Rediscovering Cinema’s Purpose via a ‘Full Metal Modine’ Weekend

A few days ago, I did not realize how desperately I needed Matthew Modine in my life. A strange, bland taste caked my palate, and I was craving sustenance that only a retrospective could provide. My heart beats through the flow of cinema’s past. I survive on the films that took root on my soul, which required years of rumination, and they should merit frequent supervision.

Over the course of last weekend, I experienced this particular joy nine times over through the Full Metal Modine marathon at the Alamo Drafthouse Winchester in Virginia. All you have to do is utter the word “marathon,” and I’ll be there. Those three delicious syllables are a promise of an immersive event offering respite from a drab reality. I don’t care what the theme may be. I’m sold, especially when the marathon is not tied to a festival, where you’re rummaging through random curation eager to find a tasty truffle amongst mounds of dirt. Make it a retrospective, and you’ll find no better paradise on this planet for this viewer.

Andy Gyurisin, the Winchester Alamo’s programmer, is a mad scientist on a mission. He wants to rip movies from their solitary afterlife on television and convince contemporary crowds of their theatrical worth. His Film Club meets multiple times a week, and after 700-plus screenings, he’s built an army of acolytes who deserve as much celebration as the films they adore. Their Alamo was the first one franchised outside Texas, and October 19th marked their 10th anniversary. A righteous party was necessary. So, who did Gyurisin call upon to commemorate the occasion?

Yeah, you know it, Matthew Modine.

Full Metal Modine was a nine-film retrospective covering the actor’s career. The obvious choices were present: Full Metal Jacket (duh), Birdy, Memphis Belle, and Vision Quest. No self-respecting Modine-a-thon could exist without their enlistment. Then you had a pair of flicks from master filmmakers that sometimes come up in conversation, but not nearly as enough as they should: Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob and John Schlesinger’s Pacific Heights.

The appearance of Cutthroat Island on the roster might have been the most surprising addition if not for And The Band Played On. The HBO original movie played only once theatrically as part of the Tribeca Film Festival many years ago, but upon hearing of the event, the cable channel struck a new DCP of the film on the sole condition that it play for free to the crowd.

The final block of the event was reserved for a special 35mm Secret Screening attached to several of Modine’s own short films. Spoiler: the film was his directorial debut, If…Dog…Rabbit… (a.k.a. One Last Score), which was shamefully dumped direct-to-video back in the early ’90s.

Of all the actors to center a celebratory retrospective around, why Matthew Modine? The answer is easy: Modine is just a nice dude. A few years ago, Gyurisin heard from the Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn location that Modine had happily swung by for the 30th-anniversary screening of Full Metal Jacket and left quite a positive reception with their crowd. “I went to his people and said I would love to do one or two of his movies. Maybe three,” said the programmer. “And they were like ‘Three? What about more? And I was like, ‘Let’s do nine!'”

Photo by Ginger Perry

Modine arrived a few days before the event and entrenched himself into the community. He traveled to many of the local businesses that sponsor the Alamo’s semi-annual Lost Weekend film festival, snagging an almond milk cappuccino at Hopscotch Coffee and breakfast at Firefly Cafe and Bakery.

He was in it to win it, introducing each of the nine films while also providing post-credit Q&As. I hosted a few of them myself and even went so far as to record them, but Modine was so frank and honest that I was compelled to delete the sessions afterward. These were not slapdash back and forth bullet point answers. Modine wanted a conversation, and he delivered a thoughtful, genuine, and (sometimes unsettlingly) honest discussion.

On Saturday, after turning the tide on Cutthroat Island (Arrrgh! Don’t let all that “box office bomb” narrative cloud your mind, Renny Harlin delivered a rollicking swashbuckler with a badass lead in Geena Davis and a delightful damsel in Modine. Go rewatch this movie!), I cornered the actor upstairs in the projection booth for a chat. What does it feel like to face a crowd of folks that devoted three days of their lives to buffet your movies? “It’s been a tremendous honor,” Modine said. “I’ve been to film festivals all over the world, but I’ve never been to a marathon of movies that I worked on. So it’s an honor, and the audience is so responsive and positive and excited to see the films on the big screen.”

Modine is as much a fan of the Alamo Drafthouse as the regulars who flock to it. “My father was a drive-in theater manager,” he said. “The experience of going to see a movie in a theater with a group of other people, even if you’re not together, matters. It’s a collective experience.”

He is humbled by anyone who would invite his stories into their lives, but more importantly, he is thrilled to see new audiences appear for old movies. “We live in more and more isolated communities within our society,” he explained. “The theater is so important as it gives us the opportunity to come and watch a movie with a group of people in the dark.”

Photo by Ginger Perry

In many cases, Modine was revisiting these films for the first time in decades. He was pleased with the response from the attendees, but nine films were not enough for the performer. “We actually wanted to include a few other ones, but what’s happened in distribution is that some places won’t allow it,” he lamented. “A lot of the Disney and 20th Century Fox movies won’t be available to play at retrospective houses anymore.”

There is a definite loss there, but also a silver lining. “I’m looking at it as an opportunity for independent filmmakers, or the other studios, to bring their films back to movie theaters,” he said. “We’ll be able to discover things that might not have otherwise been available.”

Case in point: If…Dog…Rabbit… Modine put all of himself into his feature directorial debut, and its quiet death on video pains him greatly. Closing out Full Metal Modine with the film felt significant, even magical. Modine had never seen If…Dog…Rabbit… with an audience before and our reaction to it heightened his own. From the second row, I could hear him laughing over our laughs.

He was locked into the family crime story more than anyone, and that’s not to say we were not engaged, because we absolutely were, but this particular screening acted as a cathartic release he was denied as an artist back in 1999. We can only imagine the surreal moment it must have finally been for him to deliver his first child to us. I did not take the privilege lightly.

Modine could have bailed the second the lights went up. He had done his due diligence. He was free. Instead, he hung out for another hour, answering questions, telling stories, and exorcising demons. Full Metal Modine offered more than reconsideration and a stroll down Modine memory lane. The event supplied its viewers a communion with cinema where they could reevaluate their relationship with film, literally excavate the story behind the story from the source, and provide an extra layer of insight.

You cannot possibly understand any new movie the way you can one you’ve chewed on for years. Parasite is a masterpiece, and I look forward to getting to know it better, but I’ve simply lived longer with Pacific Heights. I must always remember that my true joy of movies exists in the long-term romance. Thank you, Matthew Modine. Thank you, Alamo Winchester.

Brad Gullickson: @@MouthDork Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.