Pink Flamingos dir. John WatersPink Flamingos dir. John Waters
'Round Midnight

'Round Midnight Programme:


  2. KRET / EL TOPO (1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky)


  4. LORD LOVE A DUCK (1966, George Axelrod)



  7. NIERÓWNA WALKA / THE HARDER THEY COME (1972, Perry Henzell)


  9. ATOMIC CAFE / THE ATOMIC CAFÉ (1982, Jayne Loader / Kevin Rafferty / Pierce Rafferty)

  10. KONIEC ŚWIATA / SOUTHLAND TALES (2006, Richard Kelly)


Michał Oleszczyk: 'Round Midnight

Can a laceration turn into a fossil…? Midnight movies were at odds with mainstream cinema well before they played at midnight (and prior to becoming movies, as the accompanying Jack Smith retrospective beautifully testifies). And yet, here we are, celebrating them at a renowned festival, many of us sporting lush DVD editions of each title included in the series. Can Reefer Madness get any quainter (or cuter) now that it's been musicalized? How pink will Pink Flamingos get once they go all Blu-ray? Do you have to do a double time warp to get into the subversive spirit of midnight counterculture?

It may seem so, especially while you're schlepping out of your local IMAX theater, having just indulged in Jackass 3-D. Or if you just happened to click on one of those YouTube videos showing mammoth reaction shots of people flinching for ten minutes as they watch the (reportedly) ultimate gross-out of 1 Man 1 Jar. In moments like that, you may wonder what it was like to show up around midnight at the Elgin theater circa 1970 (after having waited in a line wound tightly around the block) to get exposed to the first images of El Topo (while el poto circulated in your veins). This series cannot possibly recreate the experience of willfully surrendered innocence, but if it makes you long for one, it has done its job.

One of the pleasures of festival programming is arranging screenings to form a narrative of sorts. This pleasure does not necessarily alleviate the pain implied in a limited number of slots, but I'll spare you the brooding on what movies I decided to leave out (yes, I've braced myself for the righteous hate mail from all you Outrageous! fans out there). Needles to say, my programming is as objective as it is devotional.

We open with the finest movie ever embraced by the midnight circuit, namely David Lynch's Eraserhead, in which a bubbly sea of milk parts to reveal total darkness: a grand device worthy of Cecil B. De Mille that will serve as our curtain. (De Mille may have unwittingly become the guiding spirit of midnight filmmakers: it's hard, for example, not to think of Multiple Maniacs as John Waters' The Greatest Show on Earth, complete with the behind-the-scenes circus melodrama).

Lynch's vision of a purposefully pulverized noggin and intentional infanticide will pave the way for Alejandro Jodorowsky's reverie of (father-approved) patricide in El Topo. Thus, the underlying subject of all midnight movies - the generation gap - will get firmly established.

El Topo ends with the image of a father's grave, which happens to be the exact point of departure for our next movie, Night of the Living Dead. In choosing a cemetery for his opening location, and then turning the whole world into one, George A. Romero gave the midnight circuit a powerful political jolt. To complete the set of familial murders, this movie includes the famed matricide by a trowel-wielding tot.

Lord Love a Duck, the fourth in our series, is not technically a midnight movie, but it's our prerogative to will it into existence as such. This generation-gap farce is completely unknown in Poland and I don't want to spoil it for you, I can only beseech you to show up. This is the movie - described in its own ads as 'an act of pure aggression' - that includes a mathematical formula for obtaining cashmere sweaters from guilt-ridden parents. Write down '(F+D) G²' next to 'Klaato barada nikto' in your moviegoer's pads under 'Emergencies'.

The gross-out factor, already raised considerably, will go through the roof at our fifth screening. Yet Pink Flamingos may depict one of the more functional family units seen in this series. There's no denying the undercurrent of tenderness in John Waters' filthy antics, and it's quite notable that this is the only midnight movie to close with an image of total, grinning contentment. The dietary means of acquiring it are as famous as they're sordid, but still.

Screenings six and seven are party time. If Pink Flamingos closed with the image of abjectly soiled female impersonator's lips, The Rocky Horry Picture Show's first shot is the famous lip-sync to 'Science Fiction/Double Feature'. Feel free to do the Time Warp. And feel free to sway to the Jamaica-set, finger-painted The Harder They Come and its sultry waves of reggae.

If only to help resist Jamaica's most beloved weed, our eighth feature, Reefer Madness will uplift us in a haze of moral superiority. This may come in handy, since the next title - The Atomic Café - is a mock-lecture. It's a little-seen (at least on this side of the missile gap) gem of deliberate immersion into political state of mind, as real as it is fantastic. Fear of the Bomb is translated into a poem made of newsreels (this choice has been suggested by J. Hoberman's remark in the book 'Midnight Movies', which he co-wrote with Jonathan Rosenbaum - both of them will grace the festival with their presence, as well as attend the book launch).

The mushroom clouds, so prolific in The Atomic Café, actually open Richard Kelly's pop-Apocalypse, Southland Tales (the fallout mixing with still-smoking Fourth of July barbecued ribs). Having arrived well after the midnight phenomenon ended, slain by videotapes, this may actually be the perfect midnight movie: willfully incoherent, condemned at Cannes, as ambitious as Jodorowsky's El Topo and utilizing decades of TV-junk to crank out its own Book of Life. Also, needless to say, it opens with a bubbly sea of water closing in on its CinemaScope screen - the curtain once parted in Eraserhead thus closes.

One more thing: This series wouldn't even have even been conceived if I hadn't attended a class taught by J. Hoberman at NYU in early 2009. It was called Cinema since 9/11 and had no relation to midnight movies, other than its inclusion of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which - as Hoberman himself suggested - may be the most successful cult movie ever made (although I know nothing of its midnight screenings, but then perhaps I didn't dig deep enough). The class, which included such heady experiences as a simultaneous screening of United 93 and Day Night Day Night was a true eye-opener for me, and made me plunge into cinematic territory that I didn't dare to frequent prior to that. Among other things, this series is a way of saying thank you.

11th edition archive website (year 2011).
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