director Stuart Samuels
The 2005 documentary, Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream, tackles the rise of the “Midnight Movie” culture through six of the most significant flicks that defined the experience: El Topo (1970), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Harder They Come (1973), Pink Flamingos (1972), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and Eraserhead (1977).
While the film keens in on these six films and ends up limited in scope, it benefits significantly by having on-camera interviews with the directors Alejandro Jodorowsky, George A. Romero, Perry Henzell, John Waters and David Lynch, as well as Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien. Throw in critics Roger Ebert, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and J. Hoberman and exhibitor, distributor and producer Ben Barenholtz and you’ve got a lot of great first-hand recollections of the creation of the movies and their lives as late night cult fodder.
While the film does detail some of the growth of “Midnight Movies” across the United States, and its focus on New York and Los Angeles seem apt, I kind of yearned for a little more info on the spread of “Midnight Movie” culture. Because Eraserhead is the final film of the series, the documentary sees the end of “Midnight Movie” culture with the rise of home video and the coming of the 1980’s. All these films had impacts and lifespans long-reaching and in some ways eternal, but growing up when I did, I saw my first “Midnight Movie” in the 1980’s (It was unsurprisingly The Rocky Horror Picture Show). The culture seemed still pretty strong in my hometown of Gainesville, FL at the time and Midnight shows still exist. I’m sure the heyday passed as the film suggests, but the underlying culture and influence pervades even now.
I watched this with my kids. I think it was kind of eye-opening in a way. Felix expressed interest in El Topo and Eraserhead. I assured them that the only film of the 6 that really needed to be seen as a “Midnight Movie” was Rocky Horror. That is the only one that really isn’t the same at all without a crazy, active, late-night crowd. The rest really can stand on their own.