There are very few movies that I hate. I know that I’ve walked out on one or two in fifty-odd years of movie-going, but I honestly can’t remember what they were or why I was too annoyed by them to even stay and see if they would get better. But then there are the movies I love to hate, and those remain memorable largely because it isn’t so much about not liking the film itself as it is about the circumstances that led me to take such glee in hating them. The first such movie that springs to mind is Love Story (1970). I hated it for two reasons: first, because it was the first time that my callow and youthful self became aware of how egregiously a movie could pander for my tears; second, because my friends all loved it. The more they cried, the more I snorted with derision. Looking back from a vantage point of maturity and sensitivity to the feelings of others, I can now admit that I behaved like a jerk, walking around for weeks afterward, pouting my lips and calling people “Preppy,” pantomiming a deathly swoon and then cackling with laughter. But it was certainly fun at the time.
It’s not that I’m opposed to romance; I like a good star-crossed-lovers plot well enough. In fact, my cinematic sensibilities were warped in that direction at a very early age when my older sister inexplicably took me to see Sayonara (1957), even though I was a small child in a conservative Catholic household who was not even allowed to see West Side Story several years later because, according to the Legion of Decency ratings (which my mother followed religiously, if you’ll pardon the pun), it was not “suitable for all audiences.” I recently asked my sister whatever possessed her to take a six-year old to see a movie about forbidden love, racial intolerance and suicide, but she claims to have no recollection of the event. I mention this because, much like Love Story, Sayonara is tremendously melodramatic and manipulative of the viewer’s emotions, but I absolutely loved it, possibly because I was just a little girl and it was thrilling to peek into this world of grown-up passion, pain, and Marlon Brando. I trace a lifelong love of film back to that ill-advised trip to the movies with my sister. Is Sayonara a great movie, or even a good one? I have no idea. And I’m not about to find out. In my memory it is perfect, and beautiful, and tragic, and I’m going to leave it at that.
According to Heraclitus, we can never step into the same river twice; the same might be said of the movies. There have been plenty of movies that I’ve loved … and lost after a second viewing. And vice versa. Then there are those wonderful films that keep giving us new reasons to love them. There are films that give us insights into their historical moment in ways that the filmmakers might never have intended or imagined (Hallo, Leni Riefenstahl!), and others that seemed impossibly daring when we first saw them but now retain that reputation only as historical footnotes. There are more than a few films that I like to revisit at least once every few years just to see how our relationship has changed; but then there are a few, like Sayonara and Love Story, that I’m happy to keep preserved in my memory –for good or ill—just as they were the first time I saw them.