toy Story 3” came out the summer after 10th grade. I saw it twice that summer while it was in theaters, and I have not watched it since then. Like, deliberately. I was like, I really love this movie, and then it was just too close to graduating high school, and I was like, I don’t think I’m going to be able to deal with this movie right now. There’s a point in the middle of college where I think it would have been totally fine, but I’m coming up on another graduation, another ending and beginning thing, and I’m guessing it would make me more emotional again.
GH: At least you didn’t cry about robots.
AM: I’ve probably cried about robots. That XKCD comic—okay, yeah, I’ve cried about robots before.
GH: A movie that I saw that I would never watch again was “Titanic.”
CM: I was going to say that!
GH: Not because I thought it was sad, but because I thought it was so stupid that she couldn’t move over on that piece of wood.
AA: Yes, oh my god. You are so right. There’s so much room on the goddamn door.
GH: I mean, we all know what’s going to happen. The ship’s going down, hello history. It takes hours to get there, and you build it all up, and then she throws the necklace back in the ocean like a dumbass! When she already let Leonardo DiCaprio drown and turn into an ice cube! Don’t watch it. Spoiler alert, it’s bad.
CM: I guess the theory is, just because it’s one of the highest grossing movies of all time, it’s a classic.
AM: Yeah, I’m going to watch it at some point.
AA: It’s worth seeing, I think—
AA: But it’s funny you say that, because I was thinking about sleepover movies, because I’ve watched that movie at at least four or five sleepovers in my lifetime. The other movie that I’ve also seen a million times at a sleepover is “Love Actually.”
CM: Oh my god yes.
AM: I have not seen that either.
GH: What? Colin Firth is in it!
AA: Colin Firth is A-plus. But the first time I saw it, I watched it with my four best friends from high school, and now every Christmas we watch it, and like every time we have a sleepover. And I’ve seen it so many times that it gets worse and worse every time I see it, because I just see more and more problems. The first time I saw it, I was like, “Oh, look at all these beautiful romantic love stories, it’s great,” and now I watch it and I’m like, “Alan Rickman’s character sucks.”
CM: The girl that sleeps with the hot secretary person and then her brother calls—
AM: This movie sounds like a lot.
AA: Yeah. There’s a lot of really problematic stuff in it. A lot of the gender politics are weird, and there’s weird slut shaming—there’s a whole lot of weird stuff that I wasn’t aware of when I was seeing it the first time because I was younger and I was like, “What a cute movie.” Now that movie is so tied up in my friend group that we watch it all the time and I could basically quote the whole thing, but I also kind of hate it.
GH: Yeah, I’m re-watching “Gilmore Girls” because now it’s on Netflix. Rory’s first boyfriend is Dean, and when I watched it the first time I was like, “Oh my god, he’s the cutest person ever.” And I rewatch it and you’re like, “This is an extremely psychologically abusive relationship,” and I don’t understand how I ever thought this was okay. I mean, I’m much older now.
AA: Dean is literal garbage.
GH: Jess is obviously the person that she should be with. [AA makes a face.] Oh, don’t tell me Logan.
AA: I’m not. I’m Team Rory is Great, Everyone Else Sucks. Also I’m secretly Team Marty. I love Marty.
AA: I was also thinking about “Gilmore Girls,” which I watched for the first time last year, and then I re-watched it again recently. But I was watching the seventh season, and I actually had to stop watching it because it was getting too close to Rory’s graduation from college and she keeps freaking out. She’s like, “What am I going to do? I don’t know what I’m doing next year.” Rory’s literally living my life right now. But also everything turns out okay for her, which is positive, but I don’t know if everything’s going to turn out okay for me. So it was hitting a little bit too close to home, and I kind of had to stop and be like, I’ll come back to this after I graduate and get a job and know that my life—while not as great as Rory’s, probably—will still turn out okay. Last year when I was watching it, I didn’t care that she was graduating from college, because I was like, graduation’s so far away.
GH: So far.
AA: Now it really is not.
Lastly, if you have one story of a thing you’ve seen or read a bunch of times or like if you have one thing that you know is the best of its thing in the world because you’ve read it or watched it ten million times and want to recommend.
My favorite TV show, which I already mentioned, is “Parks and Rec.” It is the best show of all time, and that is just a fact. But my favorite episode is this episode called “The Fight,” in the third season, where Leslie and Ann, who are two of the main characters, have a fight and they get drunk on one of their coworker’s alcohol that he invented, and everyone in the whole office gets drunk and fights and it’s hilarious. It is the funniest episode of all time. And I’ve seen it like 30 times, so many times that I actually have most of it memorized. Or not most of it, I have the opening scene memorized, some other parts memorized. My dream is to, someday, when I myself am drunk, give a performance of this episode—
AM: I’m holding you to that.
AA: —where I just perform a one-woman show of this episode, just me doing all the parts. But that’s my go-to thing to watch anytime I’m sad. Or happy—I had to make sure I wasn’t just associating it with sad things, so I watched it once when I was happy and I still loved it. It will never get old.
AM: I’ve seen “Avatar” in its entirety, like straight through from beginning to end three times, plus various episodes more times. I am trying to give it a little bit of a pause right now because I want to preserve its emotional power. But there are a couple episodes that I don’t count in that and go back and re-watch all the time. One of them is the episode right before the finale—the third season is a lot of plot but has this one filler episode that is just a goofy recap of the entire series. It’s hysterical, it never fails to make me laugh—
GH: Which episode?
AM: “Ember Island Players.” It’s the best, and I love it, and it’s great.
GH: Honestly, curse Abby. She made me watch “Avatar” and then there’s an episode where Appa goes missing. I’ve never cried so much over a fictional sky buffalo.
My favorite article to re-read is probably—just because it’s short, and it always reminds me that I need to work on writing, but it’s called “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” it was in the New Yorker by Ariel Levy. It’s not cheerful—she is with child and then she’s a journalist so she’s on a plane to Mongolia, and then she gets there and she miscarries, and it’s a really well-written, very moving piece. It’s the piece I like to show to people when I say, “Look, this is what writing can actually do.” I just like to re-read it sometimes to remind myself that suffering is relative and the things that I think are hard are not really all that hard in the grand scheme of things. On a lighter note, “Spirit: The Stallion of the Cimarron.” Fantastic movie. I remember the day that my mom brought home the CD soundtrack, back in the 1870s when we still used CDs.
CM: A song I like to listen to on repeat: I’m kind of an old soul so I listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra because his voice just relaxes me. There’s this one song by him called “All the Way.” When you first listen to it you think, “Oh, it’s him singing about a woman, you know, crooning, a love song.” But then every time I listen to it I pick up something new in the lyrics, like a metaphor or a lesson he’s trying to teach. And they’re very, very simple lyrics so it’s not really taxing on your mind, so it can calm you down. Listening to “All the Way,” it definitely taught me some lessons about love, forgiveness, and just dealing with people you love without letting them get under your skin or with trying to get under their skin. Basically, re-listening to it helped me learn about a whole other aspect to relationships and to love that I didn’t really think about before.
AA: Okay, great. Thank you guys so much for doing this. The end.