Friday, June 04, 2010

THE (ALMOST) LOST ART OF THE DOUBLE BILL



One of the questions in the latest SLIFR professorial quiz has to do with the quiz-taker’s memories of the oddest double bill either listed or actually seen in a theater, and it seems my childhood memories the local show house in Lakeview, Oregon were chockful of oddities. (One that stands out, for some reason, is the Bob Hope/Phyllis Diller comedy Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! paired with the vicious World War II murder mystery Night of the Generals.) Admittedly, there were some answers to this question that were a whole lot more odd even than this example-- 1984 and The Slugger’s Wife certainly qualifies. Odd here is defined as two movies slammed together regardless of the compatibility of their subject matter or tone, and given this disregard for movies as anything but product to be slapped onto a projector in order to draw customers to the concession stand, the oddities almost always won out over good sense, at least at my hometown theater. The manager there operated under the guiding philosophy of a very popular book one could find on a lot of exhibitors’ shelves back in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s called The Encyclopedia of Exploitation.

The E of E was a volume intended to guide the small theater owner toward ways he might better attract audiences to whatever movie happened to be playing—lots of ideas for displays, contests and other promotional schemes were explained. The theater owner in Lakeview actually gave me his copy of the book when he was cleaning house one day—he was never big on showmanship and consequently probably never had much use for it. However, I eagerly thumbed through it for curiosity’s sake and quickly gleaned one of the book’s operating principles regarding double features. According to the author, the wise theater manager must always book two movies that were as diametrically opposed as possible while still being compatible enough to attract a wide audience. In other words, “Mom” might like the Bob Hope/Phyllis Diller picture, being the flighty, silly female, while “Dad,” if he can endure the first feature, will eagerly tear into the meat and gristle of Night of the Generals. That way everybody’s satisfied, see? And with the exception of those double bills that were released as a package by studios big and small, I suspect this is how many a small-to-medium market movie theater (and who knows, maybe some of the bigger towns too) approached the art of the double bill, that is, as no art at all.


But good repertory programming, as it came to be defined in the ‘60s and ‘70s and into the ‘80s, before the home video revolution momentarily fooled most everyone into thinking seeing movies on TV was somehow better because of its convenient novelty, always looked at the double feature differently. A good rep house was, with any luck, headed by a programmer who knew his film history and leavened the scholastic imperative with a liberal dose of movie love, using out connections based on theme, director, historical context or even the occasional weird juxtaposition that might somehow encourage reflection on the social climate of a given time or even that of the film industry itself. I remember reading of a rep series programmed back east in the mid ‘80s that examined the “X” rating as defined by the MPAA in the years 1968-1971, before the rating had been become associated with pornography—double bills of the likes of Myra Breckenridge and The Best House in London might not illuminate the individual films thematically, but it might have had a lot to say about the tenor of the times in the United States as to what constituted an “X” rating in the first place, as well as a reminder that the “X” rating was, if not ever prolifically applied, then at least there was a time when the rating was not the mark of socially unacceptable goods that it eventually became. (Kubrick, Pasolini, Bertolucci, Visconti, Schlesinger and Ferreri were all directors who released X-rated films between the years 1969 and 1973).

Organizations like the Film Forum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and even to some extent a group like the Cinefamily, are certainly conversant in the double feature—creative cinematic couplings are the main attraction for most, if not all of these revival and international specialty exhibitors. A look at any of their calendars for a given month reveals serious film intelligence at work on the part of their programming staff. But these places are generally oriented toward one performance at a specific day and time in a model much more consistent with museum programming and exhibition than with what we more readily associate with a more commercial-style theatrical exhibition. The Cinefamily in particular, programmed primarily by Hadrian Belove, is oriented around a theme-- This month features “The 2nd Annual Cinefamily Comedy Festival"-- in which a variety of shorts, cartoons programs, rare screenings, live appearances and tributes make for a much more varied, eclectic “happening”-oriented trajectory than the usual double feature fare. At Cinefamily, this month and as usual, the programming is king, but the sense of community and the sensibility of a party, a get-together, are just as important.

