On the last episode of The B-Movies Podcast, William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and I had a very special guest in the form of the sparkling film-lover Julia Marchese. Ms. Marchese is a hard-working staff member at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, which is a repertory-only movie house that has a different double bill every 48 hours or so. It’s a wonderful place. I don’t want to talk up the various minutiae of their calendars here, as I would never stop describing the wonderful pair-ups I’ve seen there. Repertory houses are, tragically, thinning out across the country, and big studios recent push for digital projection in cinemas has only exacerbated the situation, and they have dealt the additional spiteful blow of destroying or selling off their 35mm libraries without necessarily updating them to digital.
WHY?? If you are, like me, a lover of the theatrical experience, and value the idea of seeing a classic film projected through film on a big screen with a group of like-minded strangers, be sure to sign Ms. Marchese’s petition to save 35mm film.
But rather than doing any more lamentation on the issue (which I could easily do for pages and pages), I will, instead, offer some positive reinforcement. In the tradition of the New Bev, which prides itself in creative pairings, I have thought up six dandy double features to consider. Thanks to home video, I suppose any two films could be considered a “double feature,” but seeing a double bill in a theater is a decidedly different experience. One film can easily color the other, and have you looking at both in a new light. Even surprisingly different films can end up being in a subtle mental boxing match. I’m a big fan of the notion of programming-as-criticism. You may love Sunset Boulevard, but consider watching it back-to-back with David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (which I’ve done). Aside from their similar titles, these are two films that, when seen back-to-back, reveal a deep faith and damaging trust in the strength of the Hollywood fantasy. Think of some little-seen but well-regarded sci-fi film. Let say Capricorn One. Sure, you could see that on its own, but if it was the fifth on a series called “The Best Sci-Fi Films Ever Made,” and it was preceded by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Metropolis, you may be tempted to give Capricorn One much more close consideration.
Here, then, are some thematically similar features I would love to see paired up. Would you see any of these?
Showgirls & Road House
This is one I’ve been trying to make actually happen for years. In my mind, the campy, alien breastfest of Showgirls is the yin to the face-punching, mullet-sporting yang of Road House. Two of the best bad movies ever made, one about women, the other about men, constantly in playful battle, but both necessary to maintain balance in the bad movie universe. They are both about ambitious outsiders, but as Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkeley) is a conniving (and none-too-bright) bitch who injures those around her to acquire dubious fame, Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is a job-minded badass who already has a small amount of dubious fame he is trying to shake off. They are both, however, using their current identities to hide a checkered past. They are both injured souls. What’s more, the tone of the two films share a melodramatic, almost operatic quality that is rarely seen in movies. They both openly exploit the bodies of their central gender. I think this pairing would not only be fun, but would reveal important gender dynamics in feature films. Please, if there are any repertory programmers out there listening, make this happen.
The Avengers & House of Dracula
What could one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the last five years and a horror movie from 1945 possibly have in common? Well, both films feature the only times in Hollywood history (as far as I can remember) wherein more than two popular franchises all came together for a single film event. The Avengers, as it widely known, combines characters from several superhero flicks of the last few years into a superhero team that does battle with space invaders and an angry evil god that looks like Zooey Deschanel. House of Dracula combined characters from Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man into what is, perhaps, the very first Monster Mash movie. These days, we’re used to seeing Saturday morning cartoons that feature Universal monsters all hanging out together, but House of Dracula was no mere “Mad Monster Party.” It was a legitimate sequel to Universal’s most famous monster franchises. Watching it back-to-back with The Avengers would perhaps show how multi-franchise storytelling can be and has been executed, and how screenwriters can juggle an ensemble of already-well-known characters. I think it might prove to be an interesting screenwriting exercise.
Persona & Performance
Another male/female look at similar subject matter (á la Showgirls/Road House), both these films are about two people in isolated proximity, who find that they may be switching identities. In Bergman’s classic (arguably his best, definitely among his best), Bibi Andersson plays a talkative nurse who has been sent to an isolated beach retreat with an actress (Liv Ullman) who has become hysterically mute. As they live together, and emotions are confessed, the two women move through a vaguely sexual relationship with one another, and soon find they are having the same emotions. They slowly, perhaps physically, perhaps metaphysically, become one. In Performance, a slimy gangster named Chas (James Fox) needs to hide out following a crime, and unwittingly selects the love nest of the hedonistic rock star Turner (Mick Jagger) who seems perpetually zonked on drugs. Turner’s easy life is alluring to Chas, and Chas’ criminal indifference is perhaps the one thing that can shake Turner from his rut. In a psychedelic fashion, and no small amount of gay tension, the two men grow so close that they aggressively begin usurping one another’s personality elements. The women’s relationship is about emotional blending. The male’s is about competition and adversarial posturing. A book could be written on the compare/contrast.
