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Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream

  • Film

Time Out says

A testament to the days when word of mouth was carried by live voices rather than group email, Stuart Samuels’s marvellous documentary offers case studies of the half-dozen key titles that defined the alternative film-going circuit of ’70s America. With deft cultural, political and industrial contextualisation and contributions from numerous well-placed sources – including all six titles’ directors – ‘Midnight Movies’ consitutes a warm, rich tribute to an era of fecund perversity, even if it’s as formally conservative as its subjects were transgressive.

Its story starts with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s brilliantly bonkers ‘El Topo’ (1970), which set the midnight movie template by unexpectedly settling into triumphant, dope-suffused residency at New York’s Elgin cinema. ‘Night of the Living Dead’ offered American audiences a more locally identifiable tranche of oppositional excitement that – like ‘Pink Flamingos’ – deployed shockingly coarse corporeal spectacle in the service of a militantly liberal sensibility. ‘The Harder They Come’, meanwhile, married political indignation to a sensationally popular musical form new to the US. We end with a couple of anomalies among such anomalous company: ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, made by a major studio but only at home among the freaks, and ‘Eraserhead’, which is undoubtedly transgressive but not exactly a rollicking party of a picture.

Nodding at the scene’s revival of ’30s oddities and its influence on the later mainstream, ‘Midnight Movies’ leaves some tensions unexplored (could these screenings both hark back to committed ’60s activism and herald the ‘birth of irony’?) but shows a keen eye for practicalities. In many ways, it’s a document of a dying technology, a celluloid cottage industry whose means of production, distribution and exhibition are alien to today’s aspiring auteurs. Most of all, it’s a celebration of cinema-going as a ‘ritual experience or trip’, a communal adventure with no real equivalent in the exquisitely atomised YouTubeverse.
Written by Ben Walters

Release Details

  • Rated:18
  • Release date:Friday 23 March 2007
  • Duration:86 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Stuart Samuels
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