If there’s one thing I look forward to more than a film screening, it’s two of them back to back. A well curated double bill is a thing of beauty and a complex craft that often goes overlooked. As much as the creation of a film is a miracle in and of itself, how you bring two of them together deserves some critical attention here. Wine has its cheese, cigars have bourbon, and movies have, in my opinion, more movies (and popcorn too, of course). At its best the careful curation and close proximity of two films can enlighten, challenge, and reframe them in a whole new way, and at its worst, if that’s even possible, you’re still watching two films so get over it.
I had an inkling, initially, to turn this post into some kind of definitive synopsis on the historical evolution or cultural impact of the double bill, but instead I’d like this post to probe and inspire you to think about how films fit together, how you might curate your own, and by what method. It’s also important to note that all movies are intertextual. In other words, the visual language of any film is built upon the conventions, aesthetics, mis-en-scène, et cetera of other films. This fundamental attribute allows for a nearly infinite discovery of linkages between them.
Now, whether those links are explicit or covert, intended or not, and used to critique, pay homage, or exalt, they are there, and can be harmonized or jarringly opposed through the double bill ad infinitum. Often, their links aren’t even necessarily textual, but idiosyncratic, and based on personal experiences with films. These may be the most exciting to uncover because they’re comprised of the absolutely unique ways films tie us to spaces, events, memories, and sensations. In this way it is the individual experience that links two films together regardless of their textual ties, and can only be comprehended through someone’s story about them. Isn’t that sublime? In any case, what follows is somewhat less sublime in that I’m offering double bills with certain textual ties, without detailed explanation, in hopes that you will investigate those ties and search for your own.
If I may first offer a few ways you might embark on the double bill curation. Of course there are the more obvious and traditional ways to pair movies: by director, genre, theme, actor/actress, country, writer, or release year; and the slightly more subtle: cinematographer, remake/reimagining, special effects designer, composer, or costume designer.
Then there are more obscure and esoteric ways of curation: films within films, artistic inspirations, troubled productions, familial ties, or aesthetic techniques, such as shot length or color palettes, to name just a few. The list could go on and on based on your own personal tastes and experiences, so I’d just like to offer some unique, potentially challenging, and engaging double bills based on a few of these categories as inspirational fodder to feed your own cinematic mixology.
Films Within Films
I’d like to start with a personal favorite, and a pairing strategy that truly exemplifies the intertextual nature of films: double billing based on films within films. There are no shortage of films that pay homage to their influences or inspirations by literally citing them within their own diegesis. Whether via movie poster, spectral manifestation, or simply portraying characters watching movies, we’re offered a sign to be read, and what better way to explore this connection than by pairing them together?
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) and Frankenstein (1931)
Twister (1996) and The Shining (1980)
Vivre Sa Vie (1962) and The Passion of Joan or Arc (1928)
Halloween (1978) and The Thing from Another World (1951)
The ‘Burbs (1989) and The Exorcist (1973)
International Inspiration or Reimagining
The international inspiration or reimagining of a film is always an intriguing production because you can compare the cultural and visual sieves they are filtered through. Tracing a film back to its inspiration, or, better yet, an earlier version of itself always makes for an educational cinematic experience.
Yojombo (1961) / Sanjuro (1962) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964) / For a Few Dollars More (1965)
The Virgin Spring (1960) and The Last House on the Left (1972)
Stalker (1979) and Antichrist (2009)
The Hidden Fortress (1958) and Star Wars (1977)
Le Samouraï (1967) and Drive (2011)
Finally, I’d like to offer up some double bills that have impacted, challenged, inspired, and entertained me personally in some way. Again, this process is inherently idiosyncratic and the affinity between films is not always overt, or even textually discernible, so I implore you to pair, watch, and discover on your own!
The Searchers (1956) and Taxi Driver (1976)
Chasing Ice (2012) and Waterworld (1995)
Rear Window (1954) and Disturbia (2007)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Night of the Living Dead (1968)*
*All credit for this insane mashup goes to Professor Joan Hawkins.
The Wages of Fear (1953) and Speed (1994)
Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
Brief Encounter (1945) and Carol (2015)
For more double bill opportunities check out IU Cinema’s weekend programming. Who knows, maybe you’ll find some obscure connections between The Creatures of Yes Interactive Workshop and The Great Buddha+, screening on December 17, or You Are Not I and Jurassic Park on December 1.
You can catch The Exorcist on December 4 at 7 pm as part of director Alexandre O. Philippe’s visit to the IU Cinema. Philippe is scheduled to be present to discuss the film and his current work on a documentary about William Friedkin and The Exorcist.
Caleb Allison usually prefers his films slow, cryptic or menacing and doesn’t always understand why. A Ph.D. student at Indiana University, Caleb researches home-video cultures, film history, and production and distribution industries. He is an unrestrained collector of the Criterion Collection, a fan of Super 8 filmmaking, and a Tarkovsky nut.