Why see one film when you can double-bill?

David Cox

Programmer, Film4 Summer Screen

07 Aug 2019

Ever since the very first edition of Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House in 2005, one thing that’s remained consistent is that the fabled double-bill nights have been amongst the highlights of each year. Starting at our regular curtain-raising time of 21.00, these carefully curated pairings stretch beyond midnight and into the early hours. There’s something truly magical about laying down outside in the dark of night, safe in the Somerset House courtyard, and watching the likes of Poltergeist, Badlands, RoboCop or A Nightmare on Elm Street under the stars with a large of audience of fellow insomniac film fans. It’s at times like these that movies really come alive and become part of all our dreams.

We’ve had some truly memorable moments at Summer Screen on these late Saturday nights. Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright joined us to introduce our first-ever double-bill of Shaun of the Dead and a preview of George A. Romero’s zombie comeback Land of the Dead; John Hurt regaled audiences with tales of on-set mayhem before a screening of Alien; director Joe Cornish hosted a full on-stage reunion of his Attack the Block cast; and the atmosphere was lively (to say the least!) during the likes of Road House (with Patrick Swayze) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. We’ve even experimented with triple-bills, when the wonderful monster-movie Tremors finishing just in time for breakfast.

This is the fifteenth year of Film4 Summer Screen and, because we’d like to think that we know what we’re doing by now, the double-bills for 2019 look set to be the most intense, the most provocative and the most wildly entertaining that we’ve curated so far. We’ve got established directors working at the top of their game, newcomers making bold statements with their first and second films, charismatic cult stars and exactly the sort of way-out-there narratives and action that makes watching films with a big crowd such an essential experience.

Our first double-bill promises to be one of our most memorable yet, and much of the reason for that can be summed up in just two words: Nicolas Cage. We’re turning over the Saturday night of 10 August to the unpredictable, unhinged, deeply romantic, flamboyantly physical, supremely talented Oscar-winning legend and letting him off the leash in two dark and thrilling masterpieces from different stages of his career - from 1989, director David Lynch’s Wild at Heart and, from just last year, the new cult movie classic Mandy.

Both of these films are not only visually stunning but aurally overwhelming as well, making for two very full-on film experiences. Lynch takes us on a twisted road-trip through a violent and sexy America with lovers Cage and Laura Dern, and the sights he shows us along the way are hard to shake. But they’re more than matched by what director Panos Cosmatos conjures up in only his second film Mandy – a black-magic revenge horror yarn populated by cult leaders, bad bikers and demons that stand in the way of Cage finding his way back to the woman he loves. Music and sound design are of equal importance to the visionary image - these are loud films, full of unexpected songs and sonic assaults. Combine that together with the unique Somerset House atmosphere and you have a sensory experience that goes beyond cinema.  

That’s very much as it should be, because Nicolas Cage has a reputation of being almost bigger than the movies. Even in early romantic roles in comedies such as Peggy Sue Got Married and Moonstruck he was given to performing outsize gestures that made the heart of each film skip a beat. Those larger-than-life moments have made him an acting icon – a bit laughable at times (The Wicker Man remake?), but more often than not a fully sincere leading man committed to expressing the souls of his characters in almost symbolic ways. Ultimately, Cage needs visionary filmmakers and artistically adventurous films to give him room to really stretch and be completely fearless on-screen. And that’s exactly what we’ll experience with our double-bill of Wild at Heart and Mandy. Peak Cage. A rare and wonderful thing. Don’t miss a second of it.

The following week, on Saturday 17 August, we bring together two masters of horror and suspense for a night of paranoia, creeping dread and potent social satire – Jordan Peele’s Get Out and John Carpenter’s They Live.

Although quite different in tone and temperament, these are films that speak to one another across the almost 30-year gap that separates them. Both blend horror and science-fiction to explore issues of mind and body control, with ordinary folk becoming the victims of capitalist and racist puppetmasters. It’s relatively rare for such politically provocative films to also be so relentlessly entertaining, but that’s certainly the case with both parts of this double-bill. The initial themes of each film are immediately captivating, but the wild places they take us after that have to be experienced firsthand for maximum effect. I can well imagine a full courtyard screaming and laughing together in surprise as these amazing tales unfold to reveal their secrets.  

There’s no doubt that our first film is the more acclaimed and, to some degree, sophisticated of the pair. Peele’s debut as a director was nominated for four Oscars and won one – the award for Best Original Screenplay. It’s a deserved accolade due to the ingenuity of the plot and the sneaky way that the conspiracy creeps up on both the viewer and the main character (played by Daniel Kaluuya); even if you’ve seen the film before its clever construction and misdirection through use of humour means that it will still provide plenty of pleasurable shocks. And on top of that you can enjoy watching everyone else around you discovering exactly what The Sunken Place is for the first time.

By contrast, They Live may feel like a blunt instrument – a sledgehammer sci-fi satire that’s smarter than it looks while still being a perfect midnight-movie, thanks to the delirious action and horror that veteran crowdpleaser Carpenter mixes with the politics. There’s more than a whiff of Twilight Zone-style storytelling to this tale of ruthless aliens maintaining their position of power and keeping the populace in its place through the use of subliminal messages only visible to those wearing special sunglasses. The result is some of the most potent, unsettling and immediately recognisable imagery in cult-movie history, as messages such as OBEY and CONSUME are revealed in all their stark and sinister glory to both the characters and the audience alike. Furthering the film’s cult status is the presence in the lead role of wrestling star ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, whose limited acting skills are more than made up for by the bare-knuckle brawling prowess that’s showcased in the film’s most memorable scene – an almost six-minute alleyway punch-up between the two leads (six-minutes being much longer than one thinks in screentime!). Like much of the film itself, this extended action setpiece may seem ridiculous but it belies Carpenter’s serious intent – to open people’s eyes to a corrupt capitalist order that breeds complacency and controls us. The film was made as a response to the Reaganite 1980s, but clear it’s still relevant today and no doubt always will be.

So, two Saturday nights full of amazing sights, sounds, stories, ideas, performances and music bringing together the most striking and startling examples of cult cinema from the late 1980s to the present-day, all outdoors under the midnight sky with a huge crowd of fellow film fans. If you’re looking to create movie memories, then join us for David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, John Carpenter’s masterpiece They Live on 17 August and a whole lot of Nicolas Cage on 10 August.