Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bigness

by Marcus Sakey

As those of you who follow me on Facebook know, I often post questions. Part of the reason is that I find the whole social media thing a little me-me-me oriented, and as a good Midwestern boy, I was raised to find relentlessly talking about myself impolite. But the larger part of the reason is that I'm fascinated by the answers.

Yesterday, my question was this: "What's a book or movie that you've read or watched over and over? Ready, Go."

As of this writing, 49 people have responded. Here are some of the big winners, mentioned multiple times:
  • To Kill A Mockingbird (book and film)
  • The Star Wars Trilogy (the real one, not the one for the kiddies)
  • The Last of the Mohicans (film)
  • The Lord of the Rings (films)
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • North by Northwest
  • The Godfather
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Mystic River
This is, at first glance, one weird ass list.

But the more I look at it, the more sense I see. These are all big titles, by which I don’t mean so much that they made a lot of money, though they did, or that they were sweeping in scope, though most of them were.

No, the bigness I mean here is something else. It’s an ineffable sort of bigness. A sense that the story has weight, heft. Something that will endure.

That makes sense, of course, since my question was about books and movies that people have enjoyed multiple times. But as a writer, it’s also an interesting and daunting thing to recognize.

Something made these big. It didn’t just happen. A quality in the idea, or in the telling, or both, took these beyond the norm.

The vast majority of books and movies come out, live their day, and fade into the background. They aren’t lost, but they aren’t likely to get three or four mentions on a list like this. They aren’t likely to haunt the collective imagination of a wide group of people.

If I have a point, I suppose it’s this—I wonder if, as writers, this is a worthwhile test to apply to our own work. It would be a painful one, no question. This is a scary ass hurdle to put before yourself while you’re trying to create something from nothing.

But maybe it’s a good one. Maybe it can help. Maybe, if nothing else, aiming for bigness has value.

Meanwhile, I’d love to see more answers to this question. What book have you read a number of times? What movie can you always watch again?

Ready, go.

25 comments:

Kevin Guilfoile said...

That is an interesting list. I wonder what would happen if you asked that question, but also asked people to name the BEST books or films they have ever read or seen. Because the films that I am able to watch over and over (Lethal Weapon, Fletch, Clear and Present Danger, Star Wars, etc.) are not always movies that I would consider "great." There are exceptions (Hitchcock, Coppola, the Coens, and Scorcese are responsible for a lot of them) but I don't necessarily equate watchability with greatness.

(I should add that I rarely reread books. Again, there are exceptions, but I feel like there are too many great books that are going to go unread in my lifetime for me to be doing much doubling up.)

John said...

I have read The Lord of the Rings maybe 30 times, and will continue to re-read it. As far as film watching goes, my most re-watched film is probably The Wizard of Oz, although I haven't seen it for a few years now. There are a fair number of books and films which have multiple reads and watchings, but these two top my list. Thanks for asking!

John.

Mike Dennis said...

I agree with Kevin, Marcus. The ones (films, especially) that I revisit time and again are not always the best ones I've ever seen. There are, however, those exceptions that do rank among my favorites. Those films are:

NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950)
DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968)
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973) (This one also makes the novel list)
HOLLOW TRIUMPH aka THE SCAR (1948)
THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)
THE BOURNE TRILOGY (2002, 2004, 2007)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog on my own website naming all 50 states and the District of Columbia, then naming what I consider the best movie associated with each state. I had a lot of fun doing it, and you might want to check it out.

Dana King said...

The movie that popped into my mind as I was still reading your intro was BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. THE HUSTLER is right up there, too.

Books? Chandler's Big 3: THE BIG SLEEP, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, THE LONG GOODBYE. Ed McBain's MONEY MONEY MONEY. Elmore Leonard GET SHORTY (The movie, too). THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE. Not novels, but any of Connie Fletcher's books.

Bethany K. Warner said...

On the books side, Watership Down. I first had it read to me in the summer between 3rd and 4th grade. Since then, I'm not sure how many more times I've gone back and reread it. It's been at least 4 or 5 and I know it'll be more.

sara said...

So many books, so little time. Not much time to re-read. What I tend to do is turn down corners, then go back and re-read the parts that intrigued me. I guess I can rank my favorites by the number of pages turned down. Two books come to mind that I read at different stages of my life and got different and richer meanings: Death of a Salesman, and Catcher in the Rye.

Movies I can never walk away from, anything from the Coen Brothers and 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' for it's sheer entertainment value.

Martel said...

Most read books:

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Most watched films:

Braveheart
The Shawshank Redemption
The Blues Brothers
Animal House

Kate said...

I always find myself drawn into A Few Good Men. The one liners in that movie, great stuff!

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