Scene To Be Seen: MATINEE (1993)
Some movies have one great scene lost in a bunch of not so great ones. Then there are some movies where it is a challenge to pick one over the others. Matinee falls in the latter category. It was directed by Joe Dante (Yes! I made three references to Gremlins all in one week!) who specializes in unveiling very dark things under the guise of campy B-movies. This is perhaps the most idealistic autobiography that Dante has ever realized.
Set in Small Town America – 1962, the film affectionately follows Lawrence Woolsey played by the versatile John Goodman as a schlock independent filmmaker who showcases gimmicky monster movies with great bravado. He is a low-rent version of William Castle, the mastermind behind Vincent Price vehicles like House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Tingler (1959), a movie that shocked theater patrons with electric buzzers in their seats courtesy of Castle.
Woolsey’s next science fiction film MANT!, a loving homage by Dante to Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (1958), uses the Tingler Effect and other tricks to offer his audience a unique experience. Releasing an exploitation film about atomic radiation mutations when Americans feared the dropping of the bomb at the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis is to Wollsey’s mind (“What better time to release a horror movie!”) Wollsey is not a cynical man; he genuinely loves making movies and entertaining people, within the confines of his capacity as a showman (the term ‘hack’ should be reserved for Michael Bay).
The Trailer for “MANT!”
Profiled like Alfred Hitchcock, the cigar-chomping Woolsey presents his preview for his cheerful creature feature titled Mant with the same dry humor and zest that The Master of Suspense did with his trailers. The way Woolsey presents the magazines that prove his cheap horror film is based on scientific fact is priceless. Watching this scene, compared to the bottom-line advertising tactics of films over the past few decades, one realizes filmmakers like Woolsey, whose gusto approach to making movies fun, are a dying breed. The only recent example I can think of is Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse (2007). Dante never condescends but celebrates Woolsey the same way Tim Burton did for Ed Wood (1994) — Ed D. Wood Jr., director of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Necromania: A Tale of Weird Love (1971), was recognized as the “worst filmmaker of all time!”, which does deserve some reverence.
“You see, people come into your cave with a two hundred year old carpet.”
When I wrote that some films with great scenes are hard to choose from, case in point, here’s another one. Woolsey is accompanied by Gene, a young man not a mile away from myself, and learns some of the showman’s philosophy of movie-making. I still remember by heart the story told by Woolsey about the caveman who paints a Woolly Mammoth on his wall and figures: “Wait a minute! People are coming to see this thing! Let’s make it good!” A prime motive for how going for the jugular is more effective than subtlety (sometimes). The scene continues as Woolsey projects the point of view of any enthusiastic filmgoer’s journey through the matinee lobby and into the movie theater. Sometimes when I open the doors of a movie house with great anticipation I am inclined to call out, “Here I am! What have you got for me!”
For me, Woolsey represents a life path that is in considerable reach: an enthusiastic moviemaker touring far and wide in the pursuit of entertaining people. Another bonus is being accompanied by a sexy dry-wit like the one Woolsey takes along for the ride played by Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull, the REAL Best Picture Winner of 1980). Other idealistic life paths include being a productive yet reclusive painter living in a New York apartment I could barely afford, or becoming a womanizing journalist who drinks too many highballs. This charming comedy about young love and B-Movies is highly recommended. Though I have been deprived of the experience for now, I believe, like Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the classic Matinee would benefit viewing on the big screen. Or, at the very least, a deluxe Criterion release.
© 2008 – 2013, CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Chris Beaubien. All rights reserved.