On the other hand, the kind of calendar-based revival cinema which came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, based entirely on a menu of double features that might change daily but could run as many as three days to a week before a change-out, has practically ceased to exist anywhere except major metropolitan areas. I haven’t any figures to cite, but I’m guessing that if the Los Angeles market can be seen as a generous sampling of how revival cinema is faring across the country, then my guess is that, outside of organizations like those cited above in various cities, there probably aren’t many “real” revival theaters left. In Los Angeles alone filmgoers with memories long enough can mourn the passing of the Fox Venice, the Loyola Movie Palace, the Sherman, the New Beverly Cinema and, of course, the Nuart as venues which were all operational during the same window of history as working models of the revival cinema boom. All are gone except the Nuart and the New Beverly, but the Nuart remains in business today as the flagship art and specialty theater in the Landmark Cinemas chain. The American Cinematheque remains the only Los Angeles organization (consisting of two venues the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and the Aero Theater in Santa Monica) devoted to new programming each day, whether it is double-feature oriented or not. Grant Moninger and Gwen Deglise, co-head programmers at the American Cinematheque do a marvelous job of combining the star or theme-related approach to programming double bills with high-profile event programming—the AC uses its own high profile to bring out some of the best in appearances by filmmakers and actors involved in the productions and introduce the films or participate in discussions afterward. And David Moninger excels each month in his “Criminally Unknown” series, which highlights specific movies and directors which David unerringly pinpoints as suffering from that titular status. Only the New Beverly Cinema remains, as it has been since 1978, true to the model of collegiate-style revival cinema in a stand-alone theater devoted exclusively to two and three-day runs of contemporary and classic cinema from around the world in a double feature format.

And as such, Michael Torgan, Phil Blankenship, Brian Quinn and the others who regularly contribute to the programming of the New Beverly have become masterful in what I’ve come to think of as the lost art of the double bill. Between them they display a range of expertise comprising the history of cinema, and as importantly the history of revival cinema—that’s Michael—the favorite and not-so-favorite horror nuggets and niche cult bon-bons to be found lurking in the darkest corners of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s—that’s Phil—and the deep, deep cuts of 42nd Street-style grindhouse scholarship that make up the bi-monthly sojourns of the Grindhouse Film Festival—that’s Brian. Combined with the wisdom of the rest of the staff and, yes, even sometimes the participation of the New Beverly’s beneficent landlord—that Tarantino fella—the New Beverly’s way with a double feature is just about the best that any independently owned and operated movie theater in the country has to offer. I recently realized I hadn’t done an overview of programming in a while—my attempt to keep up a weekly SLIFR Revival Pick of the Week was more than my schedule could bear—but I wanted to make some mention of the super double feature I was going to indulge in there this very weekend. But when I took a gander at the double features coming up over the next month, I realized that it was time to once again blow the horn for our two major Los Angeles treasures, the New Beverly and the American Cinematheque, and their facility and imagination within the creative possibilities of the double feature was just one of many good reasons why it was a good time to do so.

THE STAR SYSTEM

The (almost) lost art of the double bill consists mainly of two primary categories, the Star System and the Theme Connection. The appearance of either of these two ensures that the double feature was put together with some consideration for how the movies will relate to each other, bounce off each other, and play emotionally in such close proximity. There’s little need to worry if the comedy stylings of Phyllis Diller are going to mix well with the suspense tactics of a lurid WWII thriller. But just how much thought has to go into throwing two movies together to make an artful double bill? Try it sometime. It’s harder than you might think. As one of the programmers mentioned above told me recently, “It’s easy to put two films together on a program, but it’s a lot harder to do it right.” And this month there are plenty of examples of how the double bill can be done right.

