Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream
(86 minutes, TV-14)
“I hate everything that is normal.”
That immortal line expressed by Alejandro Jodorowsky perfectly sums up Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream. This made for television documentary focuses on the six films that populated the midnight format: a trend that has become unanimous with exploitation-like pictures of the 70s. The six features, El Topo, Night of the Living Dead, Pink Flamingos, The Harder They Come, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead contained elements of anti-establishment feelings and were quickly embraced by those who appreciated abnormalities.
Perhaps, the biggest factor of these exploitation flicks was how they provided a collective middle finger to Nixon’s America; in a way, the making and consistent viewings of these envelope-pushing products could be seen as a protest against mainstream norms. And even though this documentary’s goal is the farthest thing from political, it glosses over a turbulent time period that is extremely relevant: which is the biggest problem of this documentary and the equivalent to me writing a review and only mentioning the plot.
However, I cannot be truly upset with this because it never tries to be an observation of the culture behind these films; it is more of a history lesson with the regurgitation of well-known facts. I would be amiss to say that this was not entertaining; in fact, I had a great time watching this. Yet, there was always a little part of me, perhaps a voice in the back of my head, hoping that the filmmaker would dig deeper into the sub-culture or the politic fervor of the 70s.
Instead, the audience is treated to a factual re-telling of how all these movies were bought, distributed and eventually presented in its midnight format. Furthermore, the limited 86-minute runtime prevents focus on any one of these pictures; of course, The Rocky Horror Picture Show gets the most screen time, but I feel like the documentary ‘only scratched the surface’ about these important movies.
Again, I must reiterate that I had a damn fun time with this documentary, I just wish that more time was devoted to each picture; the Jamaican The Harder They Come, a picture I knew very little about, is given the least amount of screen time, which is a shame because that was what I was the most interested in. But I understand that Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream is for cinema snobs and the general public alike and the fast pace is intended to keep all parties interested.
For what it is, it does keep a good pace, which results in the perfect build up from film to film: something that keeps the viewer engaged until the inevitable conclusion. And each story beat is enhanced by the wonderful cast of characters that director Stuart Samuels has interviewed: Alejandro Jodorowsky, John Waters, George A. Romero, Richard O’Brien, and most surprisingly David Lynch, who was the highlight of this flick.
In the end, I do not hate this movie: especially as much as my beginning rant insinuates. But I feel that the midnight movie format, as well as these six essential films, is a goldmine of information that could result in a grander in scope documentary. Instead, Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream is entertaining enough for its short run time. Though my Alamo Drafthouse viewing policies prevent me from going to anything like these midnight showings, I certainly maintained my deep appreciation for these important flicks: even if I have only seen two of the six represented here.