Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: And for our next trick…

Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: And for our next trick…-attachment0

I have an unusually heavy viewing/reviewing load this week (and I really do not remember making a deal with Justin that involved me seeing The Smurfs, but he says I did, so I must have), so this is going to be on the short side. It’s also going to be on the self-serving side, which is to say I’m looking for input on something.

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.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

59 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: And for our next trick…

  1. With October coming up, it would be great to see some horror films in the main theater, going back to silent films. Surely a lot of those are still in distribution.

  2. Ken Hanke

    With October coming up, it would be great to see some horror films in the main theater, going back to silent films. Surely a lot of those are still in distribution.

    Oh, yes. And I like the idea, but someone would have to sell me on the idea that, say, The Phantom of the Opera would pack the house or even come near to it. As far as old talkie horror pictures, we’ve pretty well milked the most primo stuff at the THPS, but I’m open to the idea.

  3. I would bet money you’ve already exhausted them all in the Lounge showings but I’d bet almost any item from the Marx Brothers would be worth a shot.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I would bet money you’ve already exhausted them all in the Lounge showings but I’d bet almost any item from the Marx Brothers would be worth a shot.

    Actually, we’re only up to two — and the second is this coming month. It’s easier to space things when you’re not hemmed in by genre. We’ve done A Night at the Opera and Horse Feathers, but that’s it.

  5. That said, I’d like to establish a few points. The films obviously have to be available for rental.

    Well that cuts out COCKSUCKER BLUES from contention then. Although I’m pretty sure the director needs to be present for any screenings to be legal, anyway.

    Am I right in recalling that KISS KISS BANG BANG never played Asheville? That might be worth a showing. It’s tremendously entertaining.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Am I right in recalling that KISS KISS BANG BANG never played Asheville? That might be worth a showing. It’s tremendously entertaining.

    OK, make a case for how to promote it.

  7. Ken Hanke

    With a big picture of Robert Downey Jr?

    It’s not speaking to me. I’m more in the market for something that at least flirts with the word “classic,” not something that had a bad break in getting released. Unless there’s a groundswell of support for this title.

  8. Ken Hanke

    The Duellists starring Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel

    Since I’ve never seen it, I have no opinion on it as a candidate.

  9. Nick Jones

    See The Duellists ASAP, Ken. It’s Ridley Scott’s first feature, with great direction and amazing cinematography, from a story by Joseph Conrad. I’d write more but I’m on my way to bed.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I’d write more but I’m on my way to bed.

    You’re allowed to come back, you know.

  11. DrSerizawa

    Basically The Duellists is about a dispute of honor between two officers in Napolean’s army. It spans years where the two meet occasionally. It is infinitely more interesting than that sounds. I first caught it by accident many years ago on cable and was enthralled. More recently I bought it. It’s definitely on my personal list of essentials.

  12. JonathanBarnard

    Since you want something good, old and with mass market appeal, classic Hitchcock seems an obvious choice. The Lady Vanishes or Strangers on a Train or Psycho or…

  13. [b]With a lot of people… minus Mat Catastrophe.[/b]

    Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey, why can’t I come?

    (btw, that was supposed to be a joke about body parts or blood or demons or something)

  14. Dionysis

    I like Orbit’s suggestion of horror films, including silent films. One that should be considered is the 2007 release ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, a 73-minute silent, black & white film that is probably the most faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s signature story to be found (not that there are an abundance of versions). It is very, very good. It could be paired with another film based on (or influenced by) Lovecraft.

    Also worth considering (to me, anyway) would be a double-feature of scary ghost stories. Two of my favorites are the 1963 release ‘The Haunting’ and the rarely-seen (but well worth it) ‘The Lady in Black’, with an ending that would jolt the dead back to attention.

  15. Dionysis

    Sure, he was a racist and xenophobe, but he wrote some creepy stuff.

  16. Ken Hanke

    If you’re looking to fill seats, I would think about any of THE EVIL DEAD series.