Psycho & Santa Sangre
Here’s a good one for Mother’s Day. While the classic Psycho was made to look intentionally cheap (Hitchcock notoriously used his TV crew to shoot it rather than his slicker cinema crew) and has a kind of lurid tone to it, and Santa Sangre is one of Jodorowsky’s usual surreal carnival nightmares, the two share similar story elements that are fun to spot. I don’t want to give away too many plot details of either (just in case you haven’t seen Psycho, I don’t want to be the one to give away the twists), but I will say that both films deal with imbalanced young men who are uncannily – and perhaps supernaturally – influenced by their mothers. One young man is browbeaten by his mom, and covers up her murderous actions. The other is escaped from a mental hospital (he once bore witness to a violent crime committed by his fat, greasy father at the circus where they both worked), and has put together a stage act with his armless mother, who once led up a cult. It’s painful to sum up Santa Sangre so briefly. Just put these on back-to-back, and watch them butt heads.
Batman & Robin & Santo and Blue Demon Against the Monsters
A friend pointed this out to me: Batman & Robin, often considered a bellwether for bad movies, is, in actuality, one of the most expensive, impressive, and elaborate luchador films ever made. Many people objected to the goofy way Batman and the various villains were handled (I think there are still some Batman fans who bristle at Schumacher’s treatment of Bane), and the film is designed like a hurricane of neon and vinyl. And yet, it is so melodramatic, colorful, comic, and over-the-top, It pushes into the magical territory usually only occupied by Mexican wrestling cult heroes like Santo and Blue Demon. So I encourage you to watch them together. How different, really, is a guy in a bat costume, who wears a cape and beats up silver-skinned monsters, than his silver-masked wrestling counterpart who does hand-to-hand combat with Dracula and mummies and wolf men? You may find that luchador films and superhero films are, tonally, very similar. I recommend the 1970 team-up flick Santo and Blue Demon Against the Monsters. The pairing just may blow your mind.
Head & Shaft & Nuts
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
Again, just sign the damned petition to save 35mm film. We discussed it at length on The B-Movies Podcast, how the entertainment industry sees one technological innovation as invalidating an entire history of development. We may one day find that shooting a film on actual film is as rare as shooting a silent motion picture, or at least a black and white one. But more to the point, an analogue copy of a film on celluloid preserves the high-definition picture for all time, while digital prints – which cost less on a variety of levels, but which theaters and studios are inexplicably charging you more to see – are prone to technical mishaps and necessitate constant and expensive updates as technology evolves on a nearly yearly basis. There is literally no upside to this situation, and you need to make your voice heard to prevent it from becoming the norm, at the very least without incident.
Seriously, don’t read my hilarious, illuminating and wonderfully entertaining list of dream double-features until you’ve signed it. You’ll be glad you did.
Good? Okay then. Like most film enthusiasts, I’ve often dreamed of owning my own revival movie house, or at least programming for one. There are a few left standing in Los Angeles, including Julia Marchese’s fabled New Beverly Cinema and The Silent Movie Theater, which curiously resides within walking distance of each other. Maybe that area is some kind of locus for good taste. I don’t know. The New Beverly in particular is fond of presenting double features. Sometimes they’re obvious picks, like two films by the same director, or two films with a similar theme (the “don’t trust your memories” thriller Dark City will be showing with Memento later this month), and sometimes they get awesomely clever with their picks. The Association of Moving Images Archivists Student Chapter recently inaugurated a monthly series called “Something Old, Something New,” which marries an old classic with a more populist, comparatively recent release. Their first showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief was paired with the underrated Bruce Willis bomb Hudson Hawk, and this weekend, on May 4-5, they’ll be screening John Frankenheimer’s identity-altering classic Seconds with John Woo’s identity-swapping action spectacle Face/Off. Check it out if you're in the area.
What follows are some double features I would insist upon if I had my own druthers in selecting double features for a theater like the New Beverly. One day I’ll get my chance. Just you wait.
Debbie Does Dallas & Bring It On
This might speak for itself. Western culture has an ongoing love affair with the high school cheerleader, as the Platonic cheerleader (“platonic” in the philosophical sense, that is) was a daily mainstay in the lives of many young boys first eyeing the opposite sex for sexual reasons. In mainstream cinema, they are ogled from afar, and Bring It On is one of the most innocent and enjoyable motion pictures to feature the young athletes in a fairly wholesome way. But in porn, perhaps most notably in the classic Debbie Does Dallas, the sexual fantasies of youth are fully realized. That’s what porn is there for, obviously.
The only problem, besides tricking Universal into letting us juxtapose their feel-good teen comedy with hardcore pornography in the first place, is which film to show first. Do you show Bring It On first as a tease, followed by Debbie Does Dallas for a cathartic release, or do you show Debbie Does Dallas first, followed by a more innocent film to put your prurient thoughts into a greater, even awkward context. I vote for the latter, but then I’m a spoilsport.
