The impressive interior of San Francisco’s Castro Theatre
Growing up in the ’90s, I can hazily recall seeing double features during my earlier years. I remember one was the live-action Jungle Book paired with Star Trek: Generations. Another was when my parents took me to a not-child-friendly marquee of Jerry Maguire and Everyone Says I Love You. In both cases, I think I was memorized by the concept of seeing two separate movies together. Money wasn’t really a top concern for me as a fourth-grader, so what sparked my mind was this idea of finding two movies that spoke to one another well enough to draw an audience that was willing to sit through both.
For those unfamiliar with the Bay Area, we are extremely fortunate to have the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. It’s a refurbished movie palace and vaudeville venue from the 1920’s that looks more like an opera house than a place to see films. One of the Castro’s best attributes is that it shows primarily second-run fare, which it often sells as single ticket double features. I’d kill to have a job as a film curator, scrutinizing and debating what classic and modern movies should be shown together. Yet, in a digital age marked by Netflix, Redbox, and on-demand television viewing, I wonder how sustainable the double-feature model really is.
30 Rock time is usually spent multitasking. Also, beware of stabbing robots.
While binging eight episodes of 30 Rock may be the rough equivalent to sitting through two movies, the home binger has the luxury of surfing the web, texting, prolonged snack breaks and even an impromptu nap. Plus, in the Castro’s case, we’re talking about movies that are already available for home viewing. Last week I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind backed with Blue Valentine. It was tremendous, but I have to concede that anyone can rent both of those DVDs, create a Facebook event called “Double Feature at the Spot” and buy some Orville Redenbacher. So why drive to a theater, find parking and spend four hours in the darkness with strangers?
The most obvious reason is the “never saw it on a big screen” appeal. A few months back the Castro did David Fincher double features, one of which was Seven and Fight Club. If you’re a fan of those movies who didn’t find them until after their theater runs, how can you not want to see [spoiler alert!] Gwenyth Paltrow’s head in 35mm? The subsection of this category is “always love the chance to see it on a big screen,” which was my motivation for seeing Eternal Sunshine.
Here’s another argument: the audience factor. Yeah, I hate that guy sitting two rows behind me sharing his every witty thought with a woman who by default must be his lady pal too. There’s popcorn munching, cellphone ringing and occasionally body odor. But watching Eternal Sunshine, my confessed favorite movie of all-time, and hearing everyone laugh when David Cross explains “I’m building a birdhouse,” and gasping when Dr. Mierzwiak’s wife drops the bomb that Mary had once already had an affair with her husband makes the experience all the richer. More than a few times a comedian I’ve watched on television and not cared for has become immensely funny when viewed in the flesh. There’s something about being there with other people that can bring out the best in a movie.
Eternal Sunshine should probably just always be in theaters.
In some weird way, Hollywood seems to have taken note. While hardly a double-feature as described above, studios have recently begun showing marathons of franchise movies leading up to midnight releases of the current installment. Examples include a day of Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse ahead of the midnight premier of Breaking Dawn Pt. I and the upcoming Ultimate Marvel Marathon* (look for yours truly at the Emeryville edition). While a Twilight-athon may not appeal to most, the idea behind it is the same one that propels me to the Castro a couple times each month. Those that attend will experience something they love surrounded by a horde of similarly ravenous devotees. It’s human nature to not want to be alone in your tastes, whatever they may be. That’s why it’s imperative we fight to keep double features alive, if only as way to pay tribute to the old movies we love and as a testament to the new ones we hunger for.
If you could put a double feature together, which two movies would you pair-up?
*The Ultimate Marvel Marathon begins at 11:30am on Thursday, May 3, and shows (in order): Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor 3D and Captain America 3D ahead of a midnight premiere of The Avengers 3D. Yup.