This Is Where I Came In...

Christopher Fowler
Vera-Day-8 I said this to my press agent Lynsey recently and she asked me what I meant. I explained that it referred to double-billed movies. A lot of people have expressed surprise that that films were ever shown in double bills. Indeed they were, right across the nation, remember, older peeps? As we're prepping the launch of my film memoir 'Film Freak' on April 10th, I've thought about this a lot lately. In fact, the only single film performances were in the flagship cinemas of the West End, and even in the 1970s these came with large colourful brochures like expensive theatre programmes — you still sometimes find them at memorabilia fairs. The oddest thing about double bills was that it was very common to enter halfway through a movie, watch the second half, then see the second feature, then stay for the first half of the first — and if you liked it a lot, perhaps remain right through to the end. If you stay in the Maldives there are lots of terrific activities to do, and they're different every day. Then, if you stay a few hours longer than a week, you find your smiling hotel manager greeting the new arrivals with the same chat you thought personal to you, and the whole process begins again, like a movie show. As you get older, you realise that many things are rostered for strict rotation. Theatre repertoires come around and around, and I can't help feeling I've seen the majority - I certainly never need to see another production of 'Private Lives' again, no matter how cutting edge it is. Movies quickly start to repeat themselves at some point, too, and you discover that Christopher Booker's volume 'The Seven Basic Plots' is horribly true. Of course, this is much to do with reaching a certain age - hardly anything seems fresh and new, or wholly original, in the way that, say, 'Monty Python' felt when I was a kid. Now 'A Chorus Line' is back on in a production seemingly preserved in aspic (it can't be touched, like 'West Side Story', apparently). 'Fifty Shades of Grey' was the new Mills & Boone. 'Batman' is the new 'Batman'. A magazine article pointed to the shoe shop 'R.Soles' in the King's Road, saying it was its rude name was 'a brave two-fingered wave at the Chelsea tractor brigade' - but of course it's not; it's been there since the 1960s, but the person writing the piece wasn't old enough or bothered enough to know. Recently, watching an old comedy, 'Too Many Crooks', with Sid James and Terry-Thomas, I realised it was the original version of
'Ruthless People', but with much better dialogue. Still, there are pleasures to be had in seeing old wine in new bottles. And occasionally something so original comes along, like 'The Artist' or 'Wolf Hall', that you feel refreshed. Genine originals, anyone?  


Sam Tomaino (not verified) Sat, 16/03/2013 - 15:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I saw "Too Many Crooks", a while back, and even own a DVD of it. When I first saw it, I was amazed how similar "Ruthless People" was. I was outraged that, in the credits, it is written by Dale Launer and O. Henry (for "Ransom of Red Chief") and no credit is given to Christane Rochefort, Jean Nery & Michael Pertwee, the writers of the original movie.

Dan Terrell (not verified) Sat, 16/03/2013 - 16:32

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This is so true, Admin, two films - stay through if you want - a newsreel and three cartoons. And, yes, it all repeats. I found that it takes about a decade for the cycle to come around to 000, at least it did in my job. Every start of cycle a new person urged a "radical new" thing - that had unfortunately been tried, about, ten years before.
As a woman who worked for a long time in the main office used to say, nicely, to summer interns: "Good, we need ideas. Tell you what, put it in an envelope and hold it for one month and we'll open it then. If we agree it's a good idea, I promise i'll help you promote." And twice she did.

Simon Sperring (not verified) Sat, 16/03/2013 - 19:22

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I was watching 'Fight Club' on tv last night and was thinking as I watched that it was a genuinely original work. A rare beast in Hollywood nowadays. It was the third time I have watched this film and I enjoyed it more than ever.

Pheeny (not verified) Sat, 16/03/2013 - 19:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember double bills but not continuous showings - I can't get my head round the idea of turning up in the middle of a film - you wouldn't start a book half way through and then read the beginning after you got to the end would you?

Mind you I am not convinced that (in them days at least) many people went to the pictures to watch the films anyway

Pheeny (not verified) Sat, 16/03/2013 - 19:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As for things that go around on a loop a friend of mine reckoned that after you had bought a year's worth of one of those "Country Homes" type magazines you just had to rinse and repeat ...