The American Cinematheque's double bills for June are almost exclusively built around the Star System, but the definition of a star is extended from the actor whose face is splashed across the giant screen to the maybe-not-so-well-known director, to the even less heralded film editor and production designer. When the double bill goes away from linking the stars you can sometimes get into the area of irreconcilable clashing of tones, and in one instance the AC has put together a double bill that no one would have thought of were it not for the connection of the personnel involved. But it’s still a connection, and that connection provides meat to chew on and an opportunity for the audience to focus on a particular aspect of the film’s production while the movie still works its typical magic.


And the stars are definitely coming out to the American Cinematheque this month. Tonight at the Aero you can meet and listen to Peter Weller discuss a double feature of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991) and Michael Tolkin’s The New Age (1994). On the same screen two nights later (June 6) underrated, underappreciated genre director Lewis Teague will be at the Aero in person to screen and discuss two of his best shockers, Alligator (1980, from a script by John Sayles, celebrating its 30th anniversary) and Cujo (1983, from a book by Stephen King). On Thursday, June 10, the star might seem to be director Arthur Penn, and he’s one of the through lines of a double featuring Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Alice’s Restaurant (1969), to be sure. But the evening’s focus will be on the film editor of those two late-‘60s classics, the late Dede Allen, who passed away recently. The very next night celebrate the career of that ‘70s everyman Richard Benjamin with two of his most memorable big-screen appearances—Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1974) and Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970). Benjamin will be there at the Aero, and if you’re lucky maybe you’ll get to meet his delightful wife, Paula Prentiss, as well.

David Moninger’s “Criminally Unknown” double bill for the month focuses on the work of director Larry Fessenden, whose moody, emotionally askew ruminations in the horror genre have never quite found the audience that they deserve. Fessenden, who has had a hand in producing and bringing to the screen several films made by others as well as his own, will be on hand at the Aero to discuss two of his most powerful movies, the vampire addiction tale Habit (1996) and the moody, terrifying Wendigo (2001). Father’s Day at the Aero, Sunday, June 20, brings a James Bond double bill back to the big screen, two of 007’s most popular missions-- Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965). The Aero rounds out June with a long series of shorts and features devoted to the on and off-screen work of Charlie Chaplin running from June 17 through June 27. There will be plenty of great programming for the whole family here—Chaplin is a wonderful way to introduce young people to the joys of silent movies. I’m hoping my own daughters and I can make it to see City Lights (1931) with A Woman of Paris (1923) on June 18th, but new 35mm prints of The Idle Class (1921), Sunnyside (1919) and The Circus (1928) on June 17th make for a mighty tempting program too. (See all that the Aero and the American Cinematheque have to offer in June, Chaplin-wise and otherwise, by clicking here.)



The Egyptian features fewer double bills in June, but what they have is about as good as it gets. June 27 brings the strangest coupling of the month on any calendar, a screening of the BFI and the Academy Film Archive’s restored print of Jean Renoir’s masterful The River (1951) alongside director Andrew Marton’s rarely-screened sci-fi classic Crack in the World (1965). Before your imagination goes too wild trying to suss out the thematic connection between these two films (um, well, a river divides two pieces of land much like, um, a crack in the world would, um, divide the world?), remember, we’re still in the Star System section, and the star uniting these two seemingly disparate visions of humanity is production designer Eugene Lourie, whose grand and wonderful work is amply on display in both films. In addition to seeing the films, the Egyptian has a clip reel and a PowerPoint presentation devoted to Lourie’s contribution to film history will be shown, and a panel discussion moderated by production designer John Muto will take place as well.



If you missed Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner at the New Beverly last month (and those of us who did and then read Mr. Peel’s moving assessment really regretted it), the American Cinematheque is giving you a second chance, and if you can possibly see it you should. It just so happens that the Egyptian is showcasing Steve McQueen over four separate nights this month, and this is the only one that will have a double feature program. (The others are close to or over three hours-- Papillon, The Sand Pebbles and The Great Escape-- and make for a mighty satisfying night out all on their own.) Junior Bonner is joined by John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (1960, celebrating its 50th anniversary) for a McQueen double bill that is truly representative of the star’s quiet command of the screen in both grand entertainments and more introspective character studies. Mark June 17 on your calendar and don’t miss this one.



