by Gary Meyer
Movie theaters used to show two feature-length movies plus a cartoon, newsreel and novelty or comedy short plus coming attractions. Some big city cinemas, known as “grind houses,” might show three or four films in a day around the clock.
I grew up in Napa where the Uptown Theater changed double features twice a week and the KayVon Drive-In often added a third bonus feature on the weekends.
The parings rarely made sense. Distributors offered a second feature for a low flat film rental with the top movie earning a percentage of the box office receipts. It might be a serious drama with a low grade comedy, a war epic and a musical or a western plus Francis the Talking Mule.
It fascinated me but I wanted to program two films that I thought were meant to play together with some thematic link—cast, writer, director, theme or story. Usually it was obvious but it would be fun for that connection to be obscure sometimes to see who “got it.” Mel Novikoff’s Surf and Castro Theatres in San Francisco and Pauline Kael’s Studio-Guild in Berkeley were fine examples. In college I met Mike Thomas and we discovered we had the same dream and got the opportunity to program the Times Theater in San Francisco. A different double feature every day. We went on to program many other cinemas this way, Mike and his partners took over the Strand and he programmed for other independents. My partners and I started Repertory Theatres, Inc (later to become Landmark Theatres) with the UC Theatre in Berkeley.
Eventually with a team of movie lovers including Jan Klingelhofer, Bert Manzari, Susan Peterson and Amy McCubbin we programmed 25 repertory cinemas around the country, trying out thousands of double features and expanding beyond the obvious to more adventurous parings.
There aren’t many theaters around anymore doing regular double bills. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area the Castro and Stanford are dependable venues but the Film Forum in New York has very few in their great revival series. .There are still some drive-ins with co-features of new movies.
Of course you can create your own double features with home video, streaming and on-demand in your home.
I came up with an idea for a “Stream of Consciousness Film Festival.” It could be in your home or at some eccentric 24/7 theater a wealthy film buff wants to operate.
It plays movies forever and the double bills have some connection. If you wanted to drop in at any point you could have your choice of two different double features with one common movie. Remember some connections between movies are obvious and others require knowledge about them. There might be more than one connection too.
I have come up with a starter focusing on classic movies but it works with anything in the history of cinema.
Let’s say we start with a selection of coming attractions and then go into THE LONG, LONG TRAILER with GENEVIEVE plus UNFAITHFULLY YOURS and KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS with THE MOUSE THAT ROARED plus DR. STRANGELOVE also FAIL SAFE and THE BEST MAN with THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and SECONDS also MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION plus THE ROBE and BECKET with THE LION IN WINTER and MARY OF SCOTLAND with THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD with THE COURT JESTER and THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE with THE PRINCESS BRIDE plus THIS IS SPINAL TAP and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT …… you get the idea.
And this Great Co-Feature
Or “On the Same Great Program”
At any point it could go in another direction of course.
From THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD why not pair with ROBIN AND MARIAN plus TWO FOR THE ROAD and BEDAZZLED with 10 and VICTOR VICTORIA and SOME LIKE IT HOT and SUNSET BOULEVARD and IN A LONELY PLACE with THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA and ALL ABOUT EVE …but with BAREFOOT CONTESSA it could have been CITIZEN KANE and SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS plus ELMER GANTRY and GUYS AND DOLLS with LITTLE MISS MARKER (your choice 1934 or 1980)…..
What sometimes happens is you suddenly get an idea for a double feature and want to build from there?
At the recent Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy I watched the screening of DeSica’s MIRACLE IN MILAN and MoMA in New York played the wonderful B. Traven adaptation MACARIO by Mexican director Roberto Gavaldón. They are two of my favorites and in my mind would make a terrific magical realism pairing.
And I thought, “How might they fit into the “Stream of Consciousness Film Festival?” So I started backing up and moving forward and came up with this strand.
THE GODFATHER with Howard Hawks’ SCARFACE and THE GODFATHER TWO with William Wellman’s THE PUBLIC ENEMY and MAN OF A THOUSAND FACE with Lon Chaney in THE UNKNOWN and NIGHTMARE ALLEY with FREAKS and TERROR OF TINY TOWN plus The Three Mesquiteers in OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS (I can’t resist a Republic western with John Wayne, Louise Brooks’ last film and a ventriloquist dummy who tells jokes while chasing the bad guys plus thematic and actor links for the next film) with STAGECOACH and THE LADY VANISHES with MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974) with THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY and WESTWORLD with THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE SEVEN SAMURAI with IKIRU and TOKYO STORY plus MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and LOVE AFFAIR and AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER with STREET ANGEL and BRIEF ENCOUNTER with SAME TIME NEXT YEAR and INSIDE DAISY CLOVER with GYPSY and THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S with CABARET and LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOLOGNE and NIGHTS OF CABIRIA with JULIET OF THE SPIRITS and MIRACLE IN MILAN with MACARIO and COCO plus TOY STORY and BIG with FORREST GUMP plus ZELIG with LOVE AND DEATH plus THE SEVENTH SEAL with A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH and I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING and PYGMALION plus MY FAIR LADY and THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY plus THE HORSE’S MOUTH with THE TSAR WANTS TO SLEEP (aka LT. KIZHE) and ALEXANDER NEVSKY with HENRY V plus HAMLET and GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST (1948) and OLIVER (1968) and OLIVER & COMPANY plus THE END and—(oh no)—STARTING OVER.
Get all the connections?
Now I leave it to you to have fun. We’d love to see what you come up with.
Or how about connecting the two strands I have offered here?
Post your ideas on our Facebook page.
And I just found out there is a board game called Double Feature.
Gary Meyer started his first theater in the family barn when he was twelve-years-old. He directed a monster movie there and wanted to show it on the set. It became The Above-the-Ground Theatre screening dozens of silent films with music arranged from his parents’ record collection. Over 250 films were screened along with live productions, workshops and the publication of a literary/arts/satire zine, “Nort!” and a film newsletter, “Ciné.” After film school at SFSU he calls his first job as a booker for United Artists Theatres “grad school” that prepared him to co-found Landmark Theatres in 1975. It was the first national arthouse chain in the U.S. focused on creative marketing strategies to build loyal audiences for non-Hollywood fare. After selling Landmark, he consulted on many projects including Sundance Cinemas and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas, created several film festivals including the Dockers Classically Independent Film Festival and Tube Film Festival for the X Games, and resurrected the 1926 Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. Meyer joined the Telluride Film Festival in 1998, becoming a Festival Co-Director in 2007-2014. He founded the online magazine, EatDrinkFilms.com in April 2014.