art changes as you do

Last week I was listening to this episode of Marc Maron’s excellent WTF podcast, featuring an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson:

It’s a great listen if you want to find out how the director of Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood came up with that kind of stuff. There’s also a very funny story at around the 53 minute mark, if that’s what floats your boat.

Anyway, the thing that stuck out most to me was a little passage from PTA:

My favourite movie of all time is The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. I must have seen it five or six times and thought, ‘OK’. And then, whatever it was, when I came across it at just the right time, at just the right moment… And I went ‘Holy shit’. My life opened up and I thought ‘This is the best movie I’ve ever seen, and that’s when I was writing There Will Be Blood. I just watched it over and over and over again. These movies are moveable feasts, in other words, you catch it on an airplane, you catch it on your  phone: where are you going to see it? It’s out there and it exists and it’s going to be something different all the time.

Marc replies:

I think that’s a movie, not unlike Pynchon, or not unlike a great piece of literature, that as you evolve, or music, that when you go back to it it speaks to you differently

I entirely agree. When I mentioned this to my wife she reminded me how our perspective had changed on the the film Brief Encounter. When we first saw it we thought it all seemed like an exciting affair for a married woman in austerity Britain; a couple of years later we saw it again and the guy who was making the affair happen seemed like a really rapey bastard, changing the tone of the entire story.

But there are countless examples of music tracks that only spoke to me after I either listened to them many times, or grew a bit older and was able to appreciate them with more experience. For example, the album 2001 by Dr Dre remained on heavy rotation for years because every few months a new track would become my favourite. The art somehow met me further down the road when I was ready for it.

And of course the opposite can happen: who hasn’t cajoled their friends into watching ‘this great movie I saw last year’ (usually a comedy), only to find yourself sitting there while tumbleweed blows through the living room because Cameron Diaz’s jokes seem roughly one millionth as funny as they had done the first time around?

Obviously that means you must now revisit every artistic expression you’ve ever seen thus far, just to check if it really is shit/great.