Ah, Saturday. Today’s documentary is a bit incestuous for a film review site, as it is a film about films. Or a certain breed of films, to be more precise.
Cults aren’t born, they’re made.
The story behind the phenomenon of the Midnight Movie, told by those who made it happen.
There are six films that can be considered landmarks when it comes to the history of midnight movies and this doc looks at all of them, in interviews with the filmmakers themselves as well as the distributors and cinema managers who were just as important in bringing these flicks to the audiences. As a film nut and wannabe amateur historian, this is the kind of thing that I just eat up.
The basic concept existed since the mid-fifties on television, but the first of what we would now know as a cult midnight movie was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s epic El Topo, shown at New York’s legendary Elgin Theatre from December 1970. Programmed by then-manager Ben Barenholtz (who was the executive producer on this film and arguably gets the most screentime too) El Topo was shown seven nights a week for six months – yes, at midnight – until the print was bought by Allen Klein on John Lennon’s say-so and given a more typical release, where it was not as successful. That’s the general thesis of this picture in a nutshell. The midnight movies thrive in that setting, but a general release schedule just doesn’t work. These films’ successes are made by their ongoing showings and the repeat customers who make them events.
The other films featured are Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, The Harder They Come by Perry Henzell (Jamaica’s first feature film, and the flashpoint for reggae in the US), The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and finally David Lynch’s Eraserhead. The filmmakers for all six movies are featured extensively, particularly Waters and Lynch. Even after all these years, they all still have an exuberance about them that is a pleasure to watch. As well as creating Pink Flamingos, Waters was actually a regular part of the Midnight scene in NYC, travelling up from his hometown of Baltimore.
The film was written and directed by Stuart Samuels as an extension of his book on the subject, which covers similar ground to the 1983 book of the same name by renowned critics J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum. They both get to continue their story here as well, and a hell of a story it is: a capsule history of one of the most exciting periods in low-budget independent filmmaking. As for the presentation, it is a series of talking head interviews mixed with excerpts from the films themselves and contemporary clips and newsreels. The format resembles one of those I Love The Whatever docs that crop up late at night on Channel 4 when there’s nothing else to show. Everyone who appears in this is relevant though; is a valid part of the story itself, as opposed to some mook off the street who wasn’t even there. Can you tell I’m not a fan of those Channel 4 docs?
I found this little gem on Lovefilm instant, but if you have an interest in the subject (and if you’re reading this, that is likely) I recommend you seek it out.