When you arrive at the theatre, the doors are yet to be unlocked. There’s a huddled mass collected around the fringe of the threshold, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a hungover college student, who will unlock the door with a hardy yawn. The crowd shuffles in, all ages, clutching their phones, email apps open to the confirmation page with the code that holds the key to a ticket. Some are chatting with others, some are lingering outside taking the last drags of cigarettes or the final sips of contraband coffee in the shadows of the theatre. In a matter of 5 minutes that drag on like eons, the college student unlocks the cage that guards the reception desk, opens the till, and gestures, with his eyes half closed, for the hungry film fans to form a queue. After a lifetime of anticipation, you’re finally in your seat, and this is when the buzz really starts. The screen remains blank, the seats begin to fill, the phones are set to silent. Then…the lights go dim, and anything can happen.
This is the beautiful dance of the Mystery Matinee at the Irish Film Institute (IFI) in Temple Bar, Dublin. On the last Sunday of every month, the IFI offers a cheeky 6,50 ticket for an early afternoon film. The catch? It could be literally anything. Sometimes it’s been plucked from the archive of early silent cinema, other times it’s a cult classic, and occasionally even a preview of a film yet to be released. The films range in quality from absolute drivel, shite, scum, crap, garbage, trash, to major undiscovered masterpieces, triumphs, and fallen angels.
Ask any regular mystery punter, and they’ll tell you with divine confidence that the most entertaining moments of the Mystery Matinee are the first 30 seconds to 1 minute, where you desperately try to place the film. We’re all film nerds in this theatre, and we’re all competitive. It’s a game to us. Who can figure out what we’re watching first. The clues start to come into focus from the word go: the screen adjusts to a particular shape. When the curtains are drawn in, close to center, we’re most likely in for some really early cinema, filmed in the square 1:1 aspect ratio. Then, next come the credits and/or the sound. Can you hear the grain? We’re deep in the past again. Is there a lot of definition and clarity? Are there modern title cards, slick typography, and recognizable studios and distributors? Maybe we’re in for something new. There’s always the occasional fake-out, but if you let two minutes go by and you still don’t know where you’re at, then you can piss off please, you’re among wolves now, and you are not a wolf.
My first experience with the Mystery Matinee was in October, 2017. I had a strong feeling that we were in for a little horror foray, given the close proximity to Halloween, but I couldn’t have possibly expected what came next. Screen draws in close, I’m feeling classic 1930s coming on, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, maybe, but then: “George Melford Presents: Drácula” Hmmm, strange accent over the “A” there. Wonder if this came out around the same time as Tod Browning’s classic 1931 “Dracula”, but wait…they’re speaking Spanish. The entire thing is in Spanish. It’s certainly Tod Browning’s Dracula, but it’s not, the actors are different, the sets are cheaper, and the entire thing is in Spanish -how odd!
This is when the second most fun part comes in. Doing your research after the film. Turned out that in 1931, Universal Studios was banking so hard on their successful monster film series, that they commissioned an entire Spanish-Language recreation of Tod Browning’s Dracula at the exact same time that they filmed the primary one. They got Spanish actors, English and Spanish co-directors, and did the whole thing simultaneously to appeal to an entirely niche market. How strange! The film? Ah, trash, but who cares, I got my 6,50 worth, there’s a reason it’s a cheap ticket.
In times of great uncertainty, we often find ourselves clinging to things that we can trust and rely on: the routine. With the Mystery Matinee, you get an outlet that captures the beauty of both of these worlds. The one thing of which you can be certain: nothing is certain.
Bobby: “Having lived in New Jersey, Georgia, California, and Ireland, all in the past decade, I’m not really sure where I’m from anymore. What I do know is that I love music more than anything, movies after that, and I pretend to read more books than I actually do. Currently working in Sales for the tech company: Asana. You can usually find me watching trashy 90’s Japanese Gangster Films, listening to Thee Oh Sees on repeat, or drinking a pint around Dublin.”