But the big one is this coming Saturday night, the fulfillment of a dream of many teen-aged boys who grew up in the ‘70s, not the least of which Yours Truly, who spent their youth imagining someday meeting the woman at the center of the movies which most appealed to their wildest fantasies of a beautiful star who could dish it out to the bad guys (and show it off to the bad guys and the good guys) like no other star ever had before. It didn’t matter that her movies were mostly low-budget contraptions of varying quality-- Pam Grier brought the fantasy of female empowerment, a hot chick who could break your jaw or make your night, home in a visceral and exciting way that made me look at movies with a different perspective, in terms of both racial and sexual politics, but also in terms of giving credit to the potential power and vitality of the low-budget exploitation movie. And on Saturday night, June 5, Pam Grier will be in the house at the Egyptian, hosting a dream double feature of Foxy Brown (1974) and Jackie Brown (1997), but that’s not all. Grier will introduce the program after a book-signing in the Egyptian lobby to promote her new biography, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, which the iconic actress will be autographing for her biggest fans. And yes, I do include myself in that number. In a year already packed full of highlights (my daughter’s New Beverly Cinema birthday party, the TCM Classic Film Festival), this could stand right up there with the most thrilling of them. (You can see what else is going on at the Egyptian in June by clicking here.)

But make no mistake— the stars aren’t just lined up at the American Cinematheque. The New Beverly Cinema’s June calendar is loaded with Star System double features that run from the gutter to the penthouse. Phil Blankenship kicks off his “Phil’s Film Explosion Part 2” tonight, a mixture of star and theme double bills for fans of ‘80s-vintage comedy, horror and action-- this is going to be an explosion that will leave a slimy day-glo residue you might not even want to clean up for a while. Phil will commandeer the New Beverly screen starting tonight through next Thursday, a new program of ‘80s outrages and excitement every night, and he promises lots of special guests and good times. Given the way he’s starting off his mini-festival, it’s hard to imagine the crowd not having a good time. Sylvester Stallone, whose big action comeback The Expendables looks to be a late-summer hoot, is the star being celebrated tonight. One admission gets you three films in the pumped-up action hero’s overstimulated oeuvre-- Cobra (1986), the movie he made between the grotesque Rocky IV and the not-sure-what-it-is Over the Top (directed by Rambo: First Blood Part II auteur George Pan Cosmatos); the even-sillier but much better Tango and Cash (1989), directed by Andrey Konchalovsky; and finally, one of Stallone’s best pure action pictures, the vertiginous, Die Hard-inspired Cliffhanger (1993), directed by Renny Harlin, whose last great moment in Phil’s Film Explosion Part 2 this is assuredly not.




Roger Corman alumnus Jim Wynorski, now a low-budget shock/schlockmeister in his own right, takes the stage Saturday night for a triple scoop of his directorial treats—the seminal ‘80s kill movie Chopping Mall (1986) shares the screen with The Lost Empire (1985) and the theatrical premiere of Wynorski’s straight-to-video freak-out Demolition High (1996). Wynorski is likely to bring along several co-perpetrators along with to the New Beverly, so Saturday night’s program could be quite l’affaire trash.

Maybe not as literally trashy as what Phil has in store for the faithful on Sunday night-- The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987), a movie I thought surely would never see the light of a projector lamp ever again, and Ghoulies II (1988). The thematic connection here, I’m guessing, is that the Garbage Pail Kids pop out of trash cans, while the Ghoulies continue their proclivity for emerging out of toilets at just the wrong moment.






