Columns / Discourse / April 25, 2012

Check the Reel: The schlock strikes at midnight

Last Friday, I went to see the cult animated movie “Fritz the Cat” at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. The Music Box specializes in foreign releases, independent features and — what I’m here to discuss — midnight screenings of cult classics and the schlockiest B-cinema.

Pockets of people were scattered through the warm-red aisles in front of the curtained screen. It was not a large affair with costumes or celebrity appearances and I imagine most of those attending were seeing Ralph Bakshi’s crude, unapologetic Flower Power satire for the first time, but the theatre did not feel empty.

There were enough people to cover the breadth of the room and create that spark of connection, always present at public gatherings, which drew laughs and uncomfortable shudders equally and from all corners.

This is an experience Knox has tried replicating with “The Dark Side of Oz,” “50/50,” “The King’s Speech” and other film screenings and yet … entering a cinema at the stroke of midnight, joined by a variety of characters (one man at “Fritz the Cat” wore a top hat and used an umbrella as a cane) watching a film surrounded by notoriety or scandal or a large, exclusive fan base — this cannot be replicated at 7:30 p.m. on a projector screen. It is a rare phenomenon, seen today mostly with blockbuster premieres such as “Harry Potter” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but around the nation there are theatres with whole line-ups of cinematic curios reserved for the witching hour.

Here are some examples in the next month just at the Music Box.

Joss Whedon’s feature-length addition to “Firefly”, “Serenity,” will appear this Friday, followed the next few weeks by the feminist-blaxpoitation hit “Coffy” and Wes Anderson’s quirky high school comedy “Rushmore.” “Rocky Horror” and “The Room” are accounted for, of course, but even more exciting is the early-career zombie gorefest from none other than Nerd God Peter Jackson.

Midnight features, along with representing an attitude and atmosphere, fill the role of the 1970s grindhouse in catering to unusual films that multiplexes gloss over. There’s something attractively sleazy about it. Some of the features you watch can hardly be called in good taste, but if you consider yourself an aspiring film buff, then anything you watch is part of your education.

I’m not sure how feasible midnight features would be at Knox College. It all depends upon what Union Board is willing to arrange, but if no such event appears at Knox, look out in your hometown for theatres like the Music Box that invite you to contemplate the grotesque and absurd at the midnight hour.

Ivan Keta
Ivan Keta is a weekly film columnist for The Knox Student. In 2013, he won first place in Critical Film Review from the Illinois College Press Association, competing in the open division against dozens of other Illinois college newspapers.

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