Midnight movies

Authored by: Carter Moulton

The Routledge Companion to Cult Cinema

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138950276
eBook ISBN: 9781315668819
Adobe ISBN:


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Though the term “midnight movies” appears in trade journals as early as the 1920s to describe the methods by which a filmmaker might construct an “‘apparent’ night scene” while shooting in daylight (Richardson 1927), its relationship to “cult” or “underground” film begins in the 1950s and early 1960s. As local television stations began dumping low-budget films into their late-night time slots, outside the home, midnight screenings of “obscene” films like Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures and Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising were being cancelled by city officials and theater managers who were concerned that the “low quality of the underground” might damage their theater’s reputation (Hoberman & Rosenbaum 1983: 51). Over the course of the 1960s, though, a number of moviehouse owners in New York and Los Angeles began to recognize the potential of the underground market as a means of drawing in a younger generation of “countercultural” filmgoers, many of whom were marginalized by mainstream culture along the lines of class, sexuality, and politics. Ben Barenholtz of the Elgin Theater in New York opened his doors to the idea of midnight screenings in 1970, hoping they “would attract hipsters, encourage a sense of ‘personal discovery,’ and stimulate word of mouth” (Hoberman & Rosenbaum 1983: 93).

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