An interesting pair of under-the-radar kill movies Phil has cooked up for Monday, June 7, is linked thematically in a couple of ways. First, they both feature anonymous casts of mostly female victims getting offed in lurid, splashy (usually literally) ways. But the most fascinating connection is that they were both directed and written by women near the end of the original slasher movie cycle. Sorority House Massacre (1986) was scripted and directed by one Carol Frank (whose sole directorial and writing credit this is), and the co-feature, Slumber Party Massacre (1982) was written by gay feminist scribe Rita Mae Brown and directed by former editor Amy Holden Jones, whose most recent directing credit was the Halle Barry vehicle The Rich Man’s Wife (1996). Going in, the game some might want to play is detecting the feminist spin that one might expect such collaborators (Frank was an assistant director on SPM) might put on time-worn material like the slasher formula—I played it myself when I saw Jones and Brown’s movie on its original 1982 release. Unfortunately, it’s a fruitless search. The movie ardently resists attempts to see it as anything other than a particularly nondescript example of the genre, good for a few kills and some deadpan comedy (a girl eating a slice off the chest of a dead pizza delivery boy). If there is a feminist subtext in Slumber Party Massacre, it is buried so far beneath the gory business as usual that it remains the only corpse left out of sight at the movie’s end.



But Phil’s genius in programming the Massacre double bill takes on extra dimension if you follow up that screening with the one waiting the next night. A rare opportunity to see Brian De Palma’s wide-screen masterpiece Blow Out (1981), paired with his late-period masterpiece Femme Fatale (2002), on the big screen yields a fascinating return in light of the previous night’s fare. Blow Out begins with a perfectly executed parody of exactly the kind of generic slasher epic embodied by the Massacre films, and the whole milieu of seedy ‘80s exploitation films is the foundation and context in which De Palma anchors his brilliant meditation on media, paranoia and the futility of the best intentions. Seeing Blow Out immediately after Slumber Party Massacre will tell you all you need to know about the world in which Jack Terry (John Travolta) toils. One night of screenings feeds into another in a superb cross-over that itself segues into the gorgeous refractions of Femme Fatale’s games of identity and perception. If you can swing both nights, De Palma expands the world of the Massacre movies in ways that make them worth seeing. But if you can only do one, choose De Palma. And as a special added attraction, Phil will be talking with editor Paul Hirsch, who cut Blow Out and many other brilliantly assembled films, about working to realize De Palma's vision on the editing table.

Phil rounds out the week on Wednesday with a link-up of ‘80s comedy (Revenge of the Nerds, with Robert Carradine there to laugh that laugh in person) and post-Flashdance gyrations (Heavenly Bodies) that will have you fumbling for your leg warmers. And Thursday brings Renny Harlin back with his underrated thriller Prison (1988) and a Lance Henriksen artifact called The Horror Show (1989). Neither of these (nor Heavenly Bodies, for that matter) are available on DVD, so if you’re a fan or if you’ve never seen them, period, this is your chance.



The Star System gets its final workout at the New Beverly via two directorial pairings, or “Two By”s as they were affectionately known in the days of Michael’s dad Sherman. The first comes at ya on June 16 and 17 with two by Chan-wook Park—his notorious and rather brilliant Oldboy (2003) and his previous, less successful, but still potent and extremely involving Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002). The other “Two by” is from a director who, against all likelihood, may be experiencing a bit of a posthumous career reappraisal, and wouldn’t that be nice. Richard Fleischer was the epitome of the solid Hollywood journeyman/craftsman (some would say hack, but I wouldn’t) who toiled in the last days of the studio system and made movies for 46 years before his death in 2006. Some were very good (Mr. Majestyk, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Conan the Destroyer), some were very bad (Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Dolittle, Che!) and a few were great (10 Rillington Place, The Narrow Margin, Mandingo), and now, as just another reminder of how wide-ranging his career was, Michael brings out a double feature of two rock-solid thrillers with which he kicked off the ‘70s while all the kudos were going other places. The first is the superb chiller See No Evil (1971), a whip-smart take on Wait Until Dark in which a blind girl (Mia Farrow) returns to her country home where she doesn’t realize that all the occupants have been murdered. One by one she discovers the corpses, just as the killer returns to finish the job. The second feature finds Fleischer making his contribution to Hollywood’s post-Godfather Mafia obsession with The Don is Dead (1973), a bloody gang-war tale starring Anthony Quinn and Robert Forster grittily adapted from Marvin Albert’s best-selling pulp paperback. This is a good opportunity to see Fleischer’s unassuming style at work on some very good genre material.

