As those of you who follow these things probably know, about a year ago we tried an experiment as part of the Asheville Film Society by booking Ken Russell's Tommy (1975) to play for a single theatrical engagement -- having no idea what its chances for success were. Thankfully, it went well. So we tried the newly restored Metropolis (1927) and that worked pretty well, too. But both of these films had a little extra appeal. Tommy had just been restored and returned to its original five channel soundtrack. Metropolis had just had nearly a half hour of long missing footage added to it.
So the question remained whether or not older -- or even just not current -- movies had enough box office appeal to make them viable. Sure, we'd been able to pack the Cinema Lounge on Tuesday nights with everything from Shanghai Express (1932) to 7th Heaven (1927) to The Fall (2008). But getting folks to turn up for free and getting them to shell out money for these movies are two entirely separate matters.
We tried it with no real hook with Harold and Maude (1971) at ActionFest -- based on the fact that we had stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker on hand for a Q&A afterwards. And that did OK and would, I believe have done even better if we'd had time to promote it. It did sufficiently respectable business that we determined to try it again. But it took us a while to decide on what to try.
The choice turned out to be the original 1933 King Kong -- no guest, nothing new, just the chance for people to see the film on the big screen the way it was meant to be seen. Somewhat to our surprise, it did as well as Metropolis -- and turned out to be something that the whole audience had a great time at. I don't think anyone had a gripe about it. And it was a lot of fun seeing a few folks even bringing their kids to see this nearly 80 year old movie.
With this, I think it's fair to say that, yes, it is indeed possible to have this kind of showing -- that it is viable, that people will indeed pay for older films on the big screen. At least, we know they'll do it occasionally, which is all we're considering -- a few times over the course of the year. (In other words, no, the free Tuesday night screenings are not in jeopardy. We'll keep doing those till someone forcibly restrains us.) That brings us to the question of the moment -- simply: what movie or movies would you be sufficiently interested in seeing on the big screen that you'd be willing to break loose with the requisite spondulicks for that purpose?
This is a question we'll be putting forth again in an Asheville Film Society mailing, but since these showings are open to the public it seems only reasonable to gather suggestions from all quarters. Now, yes, I have some ideas of my own. Nothing would please me more than to show a restored, complete (including all the footage that was censored and never shown) version of Ken Russell's The Devils (1971). And such a thing exists and was shown recently in London, but is not as yet available in the U.S. But in general, I'm more interested in getting some input here, so I'm keeping most of my ideas to myself at the moment.
That said, I'd like to establish a few points. The films obviously have to be available for rental. For example (not that I think anyone is likely to suggest it), James Whale's comedy-mystery Remember Last Night? (1935) would be a great choice, but so far as I know there is no available rental copy. (The fact that George Eastman House recently scheduled it and were using the late William K. Everson's 16mm copy suggests as much.) In some cases, however, we may not know until we actually try to book the film. I would also suggest not picking something so impenetrable and esoteric that you know full well the audience is going to be completely specialized and very small. Also, it probably shouldn't be something we've shown in the Cinema Lounge. With those things in mind, have at it.