As the third of July approaches, I’m reminded of one of the more satisfying double features I’ve attended, Doc Films’ pairing of John Carpenter’s They Live and Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams on Independence Day Eve 2010. The inclusion of Nice Dreams—and on a newly struck 35-millimeter print, no less—can be credited to my friend and exploitation-film historian Joe Rubin, who was on Doc’s programming board at the time. Joe isn’t much of a Cheech and Chong fan—rather, he booked the film out of allegiance to celluloid and, more specifically, a loose-knit group of programmers he met through the Internet. One of these programmers, another celluloid buff, had discovered an ally at the Columbia Pictures archive who’d arrange for the studio to strike a new print of any old film in the catalogue if ten or more repertory programmers requested to show it within a certain window of time. (I don’t know if he still works there or, if he is, whether he’s able to continue this practice.) Joe’s colleague wanted to screen a new print of Nice Dreams as the centerpiece of a Cheech and Chong retrospective he was putting together, so Joe and eight other programmers agreed to request the film to help him realize his plan. Nice dreams indeed!
One rarely discusses Cheech and Chong movies in terms of visual art, but Charles Correll’s cinematography on Nice Dreams really did look gorgeous in that new print. The film had a warm, sunbaked look that I never recognized before, since I’d only seen it on VHS. The perfectly legible grain and the long-take dialogue scenes, whose consistent lack of camera movement suggest they were created under a stoned stupor, seemed practically Warholian. The film’s slack pacing was like honey dripping off a spoon.
After the invigorating anti-Reagan outrage of They Live, the lackadaisical dropout humor of Nice Dreams made for a pleasant unwinding—if not a fine way to inaugurate the holiday. What could be more American than counterculture? After all, countless individuals immigrated to this country to escape the dominant culture of wherever they were from. “You can be yourself in America. That is America,” underground filmmaker Usama Alshaibi said to me in April. When he did, I realized those words could summarize any number of classics about all-American eccentrics and losers: You Can’t Take It With You, Two-Lane Blacktop, The Bad News Bears, and Handle With Care are four titles that come to mind. Nice Dreams doesn’t belong on that list, but I wouldn’t mind if Doc Films (or some other enterprising rep programmers) were to screen it after any of those.