Sunday, September 18, 2016

Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream

Based on the book by Stuart Samuels, Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream is a documentary film that is about the culture of the midnight movies in the 1970s as it played to an audience needing an escape from the turmoil that had emerged in the late 1960s. Directed by Stuart Samuels and written by Samuels and Victor Kushmaniak, the film explore the six films that would define the midnight movie culture in that decade as well as what it did for the film industry before the emergence of home video and the blockbuster period in films. The result is a fascinating and exciting film from Stuart Samuels.

In the 1970s following a tumultuous period that saw political unrest, culture wars, assassinations, and other things that defined the late 1960s. Audiences wanting an escape from that turmoil as well as mainstream culture where screenings of low-budget films that were outside of the mainstream suddenly became cultural phenomenon. Among them were Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come, Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead. These films that didn’t play by the rules nor were they created or funded by studios, with the exception of Rocky Horror, were films that became successful through midnight screenings in theaters around America based on word of mouth.

With interviews from filmmakers in Alejandro Jodorwsky, John Waters, George A. Romero, David Lynch, and Perry Henzell as well as Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien and that film’s producer Lou Adler plus film critics Roger Ebert, J. Hoberman, and Jonathan Rosenbaum. They all talk about the impact of the midnight movie culture where many believe the man responsible for making it happen is Ben Barenholtz who opened the Elgin Cinema in 1968 in New York City and was the one who showed El Topo in 1970 as a midnight movie knowing that it wasn’t some conventional film. For six months at the Elgin Cinema, the film played to sell-out audiences as it started this culture of the midnight movies. The films that were played at Elgin as well as other theatres around the U.S. would play these different kind of films that definitely appealed to an audience that didn’t want to the mainstream films of the times.

Other films such as Tod Browning’s Freaks and Louis J. Gasnier’s Reefer Madness were also part of the midnight movie circuits as they were films from the 1930s that were never well-received as they found new life. Largely because they were films that played to an audience that wanted to see films that weren’t about ordinary people or those that are larger than life. Stuart Samuels’ direction is straightforward as he shoots many of the interviews with the filmmakers and critics talking at the camera with either a film clip or a poster in the background with the aid of cinematographer Richard Fox. With the aid of editors Michael Bembenek, Robert J. Coleman, John Dowding, Lorenzo Massa, and Kevin Rollins as well as the sound work of Euan Hunter, Samuels’ usage of film clips plus newspaper clippings and reports showcase the phenomenon that these films had as well as what it did to the film industry.

Its decline and end definitely doesn’t just attribute to the rise of the home video market but also the blockbuster films such as Jaws and Star Wars where it appealed to a wide audience and were financially profitable. Filmmakers and film critics believe that decline definitely saw audiences interact less and not bother discovering films that don’t play by the rules. Samuels’ direction would play into that decline but also that sense of interest towards those films but also the idea of the midnight movie screening. The film’s music by Eric Cadesky and Nick Dyer is wonderful as it’s mainly low-key in its electronic setting to play into the different type of films that is featured in the documentary.

Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream is a marvelous film from Stuart Samuels. It’s not only a compelling documentary that explores the brief but immense popularity of the midnight films but also a look into the filmmakers and films that definitely gave audiences a fitting alternative from the mainstream as well as something that would become phenomenon in their own way. In the end, Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream is a remarkable film from Stuart Samuels.

Related: Freaks - Night of the Living Dead - El Topo - Pink Flamingos - The Harder They Come - (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) - Eraserhead

© thevoid99 2016


ruth said...

This sounds fascinating even though I'm not as familiar w/ the subject matter. I know that TIFF has a Midnight Madness screening that's quite popular, some films are perfect for that.

thevoid99 said...

The Midnight Madness section I recall is something that is trying to recreate the Midnight Movie experience and they do it so well. TIFF and Cannes I heard do justice to those sections and it's something that needs to be revived even though the one midnight movie that is still kicking ass at the moment is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Dell said...

I definitely need to see this. You had me with the pic of John Waters.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-If you have Starz or its related channels. I'm sure it'll show somewhere as I've seen nearly all of the films they mentioned in the doc as it play into that culture that is so missed these days. I'm still waiting for a new film from John Waters.