THE THEME CONNECTION

The Star System gives the New Beverly its own opportunity to shine, no doubt, but the Theme Connection double bill is where Michael Torgan, with Brian Quinn and Eric Caidin at the ready with their grimy grindhouse contributions, really rise to the top.



Michael shifts gears out of Phil’s ‘80s festival in about as opposite a direction as one could possibly head. Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1973), the director’s heralded and emotionally brutal film starring Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Thulin, is paired with what a cynic (like me) might describe as The Creature from the Bleak Lagoon, otherwise known as Woody Allen’s hermetically sealed Bergman homage Interiors (1978). For those looking to decipher whether the great Swedish master illuminated Allen’s work or brought out the worst in him, this double feature would be an excellent place to begin such a study. This brooding double bill plays June 11 and 12.



On June 13 and 14 Michael links the fate of lone gunfighter Shane (1953, directed by George Stevens), who wants to settle into a quiet life but that finds circumstances refuse to allow it, to that of Burt Lancaster’s directorial debut The Kentuckian (1955), in which a Kentucky widower makes for the west in the 1820s, only to find himself sidetracked when he gets involved with corrupt local government and a longstanding family feud. The mythology of American self-definition gets a workout in his double bill, which is satisfying on many different levels, the most important of which is that both are first and foremost terrific entertainments. (Expect a gorgeous wide-screen print of The Kentuckian.)

The coming of age tale is one well and often told by the movies, in the classic era and of late. Two recent examples are highlighted at the New Beverly on June 18 & 19. Lone Scherfig’s Academy-award nominated An Education (2009) was a film I didn’t much like, but it has a performance by Carey Mulligan at its center that is interesting and compelling. Unfortunately, Mulligan cannot defeat the movie’s creepy acceptance and perpetration of its characters’ most vile anti-Semitism. Another British coming of age drama, this one set in an economically depressed modern Britain, looks more promising. Fish Tank (2009) tells the story of a 15-year-old girl who becomes attracted to her mother’s handsome boyfriend (Michael Fassbender). This is a movie that is an unknown quantity to me, but it comes highly recommended, and truly anything with Michael Fassbender in it should be worth a look.



The guns are blazing on June 20 & 21 as Lee Marvin hits the trail for revenge and the return of a small sum of money in John Boorman’s influential existential crime drama Point Blank (1967), a movie that in all circumstances should be seen on the big screen. Angie Dickinson and Carroll O’Connor lend memorable support to this cool but blistering picture. And it is paired up with another crime saga that, while cruder than Boorman’s approach, should be better remembered than it is-- the late director John Flynn’s brutal and terrific The Outfit (1973), in which Robert Duvall, fresh out of the pokey, goes hunting for the men who killed his brother. Vicious and tough, The Outfit is, like Charley Varrick and The Getaway, part of an essential core of amoral gangster pictures of the early ‘70s, but unlike those it is not available on DVD. Both pictures also happen to be adaptations of punchy thrillers written by Donald Westlake, not a bad starting point if crafting a gut-grabbing crime thriller is your goal. This double feature is a really good example of Michael Torgan’s acumen in putting complimentary pictures together which speak to each other on different levels, and when a double bill this rich pops up, you’d better hope nothing comes in between you and the box-office door.


Finally, Michael puts together two terrific, female-driven dramas which play out among the sun-bleached landscape of the Mojave Desert. CCH Pounder burst into American moviegoers’ consciousness in Percy Adlon’s bittersweet comedy Bagdad Café (1987), in which she oversees the titular eating establishment whilst a dust storm of oddball characters (including love interest Jack Palance and German actress Marianne Sagebrecht as the visitor whose arrival at the café changes Pounder’s life) swirls all around her. Paired with Bagdad Café is Allison Anders’ wistful, painful and funny Gas Food Lodging, a piercing look at the trials of a family of females, headed by Brooke Adams and including daughters Ione Skye and Fairuza Balk, as they navigate romance and disappointment in a small desert town. Catch this double feature on June 22 & 23.



