I'm ready for double features to come back into fashion.
Double features became popular during the Great Depression, when folks couldn't afford to spend money on entertainment.
Theatres, in a creative attempt to recoup costs, would show two films for the price of a single ticket. For a small fee, one could settle in for an entire evening of distraction.
The movies were preceded by a newsreel, several cartoons, and advertisements for candy, confections, and cigarettes being sold in the lobby (these were different times).
Finally, the films would begin. The first was the B movie — notable for shoddily-made monsters, hack acting, and almost no plot. The second film was the feature, with the big names, production value, and epic Hollywood score.
Sometimes the double feature would be thematically linked; in the 1930s, whole afternoons of alien flicks, spaghetti westerns, or back-to-back monster movies were often on offer.
In later decades, the double feature almost became an art form itself: theatres would show two movies by the same director, two movies on the same theme, or show a classic film that had clearly influenced a second, more modern take.
By the 1960s, double features had faded in popularity. Movies became more expensive to make and ticket prices soared.
To me, this seems like such a shame. Watching two films together can highlight themes that are next to impossible to uncover on a solo viewing. I didn't get half the jokes and references in Shaun of the Dead until I watched it immediately after George Romero's Dawn of the Dead.
The holiday and (post-holiday no man's land_ is the perfect time to enjoy a curated double feature. I reached out to some of my favourite local filmmakers to get their recommendations.
Karen Monie's first film Common Law premiered at the Nickel Independent Film Festival in 2019. She's also currently working with John Vatcher and Kerri Macdonald on a television project through the CBC Creative Relief Fund.
"I'm a huge fan of double features — double treat!" she said. "This time of year is perfect for binge-watching. After a period of festivities, everyone's laid back and in the spirit of celebrating."
Her picks for a double feature? Monie suggests two films, both streaming on Netfix, that centre around the delicate dynamics of family: This Christmas, directed by Preston A. Whitmore II, and Jumping the Broom, directed bySalim Akil.
"I think building a good double feature is all about building the stories around their [common] theme," Monie said. "My double feature's theme is about the importance of being surrounded by people who understand and accept you."
Santiago Guzman has had a busy few years.
In 2018, he wrote, starred, and produced the short Te Quiero, alongside director Tamara Segura and producer Ruth Lawrence under the Nickel New Voices Project.
He's currently writing and co-producing a Bell Fibe television series entitled You are Here, while finishing post-production on his latest romantic comedy short entitled Express <3 Checkout, which he wrote, directed and produced.
Guzman is a big fan of romantic comedies and his picks reflect that.
"OK, this is a wild combo, but … How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Proposal," he said.
"I just feel, though these two live in different worlds, the main characters are pretty much the same. Sorry, Sandra Bullock, but it's true: your Margaret is pretty much a Grinch."
Elizabeth Hicks has directed and written several independent shorts — Wings, Picture to Hollywood, The View from Here. Her big film news of 2020 is that she and Kyla Smith have been selected for NIFCO/Telefilm's Picture Start program this year, meaning their short film, BOUNCE, will go to camera in the spring of 2021.
Hicks doesn't usually practice double-featuring, but she makes an exception during the holidays.
"There's nothing better than a serendipitous double feature on cable TV while hove off on the couch," she said.
Hick's recommendations are available for rent online, but she thinks the viewing of this particular double feature is best when experienced by accident in the seemingly endless stream of holiday movies on cable TV.
"I recommend It's a Wonderful Life (1946), followed up by Elf. These are holiday classics! The first is a tear jerker, so that's why I want to follow it up with Elf," she said.
"Both films are about family, ambition, work/life balance, and being grateful for what you have. George Bailey and Buddy the Elf (and his father, Walter) take very different journeys to find a sense of belonging and satisfaction, which makes these films, in my opinion, the perfect holiday double feature."
Kerry Gamberg has made three short films: Askin' For It, a NIFCO Picture Start film; Crush, a SJIWFF + RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award film, and most recently a short doc for CBC, Fade Forward: The Story of 1949.
Her next film Animal Arrangements is a Harold Greenberg Fund short and should be on the festival circuit by spring 2021.
While Gamberg is not necessarily the biggest fan of double features, she has a special love for the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino double bill Grindhouse.
"I love these movies together," she said.
"Planet Terror is about a woman with a gun leg that saves humanity, while Tarantino's Deathproof, which features the best car crash scene I have ever seen in my life, is essentially a 90-minute car chase between a murderous stunt driver and a group of no-crap-taking women, two of which also happen to work in the stunts department on movies.
"Spoiler, it ends with the most glorious drop kick from Rosario Dawson. Both are deadly flicks."
Kerrin Rafuse has directed two short films: Forty-Five & Five and False Light. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has interfered with her plans to go to camera for her RBC Michelle Jackson Award short film, La Véillée.
"It's been put off by COVID-19 twice now, and if I don't get on a set soon, I'm going to start directing my family members," she joked.
For Rafuse, the holidays mark the start of a long dark winter and a period of self-reflection, so she tends to spend her time re-watching films that either bring comfort, or show a familiar topic in a new light.
The double feature she's recommending are Deepa Mehta's Heaven On Earth, available on Netflix, and Let The Right One In, directed by Tomas Alfredson available through Amazon Prime.
"Both these films deal with the concept of loneliness in two very different ways," she said.
In Mehta's piece, newlywed Chand finds herself an outsider to her new family and as an immigrant to Canada. After enduring torment and abuse from all sides, Chand is gifted a magical root which will cause others to fall in love with her. The root works, but also gives rise to a shape-shifting spirit.
Let The Right One In sees its protagonist, Oskar, giving in to the darker side of loneliness. After making friends with Eli, a solitary and seemingly nocturnal little girl who has an appetite for blood, Oskar lets Eli's bloodlust serve as his revenge for a childhood of being bullied.
"In both instances, our protagonists' only way out of that loneliness is to forge a new path altogether," she said.
"I find it hugely symbolic watching these movies at the end of this particularly long and lonely year. They tell us there is always a way forward."