    Here’s the thing — any modern horror film will cut out about 80 percent of the AFS crowd from the onset. The Evil Dead pictures might cut me out, too, come to think of it.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Since you want something good, old and with mass market appeal, classic Hitchcock seems an obvious choice. The Lady Vanishes or Strangers on a Train or Psycho or…

    Well, I’d rule the last two out because they’ve been screened locally in the not too distant past, but The Lady Vanishes is a possibility.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Hitchcock is definitely a draw. I rent the hell out of his films.

    We both know that what people will rent and what they’ll come shell out $9.75 to watch in a theater aren’t interchangeable, but I’m curious as to what your big renters are in these.

  19. Ken Hanke

    With a lot of people… minus Mat Catastrophe

    Hey, any regular who comes in from out of state to see whatever it is, I’ll buy his or her ticket.

  20. Ken Hanke

    Also worth considering (to me, anyway) would be a double-feature of scary ghost stories.

    Bear in mind, unless we’re running something like two Lugosi Monogrammers, a double feature doubles our cost without doubling our revenue.

    I do really like the idea of silent horror — especially if someone wants to provide a live musical accompaniment. Volunteers?

  21. [b]I’ll read that essay.

    [i]OK, you got my attention, too[/i][/b]

    Alright, alright. I’ve reposted it at the address below. It’s a 1977 essay by Michael Moorcock called “Starship Stormtroopers”. It touches on a *lot* of writers of sci-fi and fantasy. The relevant bit about Moorcock is in paragraph 8.

    http://everything2.org/title/Starship+Stormtroopers

    The everything2 site was an early type of wiki/blog/journal/self-publishing website. If you click a link in the essay above, it will take you to the corresponding “node” on the e2 site.

    If one’s not there, feel free to create an account, research the item and post a write-up.

  22. Ken Hanke

    Alright, alright. I’ve reposted it at the address below.

    And a very interesting essay it is, though apart from specifics (in some cases) and putting it all in one place, it didn’t tell me a lot I didn’t already know (most of which I agree with — even without quite subscribing to anarchist philosophy). All things considered, Lovecraft came off better than many.

  23. I didn’t like Lovecraft to begin with. But, I would like to see a film of Stranger in a Strange Land.

    While I agree with Moorcock’s assessment of most of the writers, it doesn’t mean I don’t read them. I just don’t assign them any weight as progressive dudes.

    And, while I appreciate the finer points of identifying social and political undercurrents of fiction, I also appreciate that you can sometimes take it too far.

    To wit:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2299653/

  24. Ken Hanke

    While I agree with Moorcock’s assessment of most of the writers, it doesn’t mean I don’t read them. I just don’t assign them any weight as progressive dudes

    Don’t tell anybody, but I even have a couple of “Sapper’s” Bulldog Drummond novels and they don’t come any more reactionary than that. For that matter I’d love to get my hands on a good copy of DeMille’s This Day and Age (1933) and a more jaw-dropping bit of fascist-tinged goods would be hard to imagine.

    I also appreciate that you can sometimes take it too far

    Yes, well, sometimes a train is just a train — unless, of course, it’s going into a tunnel.

  25. Unfortunately Mat, if you start digging into the personal lives and beliefs of artists and writers, a lot of times you will be shocked.

  26. Ken, I would say that the most popular Hitchcock films are the ones that you would expect. NOTORIOUS is a surprising brisk renter, as well as NORTH BY NORTHWEST, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT.

  27. Ken Hanke

    Ken, I would say that the most popular Hitchcock films are the ones that you would expect. NOTORIOUS is a surprising brisk renter, as well as NORTH BY NORTHWEST, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

    I must say the last you named surprises me a good deal. Actually, it’s one of my favorites and it’s scheduled for one of the regular free screenings in September. I’ve always been of the opinion that North by Northwest is too long, but I could see it as a good bet for a paid screening. Is there a Blu-ray of it?

  28. Yes, I have the blu-ray of NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

    I’ll starting thinking about some silent film ideas. That Lovecraft film is one of the best adaptations of his work.

  29. Ken Hanke

    Yes, I have the blu-ray of NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

    Well, that increases the chances, though I’m certainly not ruling out really well authored plain DVDs.

    I’ll starting thinking about some silent film ideas. That Lovecraft film is one of the best adaptations of his work.