And last but in no way least, Brian Quinn and Eric Caidin pull a pair from the Star System and a pair from the Theme Connection to make for a particularly juicy June at the Grindhouse Film festival. On June 15 the theme is thumbing your way cross-country, but only as Brian and Eric can orchestrate it. They’ve unearthed an incredible curiosity entitled An American Hippie in Israel (1972), presumably the Yiddish answer to Easy Rider and joined it up with one from the vaults of some of my favorite rural drive-in exploitation filmmaking teams, Ferd and Beverly Sebastian. The Sebastians were guilty of perpetrating the surprise drive-in hit Gator Bait (1974) starring the late Claudia Jennings, as well as its considerably more in-bred sequel Gator Bait 2: Cajun Justice (1988), so their take on the Kerouac experience ought to be worth a raised eyebrow or two. It’s called The Hitchhikers (1972), and in classic drive-in tradition these hitchhikers are a nasty lot, exposing quite a bit more than Claudette Colbert ever did in order to get innocent drivers to stop so they can rob and terrorize them. With a tag line like “Underage Runaway -The Kid Who Put the "Gyp" in Gypsy!” would you expect anything less? (Or more?)


Then the Star System hits the Grindhouse Film Festival on June 29 with a tribute to director Arthur Marks, whose movies are not unknown to the bi-monthly Tuesday night crowd at the New Beverly. Marks’ blaxploitation entry Detroit 9000, which made quite a splash a couple of years ago, gets another run, alongside another Marks drive-in masterwork, Bonnie’s Kids (1973), a lip-smacking girls and guns epic with Tiffany Bolling and Robin Mattson providing much of the pulchritude while Scott Brady and Alex Rocco and Max Showalter balance the scales in the grizzled old bastards department. These two double features are excellent snapshots of the vitality of the 42nd Street/backwoods drive-in scene in the mid ‘70s, and connoisseurs of top-grade sleaze really shouldn’t miss them.

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Once again, many thanks should go to Michael, Phil, Brian, Eric, David, Grant, Gwen and Hadrian, along with all the programmers who keep revival programming alive and well in Los Angeles, for providing so much well-constructed evidence that creating a good double bill involves so much more than just slapping two titles on a marquee and opening the box office. But those of us in Los Angeles should be equally grateful that these fine folks are giving us a multitude of reasons, month in and month out, for avoiding the general roster of mediocrities churned out during this especially lackluster summer season at the movies. If you think June looks good for the not quite lost art of the double bill, just wait until July.

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12 comments:

Robert H. said...

Seeing that poster of 99 AND 44/100% DEAD had me thinking it was on the schedule... alas, it was not.
But just in case some enterprising programmer reads your comments - it would make a great double bill with PRIME CUT - both have the same writer and producer, and there are interesting similarities/variations between the two.

Marc Edward Heuck said...

Fun fact: apparently, a good chunk of TANGO & CASH was actually directed by Albert Magnoli, whose breakout film PURPLE RAIN, plays a midnight show at Nuart the same evening as the Stallone triple bill.

Alonzo Mosley (FBI) said...

I'm always interested in what groupings they choose for the double, triple and quadruple DVD movie sets. I realize the companies are restricted to (a) what titles they own and (b) what titles are already in cheap enough form to pair with other cheap DVD's, but sometimes the pairings are still clueless (Fargo and Rain Man? What?).

But then I'll see the original In Cold Blood paired with Philip Seymour Hoffman's Capote on DVD, and I figure there are still some bright people behind the scenes of this sort of programming.

Mr. Peel said...

I'm still waiting for someone to pair Lars Von Trier's THE IDIOTS with John Landis's THE STUPIDS.

Seriously, part of the reason I'm thinking about going to the Richard Benjamin night is to see if Paula would be there.