Dan Terrell (not verified) Sat, 16/03/2013 - 20:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Pheeny - You don't have to tell me about That. I was an usher in a film theatre one summer and early fall and between having the same film showing over and over, and having to sort out the couples and not get myself punched by one of the pair trying to prove how tough he/she was, I had an interesting time.
But I saw a lot of films, got free popcorn for the way homw, and earned some pay.
And the other thing I hated was lugging the double-wide steel film cases up the straight-up, no handrails ladder, through the small square hatch in the ceiling, and then having to take the last week's show back down the same way and all with just two hands. Hot up in the projection booth, too.

Christopher Fowler Sat, 16/03/2013 - 20:58

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Oddly, I think I turned out 'Fight Club' in Spanky, which has virtually the same plot. But I love Fight Club!

Tom Ruffles (not verified) Sat, 16/03/2013 - 21:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember this exactly. When I was a nipper, we went to the cinema a lot, mostly at Camberwell, partly because my brother-in-law worked for ABC, partly because cinema-going was a significant leisure activity for working-class families at that time. We often went in halfway through a feature, watched the other one, then the first to the point where we had arrived, and someone would say exactly that - "this is where we came in", and we'd all get up. I was always dragged away reluctantly. I remember my first visit to the NFT, when I thought it was a double bill, and being embarrassed when I was told you paid for the films separately!

glasgow1975 (not verified) Sat, 16/03/2013 - 22:30

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It's not rotation it's a REBOOT! ;)
Superman Reboot Rebooted coming soon! :P

Alan Morgan (not verified) Sun, 17/03/2013 - 07:56

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Well, Fight Club is a bit like Spanky which... oh, too late. Dammit.

Actually they're not the same. Same seed of inspiration taken in different stories. And we all like stories don't we? I love both. And so does my mate Alf. Alf and I are an odd couple. He does all the things I wouldn't dare to do myself, probably wouldn't want to. Not really. Well...

John Howard (not verified) Sun, 17/03/2013 - 08:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Remember the double bill well. I suppose another branch of the same story is the Saturday morning matinee. And even more antique, how about standing for the National Anthem at the end. Was that part of your childhood admin? From what I can remember of Paperboy you seemed to be ferociously precocious and went straight for the evening showings....

As for genuine originals, back to the era of R Soles and how about The Italian Job? It even had, with a nod to your Private Lives reference, Noely in it. Or a little later, Sleuth ( Or are there other movies that I didn't see that can be matched up to those? )

BangBang!! (not verified) Sun, 17/03/2013 - 21:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The last double bill I went to quite a few years ago now was the bizarre one of Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Blazing Saddles. I don't know who put it together but it didn't work at all.

Helen Martin (not verified) Mon, 18/03/2013 - 05:42

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Not too many double bills at our neighbourhood theatre, but I was a Saturday matinee attender. Still, in the late sixties when we took our son to movies (VERY occasionally as he would say) there was a 'short subject', a cartoon, previews of upcoming films, and the feature. Earlier there would have been a newsreel in there. Remember the rooster? Now you just get previews, some silly movie 'star' questions, a whole load of adverts and, if you're really unlucky, one of the staff comes to the front and shills for a charity. How one uses children: there were five adults and one child when we went to 101 Dalmations. On the way home we were stopped in a police check. The young officer asked where we had been and then wanted to know what it was like because she'd thought of taking her niece. You have to have a child to justify going to a kid's movie.

David Read (not verified) Mon, 18/03/2013 - 10:42

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It's tricky isnt it, so much you rememeber as fresh, without realising it was all done before, the overdone Japanese Horror thing great when I first saw Ringu. I think the problem is many films do not marry the orginality of a style with a fresh story or idea. Often you have one without the other.

I have tried several times to enjoy Tarantino with no success, but then friends who have never seen trashy 70s horror and eurohorror rave about his films (and also like Rob Zombie's efforts) wheras I would rather watch something new and suprising (which I guess they are doing) and if I want a retro vibe then there are plenty of classics for me to dip back into.

Ralph Vaughan (not verified) Tue, 19/03/2013 - 05:33

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The "B" film was often better than the "A" film, but the serial kept pulling me in, no matter how good or bad the films were.