Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream

Dressed to kill: Divine in Pink Flamingos

 

 

Or how six films screened in graveyard slots between 1970 and 1977 changed the way movies are watched and made.

The six are: El Topo, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad freakish spaghetti western, the Man with No Name drops acid. Night of the Living Dead, George Romero’s splattersome zombie motherlode which even now Romero is rubbing his hands about. Pink Flamingos – John Waters broke through with this excursion into camp sleaze, and how happy Waters is with the idea that almost single-handedly he dragged Hollywood along with him into the world of bad taste. The Harder They Come, the reggae film by Perry Henzell that filled a need created by Bob Marley for Jamaican music on film – Henzell is touchingly humbled even now by the reception that midnight movie audiences gave to a film that had flopped. The Rocky Horror Picture Show – the movie that seems to have sparked the singalong, interactive screening phenomenon is Richard O’Brien’s baby and though he’s less chucklesome than the other interviewees (possibly because he’s spent decades talking about little else) O’Brien is a charmer full of anecdotes. And finally Eraserhead, which looks as mad now as it did when it came out. David Lynch chats happily about the film but he won’t talk about the notorious baby, never has. Expectant mothers used to be warned before going in to screenings of Lynch’s film, apparently.

And that’s it – six films, lots of talking heads, a handful of clips, loads of old stories, plenty of fun. Midnight Movies makes its case – how the B movie became the A movie, how genre movies came back from the dead – eloquently. What is never said is, Rocky Horror and Eraserhead excepted, is how remarkably shabby the movies look.

© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

Midnight Movies – at Amazon.com

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Eraserhead

 

 

 

David Lynch’s first full length film was made piecemeal between 1971 and 1977 and is the perfect visual accompaniment to an era obsessed with industrial decay – check out the music of Cabaret Voltaire or Throbbing Gristle for the aural equivalent. It follows a passive, expressionless man with a perpendicular hairstyle through a succession of grim, clanking scenarios back to his home, where his livid girlfriend and their newborn child – a cross between ET and something that might crawl up your urethra and start living in your insides – seem to be waging psychic war on him. Is he schizophrenic? Are we viewing these scenes from inside his mind? Lynch won’t say, never has. But as with so many films Lynch has made since, there appears to be a piece of information missing. If only we knew what it was, everything would make sense. And it’s this voyeuristic straining after the bits we can’t quite see as much as the puzzlement over the bits we can (what’s going on with the radiators in Eraserhead, for example) that has driven Lynch’s best films since, with Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and his last great film, Inland Empire, all eliciting similar murmurs of baffled appreciation. And here, in Eraserhead, is the motherlode.

© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

Eraserhead – at Amazon