summer is nearly over, it feels like summer
to me summer feels like the sort of movie you would have seen in a matinee movie house where you'd sit thru three separate 3rd run features, with an assortment of trailers and cartoons. it is the kind of movie-going experience that's been dead since the advent of the vcr, when watching movies turned from a daylong experience sitting in a darkened theater with the air chilled to just above freezing and redolent of burned popcorn and the floor sticky with spilled coca cola, to picking up either a beta or vhs tape from the local mom&pop video shop and heading for the privacy of your living room. that experience had its pleasures too and it is astonishing to consider that even so revolutionary change in movie-viewing has metamorphosed into netflix and downloading from the internet.
times have changed and will probably continue in their changes until we have become cyborg units plugging in to our entertainments via a cable directly to the hardpan underneath our scalps. but even so, the deep, profound pleasures of the movies remain just as they were when moving pictures were first shown at the old nickelodeons. there is a power in that magic that technologies can't erase. watching films we are still like our ancestors around the campfire watching the flames imagining every sort of horror and uplift and being transported by the experience.
perhaps it is significant that i watched a love-letter to the old monster movies and matinee movie houses on vhs last night. filmmaker joe dante, who's better known for his gremlins
films featuring the beautiful phoebe cates in the 1980s, crafted a paean to a long vanished form of movie-going with his movie matinee
. i've written about this film before, however, the movie's long been out of print and has yet to get a dvd release. i bought a used vhs videocassette copy a few months ago but did not view it until last night when i realized that the summer is coming to a close and i've still to go thru what is nearly a summer ritual for me, which is to watch a handful of films that would've played at a 3rd run movie house, the kind of place i spent hours upon hours in transfixed by not only what was playing onscreen but what posters were hanging in the lobby, how the seats felt and what smells were in the air.
in the spirit of summer films, such as the mid-60s beach movies, or creature from the black lagoon
, or cheapjack badly dubbed kung fu flicks from hong kong, or the tremors
franchise, i hooked up our old vcr and watched matinee
. the movie stars john goodman as a william castle-like showman whose latest horror offering is mant!
with the tagline 'half-man, half-ant, all terror'! who comes to key west to shill his latest film shown in atomo! vision
and rumble rama!
these gimmicks are based on real tricks pioneered by the great castle in the late 1950s and early 1960s. castle was such a showman that he wired the audienced seats so that at key points in his film, e.g. the vincent price vehicle the tingler
, he'd shock the audience with just a little bit of electricity.
set during the cuban missile crisis goodman's character lawrence woolsey arrives in town much to the delight of monster movie nut 15-year-old gene loomis [simon fenton] and his little brother whose father is in the navy and serving onboard a blockade ship just off the coast of cuba. dante sets the tone of the era by highlighting the nuclear fears and the absurdity of our responses to it, such as having schoolchildren practice 'duck and cover' routines in case of nuclear attack. yet dante's tone is light rather than harsh for this is obviously his era of childhood. time and circumstances do change but absurdity still remains abundant no matter the era.
however, the main focus of the film is young gene's love of horror movies and the way they were once presented. woolsey outfits the theater with electric charges and smoke devices as well as paying a young punk, a deliciously daft poet, harvey starkweather [james villemaire] who just got out of reform school in order to win back the love the much younger sherry [kellie martin] to dress as a mant and terrorize the audience during key points of the film. i fucking loved the starkweather character who's poems were described as 'utterly primitive' and who told sherry's new love interest, gene's newfound friend stan [omri katz], to stay away from sherry because 'tomorrow's a knife, a big knife'. when stan said he didn't get it harvey stretched out the words, 'it's abstract'!
it is because of starkweather that things go awry during the film all the while the theater owner gets seriously freaked thinking the bombs are falling forgetting about woolsey's devices that are shaking the theater. thus we get a not too subtle comparison of the magic of cinema and the power of world politics on individual perception. the main point is that dante's is a geeky fanboy and that he made a lovingly rich and detailed film about watching monster movies.
which is why i find the movie so enjoyable. dante got his start in roger corman's factory and helmed the film piranha
which was written by john sayles and featuring b-movie stalwart dick miller. both miller and sayles are in matinee
as two tough guys who work for woolsey both as actors for his films and as a couple of conservative citizens who stage fake protests of woolsey's movies in order to drum up controversy. when these two hombres corner starkweather after the poet tried to still their wallets i was laughing so hard i thought i'd break a rib. starkweather nervously asked if they wanted to hear a poem, which miller replied, 'i don't think so', and then told the young man to get a 'square job' because he was no good at thievery.
a lesson in poetics it seems because starkweather ignores miller's advice and proceeds to be the engine to drive the rest of the movie's plot. the film within a film hits the tone of the era's nuclear paranoia in the form of mutant monsters. dante again uses actors from the era, such as kevin mccarthy, in his meta-film to achieve his tone of loving respect and ruefulness of a vanished era of filmmaking and movie-viewing.
this is a sheer delight of a movie, one that i've not forgetton when i first saw it upon it's release in 1993. oh, and i can't forget about the acid humor of cathy moriarty who plays woolsey's girlfriend and partner in crime, she is the wife of mant!
and also a wisecracking nurse who is present at the theater just in case an audience member nearly dies of fright and also has the audience members sign releases as they enter the theater. matinee
is a movie for any time of year yet i think of it as a summer movie for it's tone and subject matter. it is the perfect film to watch on a lazy saturday or sunday when very little is stirring except for a certain nostalgia of movie-going that can never be replicated but can be conjured up again for movies are magic and in their thrall we are kids again.