I grew up in Berkeley, California when the UC Theatre ran a different double bill every day for much of its lifespan. My relationship with the UC Theatre began early when my father took me to see Star Wars at age four, I think. All three original trilogy films were programmed, but as much as I’ve built a memory of seeing the whole series, my dad tells me we just watched the first one before heading home. That was 1986. I kept attending until the UC closed in March, 2001. There were obvious double bills I had to see like Don’t Look Now with Walkabout. And there were other, less-obvious-to-a-ninth-grader pairings I didn’t quite get when I looked at the calendar (but took in nonetheless because of the big names attached to the films) like Breathless with Days of Heaven. Long before DVD and the Criterion Collection, this is how I learned about movies (along with a hearty video store fetish/friendship/relationship).
In the last few years of its existence, the UC abandoned the daily changeover for week-long runs of both new, edgy foreign films (My Best Fiend & Little Dieter Needs to Fly were both preceded by the infamous short Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe) and restoration prints (I saw Taxi Driver for the first time in 1996, its 20th anniversary; I was 14). But then it closed while I was away in Santa Cruz during my freshman year of college. It made me mad because I lost both the theatre and the opportunity to attend a screening one last time.
Since then I’ve routinely made a point of visiting repertory theatres before the Cineplex, yet few ever program a hearty double bill. It’s not distressing so much as aggravating: the double bill has disappeared and we need to bring it back at all costs. And I’m not talking about more studio-sanctioned mash-up madness like the upcoming Grindhouse. I mean true art-house double bills from audacious programmers where one film informs the read on the other. It’s an art in and of itself. Plus, it’s a fun, easy way to drum up business.
Here are five double bills I would program if I had my own repertory house: four week-long runs with a fifth kid-friendly pairing for the linking weekends.
1. The New World with The Mirror: Skeptical patriotism, reflection, memory and Mozart. A little national knowledge helps enrich both films, although the Tarkovsky is much more convoluted and harder to analyze on a first viewing. Malick’s film may not have the austere severity or precision of Tarkovsky’s, but The New World plays the same to these eyes as a treatise on how, by virtue of our heritage, and through our children, there is hope in spite of all the distressing histories that birthed our disparate countries (and, perhaps, the Cold War?).
2. Trouble Every Day with Punch-Drunk Love: A pair all about the painful, sometimes/often violent, ways we deal with love (& sex) and how best to express it, even with the ones we love the most. One is nothing but ugly innards & buckets of blood (“Are you frightened?”) while the other is beautiful vistas & sweet-natured kisses (“It really looks like Hawaii!”). Yet both feel organic in their opposite approaches. With the Anderson film playing second, viewers can lighten up a bit, but played directly after Denis’ offering, it may illuminate the ideas fighting around Vincent Gallo and Béatrice Dalle’s bloody bedrooms.
3. King Kong (2005) with Mulholland Drive: Basically a big Naomi Watts love fest (what can I say?), but they dovetail nicely as a pair about movie-making (and myth-making) inside and out of the “system.” And how beauty can kill.
4. Cries & Whispers with Hannah & Her Sisters: Both adopt a musical structure to tell hidden, internal stories-worries-struggles—think Le Million, only heavy—except Woody literalizes it with the voice over and Bergman alludes to it with the close ups. But then there’s nothing Exorcist-ugly in Woody’s film like the broken glass in Ingrid Thulin’s vagina. Instead there’s Max von Sydow crowding out his wife (and everybody) with his august menace—only in the most benign Woody Allen manner. Plus, Michael Caine’s glasses are so tacky they kill me: a Cockney WASP?
5. Laputa: Castle in the Sky with Raiders of the Lost Ark: A matinee for the kids: pure adventure, pure rewards. Probably the most fun I can imagine at the movies: both have thrilling climactic set-pieces that involve real-world-scary disintegration rendered fantastical, yet are likewise grounded in human emotions. I know my ten-year old sister would love it, too: “Patzu’s, uh, kinda… cute I guess. I just like him.” He’s not, you know, a real guy, but he’s got the pluck and charm of any good swashbuckling hero like Indiana Jones. And, of course, they’re cool.
And that’s how they would play in my dream repertory theatre. You’ll need some Adam Sandler—however awkward and stilted, he’s still hilarious—after all that stark gore in the Denis movie; the same goes for the Bergman-Allen pair as Woody’s film does give you some laughs within the pathos. And you can’t expect anybody to want to watch 3+ hours of Peter Jackson’s toy collection after David Lynch’s Live-From-The-Libido wormhole narrative, no matter how much adorable Naomi Watts there is up on screen. It’s true of each pair: maybe you’ve never seen Mirror but have had your fill of The New World (I can’t imagine that, but it’s a possibility); maybe Claire Denis and her dialogue-free zone give you hives but PT Anderson’s musical flair for storytelling gives you goosebumps; maybe the Miyazaki movie doesn’t…wait, no, what could be wrong with a Miyazaki movie? (Let me know your answers, if you’ve got them.) I’ve got a year’s worth of programming ideas but please do tell us your dream pairings.
House Next Door contributor Ryland Walker Knight is the infrequent publisher of the blog Vinyl Is Heavy.