John Ostrander: Double Your Pleasure

Once upon a time, most movie theaters showed more than a single feature. For the price of your ticket, you’d get two movies, maybe a cartoon, sometimes a featurette. You got good value for your money in those days especially at second or third run theaters or revival houses. This was in the days before DVD, Blu-Ray, or even VHS.

In fact, for a long time, the movie studios only got one bite of the apple. Oh, a few movies might show up again; Disney did a good job of bringing classics out of their vaults. When the movies were sold to show on TV, that would also generate some revenue but nothing like today when a major part of the money made by films comes from Blu-Ray and DVD sales. (Aside: I wonder how true that will remain with Netflix and Hulu, et al.)

The first time I saw Casablanca was in a movie theater in an inspired double feature with Play It Again, Sam – the Woody Allen vehicle in which Casablanca plays a big part. Most of the double features I remember weren’t so brilliantly paired although even these days you would get a coupling whose titles together were suggestive. For example, I recently saw a photo of a marquee that has Annie and Satan’s Daughter on it.

There was a pairing that still haunts my nightmares. I was in a play out of the Guthrie Theater that toured the upper Midwest hitting small towns in states like North and South Dakota (both of which seemed entirely made up of small towns) and I, with my fellow travelers, were desperate to catch a movie on our days off. The same double bill followed me for weeks – The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again and The Amityville Horror, both of which scored a minus 10 on my must-see list.

These days, we can make up our own double or even triple feature. Some are obvious such as the Bourne movies, but I like it when there are more imaginative pairings like the aforementioned Casablanca/Play It Again, Sam duet.

For example, we recently watched Guardians of the Galaxy (which is rapidly becoming my favorite Marvel movie) and then watched Galaxy Quest which, if you don’t know it, sends up Star Trek and its fans while, at the same time, being a homage to them. Both are quite funny, well cast and acted, have some surprisingly serious moments, and both even have a death that is surprising and moving. If I wanted to make it a triple feature, I would add Serenity, Joss Whedon’s continuance and completion of what he began in the TV series, Firefly. Like the other two, Serenity is a space opera that uses a lot of humor. The three have similarities in tone and attitude that play off each other well.

Another pairing that I stumbled upon was My Neighbor Totoro and Lilo and Stitch. Both are animated features; the first is the masterpiece from Japanese animator Hidao Miyazaki and the latter is from Disney (although, interesting aside, Totoro was distributed in the U.S. by Disney). Both deal with family and have a younger sister/older sister dynamic at their heart. Totoro is, admittedly, gentler and lower keyed than Lilo and Stitch but both show a lot of heart. And Totoro has the Cat-bus!

There are two lesser-known Irish films that work well together – Waking Ned Devine (one of my all time favorite films) and Rat. The latter you may not know but it’s a dark comedy starring Pete Postlethwaite and Imelda Staunton. I cannot briefly describe it to you but I do recommend it. It may not be to everyone’s taste but it is to mine.

There are lots of other double and triple features I could think of but odds are you could, too. If you think of any, speak up. You may know some that I don’t. In the meantime, as Ebert and Siskel used to say, I’ll see you at the movies.