Reviving the Revival Theater

Remember the revival theaters of the 1970’s? If you don’t, back then the Bay Area overflowed with venues that specialized in old and semi-old movies, many of them changing their double bill every day. (You almost always got a double bill.)

The downside was repetition. These theaters thrived on the three Bs of repertory cinema: Bergman, Bogart, and the Brothers Marx. Not that I complained at the time. It was comforting to know there’d be several chances a year to see Duck Soup, Casablanca, and 8½. (I now own those three movies on DVD, and seldom look at them.)

Many of the films that regularly played the revival circuit were too young to reasonably be called classics, even if we were too young to realize that at the time. Movies like King of Hearts, Harold and Maude, and If… haven’t really stood the test of time, although I confess to a soft spot for them in my heart.

Ah, yes–nostalgia. A classic is an old work that is loved by people too young to feel nostalgic for its original release. The Godfather is a classic; Harold and Maude is not.

But a little nostalgia never hurt anyone. So I propose that some theater schedule a 70’s revival house revival. Each night they would show a double feature popular in the days when unrepentant hippies ran in terror from disco. Among the possible double bills:

  • Harold and Maude and King of Hearts

  • Duck Soup and Animal Crackers

  • Animal House and Horsefeathers

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey and Forbidden Planet

  • Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal (preceded by the short “The Dove”

  • Casablanca and Play It Again, Sam

  • Treasure of Sierra Madre and Key Largo

  • Singin’ in the Rain and Wizard of Oz

  • If… and O Lucky Man

  • Yojimbo and Sanjuro

Hey, a man can dream, can’t he?

Okay, let’s get on with what’s actually getting shown:

  • Recommendation: Raging Bull and Taxi Driver (an actual double bill), Balboa, through the week. Do I really have to say much about these two? I didn’t think so.

  • Noteworthy: Harold and Maude, Act I & 2, Friday through Sunday, midnight and noon. I honestly wrote the comments above without realizing that this one was coming to town. Maybe I’ll catch it.

  • Recommendation: Sullivan’s Travels and Room Service, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. More Preston Sturges and the Marx Brothers. Sullivan’s Travels is widely regarded as Sturges’ greatest achievement. I find it uneven, but still worth recommending. But Room Service is strictly for Marx fanatics. It’s a curious movie–the only Marx Brothers flick based on a non-Marx Brothers play. It’s got some funny moments, but the story and the stars never quite mesh.

  • Recommendation: The Birth of a Nation, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Sunday afternoon. Should I recommend one of the most racist and offensive movies ever made? Yes, because it is so important historically, both in how it changed cinema (which was considered neither an art nor a big business before Birth of a Nation) and what it says about American racial relationships in the early 20th century. It’s also a brilliantly-made and involving film, which makes its racism all the more disturbing. This screening will be introduced by editor, writer, and art critic Alison Bing, and is a prelude to next week’s presentation of DJ Spooky’s multimedia show, Rebirth of a Nation.

  • Recommendation: The Big Lebowski, Parkway, Thursday night. This Coen Brothers gem was originally panned–a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as Fargo, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie.