It’s an evocative moment in a movie that’s full of scenes reminding us of the unparalleled and transformative power of going to the cinema. Celebrating its 30th birthday this week, Matinee is far from Dante’s most well-known movie thanks to previous hits like The Howling and Gremlins. However, it’s definitely his most personal -- and as our own relationship with going to the movies has changed over the years in the wake of sofa streaming, it’s emerged as a celebration of not only filmmaking itself but the very act of going to the movies and the people who still show up to fill the seats for a big-screen experience.
The story of a monster movie-loving kid who meets a big-time movie director, at the heart of Matinee is a deep love of movie-going. Much like its young hero Simon (Gene Fenton) and his military man father, Dante’s professional golfer dad had a job that led to lots of moving around, with cinema becoming one of the only consistencies in his life. As such, movies devoured his attention; much of the film posters and magazines glimpsed in Simon’s teenage bedroom all came from Dante’s own personal collection, with monsters quickly emerging as a stand-out favourite. When a new feature came to town, it was an event -- and in a pre-streaming age, something to be savoured whilst still available. This romanticism bleeds its way into Matinee’s nostalgic frames, with cinematographer John Hora frequently providing a golden hue to the film’s scenes, matching Dante’s clear love of that time period.
Like a flipped take on Spielberg’s semi-autobiographic new one The Fabelmans, Matinee doesn’t so much chronicle the events that lead someone to become a visionary filmmaker but instead tackles the key coming-of-age moments that create a die-hard movie fan. It’s a film pairing that’s unlikely yet weirdly apt. After all, it was Spielberg who gave Dante his big break, selecting him to helm Gremlins, the first movie released under his Amblin production banner. Three decades later and while Spielberg’s still doing what he does best, Dante’s love for the world of movie making is stronger than ever, both in the films he creates and his extracurricular activities like his cinema celebrating Trailers From Hell podcast. Both individuals continue to showcase the romanticism and importance of the big screen experience — something that couldn’t be more important for the times we currently find ourselves in.
Matinee is currently available to buy on Amazon. Read more of my work by visiting my TikTok or following me on Medium and Twitter.