“9am, Dr No. Break for a pee… 11.05am, From Russia With Love. 1.15pm, Goldfinger. strawberry Nesquik, fishcakes. 3.35pm, Thunderball. Dump, question mark. See how I feel after the fishcakes.”
We’re all accidental Partridges now. We ran out of things to say to the rest of our COVID bubble back in May, so as the country stumbles confusedly into a second lockdown (and don’t think there isn’t a “Tier three” bullet with your name on it, Norfolk) the movie marathon is going to be our corona-saviour, the only way most of us will make it through Christmas without a homicide conviction. Netflix know this, hence the arrival of four of the five Bourne films on the platform this month, for people with the ability to watch eight hours of confusingly cut high-speed chase scenes without their eyeballs imploding. But you’ll no doubt have your own schedules planned. There’s nothing that makes a lockdown fly by faster than having an entire weekend of your diary marked with venerable cinematic names like De Niro, Hitchcock, Krueger.
As you set about stockpiling popcorn, plotting your schedule and renouncing trousers for the duration, be proud that you’re keeping an age-old entertainment tradition alive. The first double bills date back to 19th Century opera, when shorter one or two-act pieces would be performed together. In the wake of the Great Depression in the US, two-for-one double bills of comedy and creature features became big business in the 1930s and continued to play out in cinemas for decades, an era that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez paid tribute to with their Grindhouse double bill of Planet Terror and Death Proof, complete with fake trailers between the two films.
After the B-movie fell from favour in the 1960s, the formative movie marathon concept shifted to the small screen, with BBC Two running double bills of old Universal and Hammer horror films: Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein flicks; Bela Lugosi’s many befanged outings; wolfmen meeting mummys in cursed wax museums all over the shop. Meanwhile, the rise in home video allowed the viewer to feast on the increasing number of franchise series at their extended leisure, with just one major pitfall which risked seeing you ostracised from your cinephile social group forever. Police Academy: Mission To Moscow.
The movie marathon has crept back into cinemas too; you could catch up on multiple movies in the Toy Story, Star Wars or Twilight franchises ahead of new releases. And with the advent of streaming, the practice became central to the model. Netflix will automatically play the next show or film in a series to keep you engaged, like some malevolent feeder of audio-visual gluttony, giving rise to the modern screen-age ‘binge’. A binge is no marathon though: the majority of people define ‘binge-watching’ as consisting of two-to-six episodes of a show in one sitting. Try telling that to FXX channel, who ran all 552 episodes of The Simpsons back to back in 2014; or VH1 Classic which, in 2015, screened Saturday Night Lives continuously for nineteen days straight. You got lost in Bly Manor ‘til dawn, huh? Amateur.
The optimum length for a movie marathon, then, seems to be one weekend; long enough to feel you’ve immersed yourself in a home-grown cultural event but not so long that your pedal-top bin starts bleeping coded messages from the Rebel Alliance at you. Remember, this isn’t a sprint – particularly if you’re bingeing Kubrick – so try to pace yourself to four or five films a day maximum. There’s nothing that will break your spirit, or see you turfed unceremoniously out of your COVID bunker, quicker than forcing your hungover housemates to get up at 7am for a Starmix breakfast and Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.
The question then is, what to binge? You can rarely go wrong with a marathon on a renowned director with a defined aesthetic (Scorsese, del Toro, Gilliam; I’m planning a deep dive into Almodóvar) or a favoured actor, but the real joy of the movie marathon is in being taken on a winding long-haul narrative journey and rediscovering corners of franchise stories you missed along the way. At the same time, to avoid the whole thing descending into tedium and resentment by the middle of day two, you need to avoid ploughing through franchises that started brilliantly but swiftly became formulaic cash-in trash. Case in point: Saw. A series full of brilliant twists and throwbacks that cry out for studying in sequence, but utterly unwatchable after the third one, unless you’re in training to withstand the mental trauma of abattoir work.
Ideally, you’re after a franchise that started with a classic or two, had a few duffers in the middle for drinking game lols and ended with a stylish, smart reboot. Rocky, say, Planet Of The Apes, the Alien franchise, or anything with The Joker in it. Or, dare we say it, selected Bond. After all, in the streaming age, it’s far less likely that someone has taped over The Spy Who Loved Me with America’s Strongest Man. Glang-alang-alanga-langa-langa-langa-lang…