Sometimes once is enough. However great or ‘important’ certain films are, once you’ve watched them you know that you’ll likely never choose to view them again.
There are some films, like DW Griffith’s pioneering 1915 classic The Birth Of A Nation, that any aspiring cinefile needs to have on their ‘to watch’ list, but after viewing all three racist hours of it you’ll probably not want to give it a repeat viewing.
These are just some of the films I’ve really appreciated over the years but have no particular desire to watch again.
Let me know some of your one-timers:
The War Game (1965)
Peter Watkins’ trailblazing docu-drama made for the BBC about the devastating effects of a nuclear war on Britain won Best Documentary at the 1966 Academy Awards, but was shelved by a spineless Beeb in light of serious misgivings by Harold Wilson’s Labour government for more than 20 years. An important social document of what would actually happen should a nuclear missile strike that put the ‘duck and cover’ nonsense the people were being told into stark perspective, it’s a terrifying and harrowing experience that I wouldn’t wish to repeat any time soon.
Just as Christopher Nolan’s Memento had done two years earlier, Gaspar Noé’s notorious Irréversible employs a non-linear structure by starting at the end and working backwards in time to finish at the start. Infamous for its deeply distressing and prolonged rape scene, Noé’s second film also features bursts of stomach-churning violence that led to it becoming a poster boy of the New French Extremity movement alongside the likes of Inside and Martyrs. Noé has always enjoyed pushing buttons (his most recent film Enter The Void is just plain bonkers) and he pushed plenty with this one-timer.
Requiem For A Dream (2000)
Based on Hubert Selby Jr’s novel of the same name, Darren Aronofsky followed up his acclaimed debut Pi with this numbing account of several characters’ spiralling descent into a vortex of delusional drug addiction. Although Jared Leto’s Harry and Jennifer Connelly’s Marion are put through hell, it’s Ellen Burstyn’s devastating journey into the abyss of amphetamine dependence that proves the film’s real sucker punch. Burstyn’s performance as the pitiful Sara is as traumatic as it is brilliant (Julia Roberts beat her to the Best Actress Oscar for Erin Brockovich; a good performance but not on the same planet as Burstyn), and the final 15 minutes of the film is some of the most gut-wrenching cinema you’ll ever watch.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Of all the films on this list, Pier Paolo Passolini’s Salò is the one that I know for absolutely certain I won’t be watching again. Based on the Marquis de Sade’s book The 120 Days Of Sodom, Salò follows four corrupt Italian fascists who, following the fall of Mussolini’s tyrannical regime in World War II, kidnap a group of young men and women and subject them to four months of mental, sexual and physical torture, degradation and sadism. Passolini is making political points about how absolute power corrupts absolutely (tellingly the four men represent the church, the political establishment, the aristocracy and the legal system), but the sheer relentless suffering meted out to the men and women is almost beyond belief (the film was banned in several countries). Most certainly not for the squeamish.
Lars von Trier has long enjoyed a controversial reputation for his films and Antichrist remains possibly his most notorious work to date. Ostensibly about a married couple (Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) retreating to a cabin in the woods to grieve following the sudden death of their child, von Trier shows in extremely graphic detail Gainsbourg’s ‘She’ going completely off the rails and Defoe’s ‘He’ experiencing increasingly bizarre visions. Throw in a talking fox spouting how “chaos reigns” and you have the sort of lunacy which one viewing will suffice. The film’s final 20 minutes involving an act of self-mutilation and a further act of extreme violence is pretty hard to watch once let alone several times.