And 99 AND 44/100% DEAD showed at the New Beverly on Saturday May 29 at midnight. A nice print, too. I took a stab at writing something about it at my blog.

W.B. Kelso said...

I think one of the wonkiest double-features I've come across in the morgue was a Drive-In double-bill of "The Exorcist" and "Cahill: US Marshall".

Well, who wouldn't want to see The Duke vs. Captain Howdy, am I right?

Robert Fiore said...

My favorite all time double feature on a purely thematic level was King Kong and Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, which if memory serves was at the Nuart. Though I don't know how many people would want to see it, I always thought The Fortune Cookie and Jerry Maguire would make a natural pair.

How could you forget the Vagabond? That was the classic L.A. revival house, complete with mural of the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin. One of my great moviegoing memories was the Silent Clowns festival at the Vagabond, which was I think the first time the Raymond Rohauer collection got a full airing, and the first time you got to see the full range of silent comedy beyond The General and The Gold Rush. Another Vagabond memory was the note-perfect Jean Hagen impression the ticket taker gave at a screening of Singin' in the Rain (forget what the other feature was, maybe The Bandwagon).

Incidentally, if you haven't seen Point Blank on a big screen, you haven't seen Point Blank. It was Donald Westlake's opinion that The Outfit was the most faithful to the original of any of the Parker adaptations. There's a great movie to be made from Slayground, though I understand the Peter Coyote version isn't it. I think if it had been done when he was young enough, Tommy Lee Jones would have made a great Parker.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Robert, thanks for mentioning the Vagabond. I didn't get a chance to go there often, but that was the place where I saw The Long Goodbye on the big screen for the very first time (paired with Chinatown). I'm sure I must have seen some other good stuff there, but probably my most memorable time there was when I took my soon-to-be-wife (significantly, she had not yet agreed to marry me) to a Russ Meyer double feature when they were doing a festival of his films. We saw Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Cherry, Harry and Raquel, and during the intermission the director himself held a contest onstage to see who was the most Meyeresque female in attendance that evening. (My wife, ever the good sport, did eventually agree to marry me, or did my calling her my wife give that away already?)

The evening was made a classic not only by the fact that she did not storm out in a huff and demand that I follow her, but also by what happened when I went out to get a soda midway through BVD. Meyer himself served it up for me-- he was hanging around the snack bar talking to the manager and since he was back there he poured it for me and took my money. I'm sure I mumbled something stupid in appreciation for his movies and for his awesome soda dispensing skills, and that was it.

It's been a while since I've driven past-- my Langers trips don't take me past it these days. Is the theater still there?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

God, Wild Bill, what a showdown! John Wayne kicked Pazuzu's ass, no doubt!

Robert Fiore said...

The building where the Vagabond was is still there (it's a designated Historic Cultural Monument). There was an attempt to reopen it as a revival theater in the 90s, I believe, which ended when someone was shot there. It is now used as a legit house under the name The Hayworth, which has to be taken as a happy ending, considering. Don't know if the mural survived, though I wouldn't bet on it.

There's a page on the Vagabond with some great reminiscences, including an interesting note that the writer Michael Connelly spoke in an interview about going to a Long Goodbye/Chinatown double bill in his first week in L.A., perhaps the same engagement you went to. It also reminded me that the Tiffany on Sunset used to be a revival house (I remember going there), and the feature they paired with Singin' in the Rain was The Wizard of Oz. The page:

http://cinematreasures.org/theater/1170/

Here are a couple of photos from the early '80s I found on the page:

http://tinyurl.com/35kvede
http://tinyurl.com/22p856k

Terry M. said...

I saw "Night of the Hunter" there for the first time. Something about that theatre, its down-at-heel look, made it a great place to see that spooky classic.

Chris Morris said...

Ah, THE OUTFIT. Haven't seen that picture since it came out, but it left an impression. I especially recall the scene in which Duvall shoots Timothy Carey in the hand (right?). And a great last line, courtesy of Joe Don Baker: "The good guys always win!" One of the most underestimated crime movies of all time. Wish it'd show up on DVD.

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