    Maybe, but I don’t see much percentage in trying to charge for the Lovecraft thing. It lacks an audience hook beyond a pretty specialized crowd. Be good for a THPS, though.

  30. Yes, I have the blu-ray of NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

    I’ve got that Blu-Ray and it’s a pretty fantastic transfer. It would look dynamite projected.

  31. Ken Hanke

    Okay, so where are with actual specifics?

    Duck Soup
    The Duellist
    North by Northwest
    Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
    The Haunting
    The Woman in Black

    I haven’t seen a specific silent title yet.

  32. Well, that increases the chances, though I’m certainly not ruling out really well authored plain DVDs.

    Warner Brothers does the best job remastering I think. Jeremy is right, it looks fantastic.

    Another big draw would be any film by gypsy director Tony Gatlif, especially LATCHO DROM if it’s available.

  33. Ken Hanke

    Warner Brothers does the best job remastering I think.

    That may be, but those Charlie Chan movies from Fox are incredibly good.

    Another big draw would be any film by gypsy director Tony Gatlif, especially LATCHO DROM if it’s available.

    I’m not even going to look that up.

  34. I’m not even going to look that up.

    Uh, it follows the gypsy trail through Europe. No narration, just music. HUGELY popular.

    See? I’m thinking mass consumption here. I can change!

  35. [b]I haven’t seen a specific silent title yet.[/b]

    Since you mentioned it in another thread, I’d put The Battleship Potempkin up for nomination as well, although I don’t know the status of whether or not there’s a good, fairly complete copy out there. Weren’t there lost portions over the years?

  36. Ken Hanke

    Uh, it follows the gypsy trail through Europe. No narration, just music. HUGELY popular.

    Don’t tell me — you rent the hell out of his movies?

  37. Ken Hanke

    Since you mentioned it in another thread, I’d put The Battleship Potempkin up for nomination as well, although I don’t know the status of whether or not there’s a good, fairly complete copy out there. Weren’t there lost portions over the years?

    I don’t remember it missing anything, but I could be wrong. There are all sorts of copies of Potemkin out there. I’m sure the quality varies (it’s PD, but the musical tracks won’t be). Chip could answer the question of best copy, but he’s off somewhere in North America. Brilliant as it is, essential as it is in terms of cinema literacy, I’m wondering about selling people on a 1925 Soviet film.

    Actually, I am still looking for a silent horror movie suggestion. Also looking for someone to volunteer live music.

  38. [b]Actually, I am still looking for a silent horror movie suggestion. Also looking for someone to volunteer live music.[/b]

    [i]Nosferatu[/i] scored by a local theremin group?

  39. Ken Hanke

    Nosferatu scored by a local theremin group?

    We were actually approached by a small orchestral ensemble who wanted us to book them, but the version of Nosferatu they run is cut and they wanted a fee we could never meet except maybe with a packed theater at $15 a ticket. A theremin group? Not sure I want to listen to theremins for 90 minutes, but you never know. Also, we’ve run Nosferatu within the past year.

  40. Ken Hanke

    Just found out that there’s a 35th anniversary re-issue of The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Anybody have any feelings on this one?

  41. Just found out that there’s a 35th anniversary re-issue of The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Anybody have any feelings on this one?

    I think we have a winner.

  42. Ken Hanke

    I think we have a winner.

    I’m not 100% sure of that, but it’s the sort of film that I think we ought to book in a situation like this if we can simply break even.

  43. Ken Hanke

    I’ll help promote it. Never seen it on the big screen.

    I’ve already got the booker checking on it — and finding out if it’s the complete version or the one that played theatrically in 1976 (which omits, among other things, the sex by gunfire scene).

  44. Ken Hanke

    Update: It’s definitely the complete version. It also has a string of playdates through November, so there might be a waiting list for it.

  45. Ken Hanke

    Update again: We booked it — the date is Wed., Nov. 9. Brand new 35mm print of the 139 minute complete version. More information will be forthcoming in a separate announcement. We need the support of a big turnout for this because it was much more expensive than these things usually are.

    This does not, however, take the place of the original idea. We’re still up for suggestions for other titles. This just kind of dropped out of the blue.

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