A long time ago, in a world much different from the one we occupy now, the owner of my hometown theater kept a copy of Charles “Chick” Lewis’s Encyclopedia of Exploitation at hand in his office. Bearing the subtitle “10,000 Show-selling Ideas,” Lewis’s was a tome intended for theater owners dedicated to increasing their business and the public’s awareness of upcoming attractions through means both conventional and not-so-conventional—it featured lots of advice about radio and TV promotions as well as contests and publicity stunts and the like. None of these ideas seemed to make an impression on my local showman’s management style-- he didn’t cotton to any dimension of fun in motion picture exhibition that required more effort than it took to turn on the lights, warm up the popcorn machine and thread the projectors. But he did subscribe to one bit of Lewis’s advice on double features, at least until the early ‘70s when he phased out double features altogether, and that was the pairing of two radically dissimilar movies on one bill. It wasn’t unusual at all to pick up one of the Alger Theater’s bi-monthly programs (we called them show calendars) and see something like The Odd Couple butted up against Rosemary's Baby, or Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter teamed with a scare item like Chamber of Horrors, its own exploitation gimmick (the “Fear Flasher” and the “Horror Horn”) apparently compatible with the mod stylings of Herman’s Hermits. It was Lewis’ philosophy that by putting two entirely different pictures on the same bill, the exhibitors theoretically eliminated resistance among dating or married couples, or any other groups who might have different tastes in movies, by pitching a broad appeal to both camps on a single program.
As logically sound as it might have been, however, that philosophy died out during the heyday of revival cinema. Even now, years past its most popular era in film culture, the repertory cinemas and film societies that are still in business tend to program movies that are thematically or tonally related, or tied to each other in ways that their presumably more discerning audiences might find illuminating or enjoyable. But I’ve talked to programmers who have said that they tend to avoid spanning too much time between features even if the movies reflect on each other thematically, for fear that the revival audience who might be up for a screening of 1997’s Face/Off would be intolerant or otherwise unwilling to stick around for, say, Joan Crawford in A Woman’s Face from 56 years earlier, and vice versa.
Which brings me to the Association of Moving Image Archivists at UCLA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the field of motion picture archiving and preservation. The AMIA was formally dedicated in 1991 after the efforts of hundreds of archivists from over a hundred local, regional and national institutions coalesced into the individual –based professional association that it remains today. As part of their ongoing efforts, next week the AMIA will inaugurate a screening series at the New Beverly Cinema called “Something Old, Something New,” whose purpose AMIA Student Chapter President Ariel Schudson says goes beyond that of a simple fund-raiser. “The idea of the series is to pair up older films with more contemporary matches based on theme,” Schudson says, “in order to bring out the more delightful aspects of both and introduce new audiences to the glories of films that they, perhaps, were not familiar with before.” The series, which will be entirely projected in 35mm, kicks off this coming Friday, April 6, on a “Reluctant Cat Burglars” theme—the high-style glamour and fizz of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch an Thief (1955) followed by Hudson Hawk (1991), a movie many hold as emblematic of a certain strain of Hollywood vanity and excess, but which has also been championed for its oddball mix of humor, suspense and musical numbers as being a much lighter, more graceful entertainment than it was ever given credit when it bombed upon its initial release.
Schudson is banking on the fun to be had in reassessing Hudson Hawk after 21 years and seeing just how much separation there really is between its larky, big-budget antics and the translucent lightness of Hitchcock’s Riviera affair. To that end, the film’s screenwriter Daniel Waters will be on hand Friday night (the double bill runs again on Saturday, both in the afternoon and the evening) to discuss Hudson Hawk and its relationship to pictures like To Catch a Thief, and he may be in for a surprise vis-a-vis the amount of affection held in reserve for his critically maligned baby. Full disclosure: I was one of the nay-sayers back in 1991. However I remain open to all possibilities-- after all, what was once considered obnoxious might just, after two decades of Michael Bay, suddenly seem sublime. Whether or not either Waters or I end up surprised, Schudson is convinced (and I’m in agreement) that the night should be a rare treat for filmgoers looking for a chance to indulge in a span of Hollywood history and support its preservation through the AMIA at the same time. She promises keen raffle prizes and the thrill of seeing beautiful prints projected the way they should be seen, courtesy of studio rep houses like Sony whose generosity and support groups like the AMIA and others continue to value and appreciate.
You can find out more about the event on the “Something Old, Something New” Facebook page and buy advanced tickets for either night right here. Schudson, as student chapter president, supervises the AMIA Blog and the organization’s Twitterfeed, both of which are excellent resources for further information on this and upcoming programs in the “SOSN” series, as well as all the other activities that keep the chapter busy. And for everything you need to know about the Association of Moving Image Archivists, you can visit their Web site here.