Art House Double Features: A Day (or Night) at the Movies

The impecunious graduate student’s best friend is the arthouse cinema double-feature. The evidence is in and the case is clear: for payoff in a diverse set of dimensions, the cinema double-feature is the winner hands down. Sure, the wine-and-cheese reception might get the budding academic a date or two–paper acceptances, book contracts, meaningful academic conversation,  and completed grant proposals are all unlikely–but an arthouse double-feature uses up many hours of the day, provides easy procrastination, relief from the relentless call to decision-making, and a rich storehouse of namedropping material to sustain one through lean times.

In the past, I’ve leaned heavily on arthouses to help occupy hours that otherwise would have been spent digging through tomes of assigned reading from class and exam lists.  Circa 1997-2000, I relied on the Anthology Film Archives in the Lower East Side on 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street. (I lived close by on 5th Street, between Avenues A and B). The Archive ran several series of double-features as part of festivals or retrospectives. Tickets for these were available at student discount rates; for double features this meant $5 for a pair of movies. In terms of the time-money equation, this worked out to roughly $1.25 per hour of movie watching.  (The dollar rates were a little lower when I saw Pasolini’s Medea and Oedipus twin-bill.) The Archives were never a fancy venue;  its main theater was a little ragged around the edges in its seats; I never remember buying any snacks; even if there were any, I had no money for them. I got my seat, snuggled in, and settled down for a double-dose of distraction. A simple business indeed.

A couple of years later, then a post-doctoral fellow at the University of New South Wales, I found myself patronizing Sydney’s Chauvel Cinema, an institution where I apparently needed to make an appearance if I was ever going to earn any local arthouse cred. I lived on Bourke Street, all the way down at the intersection of Bourke and Cleveland Streets in Redfern, and the walk to the Chauvel in Paddingon took me the better part of 20 minutes (or more). But that walk down Oxford Street’s many attractions always put me in the right frame of mind for cinematic self-indulgence. My need for distraction in Sydney was greater than it had been in New York; I was on my own, and still finding my way around. The double-feature at Chauvel’s Cinematheque quickly became a staple item in my entertainment plans for the weekend, only displaced in the spring and summer by cricket season. Once inside, it was the glory of complete immersion in the movies, lost for a few hours as I worked my way through the pair of offerings on display.

If there ever was any doubt that movies are meant for solitary enjoyment, the double-feature dispenses with it. They just aren’t the sorts of things you do in company; a double-feature at the movies is a solo enterprise, where the cinephile discovers just how comfortable he is being by himself with just the movies to keep him company; when it comes to movie fandom, it separates the men from the boys.

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