Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream Stuart Samuels

For a brief period, post-Woodstock and pre-video, a handful of low-budget yet intensely personal films found fanatical audiences at midnight screenings across the land. These cult movies pushed the boundaries of taste, breaking social and sexual taboos. Samuels, who specialises in documentaries about cinematic history (Visions of Light, Hollywoodism) returns with Midnight Movies, which recounts the histories of Alejandro Jodorowsky's surrealist Western El Topo, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, John Waters's scandalous Pink Flamingos, Jamaican Perry Henzell's outlaw reggae movie The Harder They Come, the legendary The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the downright bizarre vision of David Lynch in Eraserhead. Samuels neatly divides his film into sections by exploring one midnight movie at a time. For fans of any of these films, Samuels's retrospective is a treat. El Topo remains missing from DVD shelves, so seeing excerpts on the big screen, pristine and clear, is a revelation. We hear theatre owners and Jodorowsky explain how El Topo consistently packed midnight screenings in Manhattan but died once it went into mainstream (daytime) release. We also see how The Harder They Come came out of leftfield (Kingston, Jamaica, to be exact) to fill the void. This brilliant Robin Hood story played for years on midnight screens and introduced North Americans to reggae. Waters recounts with delight how he made audiences barf with the notorious Pink Flamingos, which introduced coprophilia to moviegoers. Night of the Living Dead is nicely contextualised, being made in the year of race riots and political violence (1968). Point is, it's not just a horror flick but a reflection of the times. Lynch reflects on the creation of the post-apocalyptic Erasehead. And of course, we see how Rocky Horror evolved from a hit London stage musical into an American film which actually flopped at first. As Rocky illustrates, the point behind all the "midnight movies" is that the audiences made them great and their screenings were events. Samuels's film points out that this era has long passed in the age of home video, yet his movie captures this golden age for 88 entertaining minutes. (Stuart Samuels Productions)