The Coolidge After Midnight film program runs on a consistent schedule: screenings on Friday and Saturday nights, almost always listed for 11:59 pm. But that doesn’t mean everything stays the same. It used to be that one film would play twice per weekend, once on each night—and the films programmed from one weekend to the next didn’t usually have much to do with one another. In recent years, series programmer Mark Anastasio has altered both practices. Now every single month features a collection of films that are joined together by some unifying thread—a midsized repertory series, then, held only for late-nighters. And for the past year, the program has also experimented with screening two separate films per weekend, meaning no repeat shows. “We’ve doubled the amount of film that we’re playing, and that has doubled our attendance, which I didn’t think would happen,” Anastasio told me during our most recent interview (midnight shows are typically projected via 35mm, so in this case the word “film” refers to both the movies and the format). “It allows us to play those deeper cuts that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to play … now I can play the hits, and then play a follow-up that I might never have programmed otherwise.”
In July of last year, Anastasio gave the two-films-per-weekend model a tryout with the “Summer of Psychosis,” a series dedicated to films depicting highly aestheticized breakdowns—playing both “hits” (Taxi Driver , The Shining ) and “deeper cuts” (Don’t Look Now , Fear ). Over the 12 months that followed, the midnight program has given focus to other highly specific subgenres: One month co-programmed with the Boston Yeti was dedicated to rip-offs of Jaws  (Alligator , Razorback ), another collected films from a more disreputable era of comic-book cinema (Swamp Thing , Red Sonja ), and this past spring brought pairs of films by the same director (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me  and Lost Highway  from David Lynch on one weekend, Near Dark  and Point Break  from Kathryn Bigelow on another).
As in that last example, the choice to have two films per weekend has allowed Anastasio to book faux double features, with closely linked films separated by 24 hours. “They would make for great double features,” Anastasio said about the films he pairs together for specific weekends. “This is the only way I can have a double-feature program, because beginning at midnight it’s impossible to run another film right after.” These programming changes were even given a low-key celebration over the past month, as the midnight series reprised the idea that started it all off: July 2017 brought a second “Summer of Psychosis,” once again playing both the repertory canon—The Silence of the Lambs  and Manhunter  was one pairing—and films that don’t show up as often—Shock Corridor  and Psycho II  were another one of the faux double features.
Over the course of the next month, the Coolidge’s midnight series will exhibit one of its most ambitious programs yet: a collection of studio-produced genre films that all involve terrorism, or just violence committed in public spaces, as a plot device. Anastasio tells me that his interest in the concept was provoked by our current administration’s many proposed travel bans and by the way those calls intersected with stereotypes seen in movies and other media. He says that got him thinking about the stereotypes that were associated with political violence in earlier eras of American cinema—thinking about the way, for instance, that 20th-century movie terrorists were often written as little more than capitalists in disguise. All of the films in the program were made long prior to 9/11—so that particular cliche is what the series, for the most part, seems to be documenting. One weekend will feature some of our most tenured action-movie standards in films where they foil hostage-based plots, with Sylvester Stallone in Nighthawks  (screens on night of Aug 11), and Jean-Claude Van Damme in Sudden Death  (Aug 12). On the next Friday and Saturday, top-shelf examples of ’90s stunt-based filmmaking will take the screen, with Jan de Bont’s still-exhilarating Speed  (Aug 18) followed by action-sequence maestro John Woo’s Broken Arrow  (Aug 19). And during the last weekend of August, the midnight series will play two films related to Die Hard , which itself may be the prototypical example of the “grizzled badass foils a financially minded terrorist plot” subgenre: First it will be one of the movies that ripped it off, in Passenger 57  (Aug 25), then it’ll be one of the film’s official sequels—and the only worthwhile entry beyond the original—in John McTiernan’s Die Hard with a Vengeance  (Aug 26).
Of all the pairings, the standout is this coming weekend’s, which also may be the most specific: The Coolidge will screen two films from the mid-’70s wherein Robert Shaw plays a weary professional killer at the center of a major plot threatening an American institution. In John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday  (Aug 5, 11:30 pm), he plays Major David Kabakov, an Israeli agent working to stop a plot to bomb the Super Bowl via the Goodyear blimp—an attempt being funded by the Black September group, to be carried out by one of its agents (Marthe Keller) and by the pilot she’s chosen as her mark (Bruce Dern). It’s the one film in the series that takes real events as its influence—the starting point being the massacre at the Munich Olympics, carried out by the group of the same name—but that’s not to say it’s an explicitly political movie. Black Sunday is most interested in making tension out of the process of pulling off a job—it spends two hours dramatizing the planning, then makes a gloriously oversized set piece out of the execution. In that, it almost plays like a heist movie. Which befits the film it’s partnered with.
That would be The Taking of Pelham One Two Three  (Aug 4), a film which takes an abiding interest in bureaucratic process and the way that it’s deployed against unforeseen emergencies.The American institution being threatened in this case is the New York City subway, with Shaw as one of four men who’ve hijacked a train car for ransom and Walter Matthau as the lieutenant on the transit authority who’s stuck negotiating with him. Pelham displays an almost profound interest in the way that a workplace actually works: There’s essentially no background or exposition offered regarding any of the characters, so all we have is the information we can glean from the way they do their jobs. The structure of the film is built around the various lines of communication used to manage the ransom demand, with Matthau as a living control room—fielding radio calls from the cops, the hijackers, ambulances, coworkers, and anyone else in listening distance, all on separate frequencies—with the increasing frustration that comes along with all that being expressed, quite beautifully, by the performances and the editing and the sound design. Pelham is a standout of its own—in this program, in this genre, and, hell, in the whole of American movies.
THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. FRI 8.4. MIDNIGHT. COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE, 290 HARVARD STREET, BROOKLINE. $12.25. RATED R. 35MM.
BLACK SUNDAY. SAT 8.5. 11:30PM. $12.25. RATED R. 35MM.