The double bill was a lost art long before I was born.
The art of choosing two complementary or contrasting films to run together died out in the 1960s. It is only kept alive in the odd arthouse cinema, but is utterly unheard of in the modern multiplex. The Astor Theatre in Melbourne has some neat double bills including The Terminator with Starman and Spider-Man with The Amazing Spiderman.
But the art of the double bill is alive and kicking in the strangest of places.
A friend's dad finds his films by trawling the DVD bargain bins at The Warehouse. Included in his hauls are always a couple of those strangely cheap box-sets where they group together films of a broadly similar nature. Often these are hatchet jobs that make odd bedfellows of Contact, AI and Paycheck just because they are sci-fi films.
But one box-set caught my eye. It was a triple bill under the banner "Killer Couples" that included Bonnie and Clyde, The Getaway and Natural Born Killers. The violent, couple-on-the-run subgenre is a lively and enduring one that could also include great films like Badlands, True Romance and Pulp Fiction.
I borrowed this box-set and watched The Getaway last night. It is a starry lineup of 1970s powerhouses - written by Walter Hill, scored by Quincy Jones, directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw.
Watching this hard-nosed, existential crime caper, it became clear that The Getaway has a perfect double bill twin - No Country for Old Men.
There are many echoes of The Getaway in the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men that must ultimately come from the Cormac McCarthy source novel. They are both set in Texas, they both involve a bag of money, a climactic shootout in a hotel, an injured, eccentric hitman on the trail of the hero, a border crossing into Mexico, a wise old cowboy and a couple realising that a bag of money isn't all its cracked up to be. The echoes are so clear that they must be deliberate. The Coen Brothers are so reluctant to expand on their films that we shall perhaps never know.
I would like to hear your ideas for double bills. Films that either go together perfectly or offer starkly different views on the same idea. Films that echo and reflect each other in unusual ways.
Here are a couple more to get you started.
I always think The Thing and E.T. would make a great double bill. They both came out in 1982, but offer very contrasting ideas about how an alien might interact with people on a visit to Earth.
Another good double bill would be Chinatown and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The two films have a surprising connection. Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne envisaged a corruption trilogy that began with water in the 1930s (Chinatown), then covered oil in the 1940s (The Two Jakes) and then the construction of a freeway in the 1950s (the never-made Cloverleaf).
Cloverleaf may never have been made, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was. The plot centres on a plot by Cloverleaf Industries, deliberately named after Towne's unmade third film, to build a freeway through Toon Town. Thus, in a strange way, Roger Rabbit is a sequel to Chinatown.
Swap out the disappointing Two Jakes for There Will Be Blood and you have a pretty awesome triple bill of Chinatown, There Will be Blood and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? that completes Towne's vision in a warped, unusual and entertaining way.
What are your dream double bills? Post them below.
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