Release: 12th September 2016
Format: BR / DVD
A small-time film promoter releases a kitschy horror film during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Matinee might not be Joe Dante’s most famous work (or even his second or third for that matter), but it still remains a winning underdog in the man’s back catalogue of career highlights. A warm-hearted nod to Kennedy-era America, where cinema was still at a point of finding itself, and audiences sought catharsis from perpetual threats of war with monsters in the shimmery flicker of a darkened theatre. In fact, the specifics of its period setting mean that even now it’s a film – apparently as with Naomi Watts; who makes a brief appearance here – unscathed by time.
From John Goodman’s hybrid mix of Alfred Hitchcock, William Castle and Roger Corman to Dante’s own pre-occupation with loving turns at B-movie cinema, Matinee is rife with apple pie Americana that feels not only like it is set in the early 60’s but that it was genuinely filmed then too. Its politics may be a little retrospective (when challenged about ‘Mant’s’ graphic content, one character declares, “We will watch it our self and decide;” this in a Southern state at a time when people still thought Otto Preminger was a smut peddler), but on the whole, Matinee has a chronological authenticity. In the vein of coming-of-age tales such as Stand By Me and, to a lesser extent, My Girl, Matinee is pushed along by a bubble gum soundtrack, with the heat of summer and a child’s attachment to something big and strange and unusual. Matinee is Dante’s To Kill A Mockingbird; except Atticus is a young girl called Sandra and Boo Radley is the Cuban missile crisis.
But it is here the film stops being so fun and clever. The plot becomes too bogged down in its parallels, and the introduction of a subplot involving Stan (Omri Katz) and Sherry (Kellie Martin) serves only to provide a needy and sluggish sounding board for just how progressive Sandra is. Dante seems insistent on showing us that Mant! is a substitute for the subversive culture of government fear mongering, and that the paranoia was inescapable. It is far from subtle; even an insect could join the dots. But ultimately that is what Matinee comes down to. It isn’t about cinema’s golden age or the Cold War, or even a commemoration of B-movies in general. It’s a film about finding your voice, about learning to stand up for yourself and knowing which hand to hold in troubled times. Matinee is a film about civil liberty and freedom of speech. It isn’t a condemnation of outdated principles or even a celebration of emancipation. It is a liberalist parable about the beauty of expression and the freedom to see truth through whatever means necessary. Even if that truth is brought about by a half man, half ant grabbing ass.
Film Grade: B-
As much care has gone into the special features as has gone into the Blu-Ray transfer. Some Behind the Scenes from Dante’s own collection is a nice touch, as is the look at pratical effects.
The standard Reversable Cover that Arrow Films are so fond of is a nice touch. But the crown jewel is a feature length version of Mant!. Well worth the price of admission.
Special Features Grade: B-
An ode to a bygone era, Matinee strikes all the right chords. Some might argue that it isn’t ‘classic’ Dante, but it is definitely classic cinema.