The Mist & Frailty
There are two key connections between Bill Paxton’s directorial debut Frailty and Frank Darabont’s Stephen King adaptation The Mist. Firstly, they are both excellent horror movies which remain criminally underappreciated by the public at large, so highlighting both of them would raise awareness of their disturbing storylines, fine performances and powerful ability to unnerve their viewers. But more importantly, both films have a thematic connection that is only revealed in their final minutes. MAJOR SPOILERS: Each film finds its protagonist fighting tooth-and-nail against evil religious extremism, only to discover to their horror that religious extremists were right about everything all along. They’re two of the greatest horror films of the modern age, if only in this respect: they’re specifically designed to scare the living crap out of increasingly secular audiences. They do a great job. END SPOILERS. I vote to show Frailty second, since it’s ending – though still deeply troubling – plays more like a happy one, while the ending of The Mist is one of the most depressing ever presented in a genre film.
Goodfellas & My Blue Heaven
Two films, both based on the life of ex-mafia goon Henry Hill, released in the same year, with entirely different takes on his life. And both are great, obviously. Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas is now considered by many to be his finest film, and portrays the life of Henry Hill from a boy dreaming of the glamorous life of a gangster, through an adulthood discovering the dangers and conflict that stems from that same lifestyle, and ends with him trapped in suburbia in Witness Protection, safe but thoroughly dissatisfied in what must of us consider a happy daily routine. Harold Ross’s wonderful comedy My Blue Heaven picks up right where Goodfellas leaves off, depicting a Henry Hill-type character – “doomed to middle-management” – played by Steve Martin, trapped in that same suburban hell. My Blue Heaven is one of the wittiest fish-out-of-water movies you’re likely to find, often exceeding the old standard of “a laugh a minute” and finding a modicum of happiness for a character who, in Goodfellas, turned out to be a cautionary tale. His story continued, and in My Blue Heaven at least, he had a surprisingly happy, entertaining ending.
M & Cradle 2 the Grave
So get this: the Jet Li/DMX action dud Cradle 2 the Grave, about a jewel thief and a intelligence agent trying to recover stolen black diamonds, was originally conceived as a remake of Fritz Lang’s timeless classic M. For those who don’t know (guys, seriously?), M is a 1931 classic about a serial child murderer played by Peter Lorre, who finds himself hunted by both the police and the criminal underworld alike. It’s a masterpiece of filmmaking skill, features one of the greatest performances ever captured on celluloid, and it turned into Cradle 2 the Grave. I can see what they were going for, at least initially: a criminal so despicable that criminals actually team up with the cops to take him down. You could turn that into a viable action movie, but instead, over the course of God knows how many rewrites, it turned into a bizarre concoction of kung fu, conflict diamonds and Tom Arnold cameos. Watch them back-to-back sometime and try to piece together what happened in your mind. It’ll drive you nuts. That’s why I heartily recommend it.
Searching for Bobby Fischer & Amadeus
Two brilliant films about precocious youths, and two of my very favorite films. We’re talking “Top Five” material here, so yes, this pick is largely just something I’d like to see for personal reasons. But there’s a deeper connection here. Steven Zaillian’s perfect (you heard me) dramatization of real-life chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc) focuses on his relationship with his father (Joe Mantegna), whose efforts to support his child veer dangerously close to self-interest and jeopardize their personal bond. But the film’s wisely-chosen sports movie trappings lead up to a rousing finale in which their relationship is repaired and the precocious hero finds a fair balance between realizing his potential and having a healthy, well-rounded childhood. In contrast, Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning Amadeus explores what could happen if a film like Searching for Bobby Fischer had ended in tragedy. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) is a musical wunderkind whose overbearing father attempts to goad him away from anything that could sully his artistic potential, and growing into an immature figure so talented that he elicits resentment from his peers, specifically the historically-forgotten Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), who uses his influence to destroy Mozart’s career, just because he hated him as a person. A great yin-yang double feature. I’d go to every damned showing.
The Social Network & Summer Wars
Both released, in America at least, in 2010, David Fincher’s critically-acclaimed The Social Network and Mamoru Hosoda’s exemplary animeSummer Wars each examine the impact social networking has on modern life. More to the point, they present the material in entirely different dramatic fashions and come to nearly polar opposite conclusions about the evolution of human connectivity. Most of you have probably already seen The Social Network, which stars Jesse Eisenberg as the founder of Facebook, and finds damning irony in the story of a man with no positive social skills changing, perhaps for the worse, the way other human beings interact in the 21st Century. The film powerful but cold, and Fincher uses his technical expertise – and a crackling, Oscar-winning script by Aaron Sorkin – to turn what could have been a depressing production into an engrossing narrative.
But Summer Wars takes the opposite tack, seeing a very near future in which everything in the world is interconnected using Cloud technology, portrayed as bright and colorful place populated by individual avatars with expressive personalities. But it spends more time in the real world, where an extended family of wily characters respond to an artificially intelligent virus that threatens the Cloud (and by extension, human civilization) by uniting the entire world together – a feat previously inconceivable, and only possible now due to social networking – for a common cause. Funny, inspiring and – in a shocking diversion from the norm – actually hopeful for a future influenced by technology, and its ability to bring people closer. The two films play beautifully off of each other, and I encourage you to see them together inside a theater or out.
What unexpected double features would you like to see at a theater near you?