Midnight Movies: Their Past, Present, and Future

Midnight movies were among the most vital portion of the evolution of the modern film.  They allowed filmmakers to experiment in their craft.  They allowed audiences to be challenged and have a wonderful collective experience that is missing from today’s multiplex.  They inspired countless imitators, and allowed the best trash to be transformed into the best art.  Some artists have had their careers built around a single midnight film.  It helped promote the up and coming home video market.  It also predate debates on internet forums over the subtle nuances of a film that can only be found after multiple viewings and continuity errors present.  Has any other movement, created not by filmmakers but strictly by cinephiles, had as far reaching an impact?

Recently, I acquired a copy of J. Hoberman’s book on the subject.  It was a fascinating read that demonstrated just how important the movement was.  It was, more or less, the first true indie film festival of the world.  Andy Warhol championed it and made “superstars” out of his various employees at the Factory. John Waters and David Lynch courted the underground before they were picked up by Hollywood.  And let us not forget how The Rocky Horror Picture Show revived a dead genre (the musical) and kept it important until at least the new millennium when they started making more. More importantly, it predicted the rise in the home video market and how there was a real demand for people to watch the same film over and over.  Yes, thank those cramped theaters in New York the next time you buy a DVD. At the same time, it preserved the need for theaters by having the audience be as much a part of the experience as the film itself.  Part of the joy I feel from going to a theater comes from the audience reactions.  Sometimes it can be quite annoying.  But sometimes it shows exactly how important that interaction is. Films are, of course, art for the masses.  Each person takes away something different.  But at least films, when done correctly, make us all feel something.  Midnight movies were the only way to get the audiences to truly express their emotions and desires about the film.

Would any of this have occurred anyway? I doubt it.  And that is what makes the movement so special.  This is actually the one thing of the bygone era I would like to see revived in all of its glory.  Not any specific film movement (again, if done correctly, they cease being a movement as everyone rushes to emulate them).  Just give me a theater and a showing of El Topo and I will be one happy person.

So, in conclusion, I would like to list the films that I feel could become midnight movies in today’s modern world

Repo! The Genetic Opera-I think I am cheating a little.  This film has already become the closest to a midnight that could possibly happen in today’s modern world.  The only thing holding it back is the fact that it’s a studio film.  But considering the studio practically locked it up in a vault…well, we can’t fault it to much.  I have said as much as I can possibly say in my earlier review, so let’s just leave it at that.

The Room-This actually has been playing at one theater in California for five years now, with people throwing things at the screen and even celebrity parties.  What exactly is it?   From what I can gather, it is a sort of spoof/homage to Tennessee Williams and just how bizarre his premises can possibly be. And the dialogue was written by aliens in a distant galaxy who learned human speech on soap operas.  The initial reaction is enough to include it on the last, but I will go into a more in depth review later.

Southland Tales-Richard Kelly’s second film, which makes even less sense than the ridiculously over hyped Donnie Darko.  This is, once again, not a film I have seen.  I have read the excellent recap at The Agony Booth which tells all I need to know.  Apparently it was supposed to be a satire of the Bush administration but threw as many elements about the modern world and the book of Revelations as possible.  It was critically maligned, but that has never stopped Midnight movies before.  I think this has potential, and few would declare it secretly brilliant due to the sheer depth of the material.  Again, I cannot proclaim it quite there yet, but let’s wait a few years and see.

El Mariachi-Yes, I do believe that this sort of film can be a midnight movie.  It is low budget, indie, and frankly has enough elements to keep the typical crowd intellectually stimulated while bringing in new comers for the promise of blood.  It frankly reminds me of The Warriors, with it’s focus on action yet still having a connection to Greek mythology.  Besides, foreign films used to be la creme de la creme of the midnight oeuvre, and I see no reason why this wouldn’t continue.  Besides, it may be the very film that someone, watching it at 1:00 in the morning, would aspire to create once they have the resources available to them.

Inland Empire-David Lynch.  His latest film.  The guy who got started on the midnight circuit creates another impenetrable film that will be endlessly analyzed by arm chair critics (like me).  I do enjoy some of David Lynch’s work (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Mulholland Dr.) but believe that not all of it carries the same weight and in some cases is just awful (The Elephant Man, Dune).  But Inland Empire is more a return to the Midnight circuit than anything he has done since Eraserhead.  In some ways, it is a female version of that mummified baby film while at the same time a remake of Mulholland Dr. I can see people eating this film up at midnight.  Maybe then they can understand it’s overall plot (I did like it, but do not even try to tell me it was coherent in any sense of the word).  Oh well, let’s just hope the DVD remains for a few more years.

Battle Royale-Again with the foreign films.  Considering that this isn’t readily available in the U.S. (or at least not as available as it should be) it seems likely that it would be picked up by the underground crowd.  And it deserves it.  I can imagine parties centered around it where people would hold (non fatal) battles.  Considering that today’s modern society focuses more on violence than the obsession with sex from the 1970s, Battle Royale has more of a place in today’s underground society.  The transsexuals  of yesteryear have become the murderous psychos of today: endlessly romanticized by both genders to the point where one starts to worry.  I speak as though it has already been embraced by such a crowd.  Give it time, give it time.
Hopefully this trend can continue in the future, maybe on websites like You tube or a return of indie theaters can occur as multiplexes slowly die out.  Only time will tell.

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