The Winter/Spring 2006 season of the Detroit Film Theatre included a new programming twist: Sunday double features. Visitors could attend an afternoon showing of one film, and then hang around for another movie in the evening.
These double features started with the main weekend film, which would show on Friday and Saturday nights and then finish up on Sunday afternoons. On Sunday evenings, DFT visitors would then be treated to a film in a special series (Black History Month and Library of Congress silent films), or a film that in previous seasons would have been shown on just Monday nights.
These Sunday doubleheaders gave DFT patrons a deeper experience of all that the theater has to offer.
On Sunday, February 19, you could have seen the DFT’s opening film of the season, the French language Cache. After a cozy dinner in the Crystal Gallery Cafe (which helped you avoid Michigan winter weather), you would have watched Sisters in Law, a documentary from Cameroon that was part of three Black History Month films shown at the DFT in February.
My favorite pair of films appeared on March 26: the restored 1960 French film noir thriller Classe Tous Risques and the 1928 silent film The Wedding March.
Double features have been an important part of the programming of all of the Detroit Movie Palaces.
At the Michigan, you can enjoy two different films on most days of the year. The Redford hosts special evenings that include two films devoted to stars like Elvis Presley or special subjects like science fiction flicks or beach party movies of the early 1960s.
And with a little driving and timing, you can construct double features from two of these theaters. Seeing two movies back-to-back lets you enjoy both the afterglow of the film that you just saw and excited anticipation for the second movie.
When the Michigan Theater opened its Screening Room in 1999, it greatly expanded the programming possibilities of the theater. Films were not just limited to the main theater, which often is used for nonfilm events like music concerts.
The Screening Room allows Michigan visitors to enjoy two world class art films in two completely different settings. You can start an evening in the main theater, where you bask in the spacious splendor of this nearly 80-year-old auditorium.
After that first show ends, you walk through the Ford Gallery of Ann Arbor Founders to the Screening Room, where the focused intensity of this smaller viewing area might bring more intimacy to the film.
In downtown Ann Arbor, you can also build a double bill out of a film at the Michigan and one at the State Theatre, which is programmed by the Michigan.
The State has its own special coziness and nostalgia, with its winding staircase, dimly lit upper lobby, red vinyl seats, and two creatively designed theaters (which split up the balcony of the original theater).
As you walk between the Michigan and State theaters, you can soak in the vibrant sidewalk scene of Ann Arbor, especially at the lively intersection of Liberty and State Streets.
Double features have been a significant part of the history of the Michigan. In the early 1930s, Monday night was Guest Night, when a second movie was shown after the last showing of the main film.
On March 9, 1931, you would have seen Illicit, with Barbara Stanwyck, followed by George Arliss’s Oscar-winning performance in Disraeli.
When the Michigan was resurrected as a specialty film theater in the early 1980s, double bills were sponsored by local film groups like the Classic Film Theatre, Ann Arbor Film Co-op, and Cinema Guild.
At the Redford, a double bill on May 16, 1997 led this writer to start attending the theater regularly. That night, I enjoyed The Meanest Man in the World, starring Jack Benny; and Thanks a Million, with Dick Powell.
It just amazed me that two old, little-known movies would appear together on a big screen anywhere. The creativity of that programming greatly impressed me. After that night, I was hooked on the Redford.
Double bills at the Redford are a way to indulge a special interest. In October 1998, Laurel and Hardy fans got a double dose of their favorite comic actors in Bonnie Scotland and Swiss Miss.
The Redford’s Halloween treat for 1999 were two classic Universal horror films from 1931: Dracula and Frankenstein. And August 2000 brought Elvis Presley in both black and white (Jailhouse Rock) and color (Viva Las Vegas).
Double features at the Redford give their patrons the chance to enjoy two uncut movies and a music-filled intermission. And these special nights often include added attractions between films, like the stage appearance of a Klingon between two Star Trek movies in August 2001.
Two Theaters in One Day
It’s not hard to enjoy movies at two of these theaters on the same day.
You might catch a Saturday matinee at the Redford, and then swing down to the Detroit Film Theatre for an evening show. If you get to the DFT before the doors open at 6 p.m., you can always walk over the main branch of the Detroit Public Library, which stays open until 6 p.m. on Saturdays.
The Michigan has afternoon showings on the weekends, so you could see a Saturday film there, enjoy a dinner in Ann Arbor, and still have time to be at the Redford for the 7:30 organ concert or the 8 p.m. movie.
It’s a long drive between the Michigan Theater and the DFT, but I-94 or M-14/I-96 simplifies the drive simple.
Copyright 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.