I confess that I have never actually seen a “midnight movie” at midnight. Sure, I saw the same movie, but it was always before my usual bedtime, which has never been midnight (I am socially useless after 2AM). What I mean is that I saw the kind of movie that would eventually become a midnighter. That type is pretty well fixed. Critics like to use the word “cult” for them, as in ” a cult favorite”. Here are a few : Videodrome, Crash (not the Oscar winner), Naked Lunch (all from David Cronenberg), El Topo (Alexandro Jodorowsky), Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper), A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick), Pulp Fiction (Tarantino). Some of them, as you see, made a lot of money when they were first released. But usually not. The common quality is a kind of anti-mainstream attitude that, even many years later, stroke the adolescent pretensions we hold onto with desperation. What they also had in common, in broad terms, is an edginess, a superficially knowing attitude about life that, when presented with some cinematic imagination, passes for profundity. I don’t think any of them have a happy ending.
But midnight movies also involve subject matter that is, well, titillating. Sex, of course; violence, the gorier the better, and drugs. Trippy stuff. I can’t be sure of this — since I never went at midnight — but I bet that at least some in the audience felt it was safe to light up a joint. Anyway, I’ve never heard of anyone getting busted at one.
I wonder if there is still an audience for them today. With a wall-sized screen in your own home, any DVD of these cult films can be seen, with illegal enhancement, without worrying about a cop in your living room. I still see midnighters advertised though, so they’re still here. At least for now.
What prompted these musings, specifically, is my latest exposure to what is destined to be a cult favorite, Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void. It’s got all the right elements: gorgeous naked women having sex, trippy camera work on the streets of Tokyo, drugs, weird psychedelic riots of color to trippy music, more sex, oh, and a story too. Well, sort of. The protagonist, a drug-dealing kid who’s sexually obsessed with his sister, gets shot dead by the cops in a drug bust, then spends the rest of the movie as a spiritual entity waiting to be reborn. You see, he was reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead on the day he was shot, and the movie is either a probing theological treatise on reincarnation, or else the weird crap you’re thinking in your last minutes of life. You decide. Oh, I should have mentioned that one element, heavy violence, is missing. Maybe Gaspar was too aroused by the sight of Paz de la Huerta’s gorgeous, writhing body to bother with that. He certainly missed no opportunity to show every inch of her skin!
I’ve got to say I wasn’t bored, even in the director’s cut, which is nearly three hours. Noe knows how to use the camera in unexpected ways, and, since the story follows no logical progression, you never know exactly where you are until some cleverly placed clue in the shot, like a lamp or a fleeting image in a mirror, restores the narrative.
Finally, though, it’s just stylish trash. It angers me that someone with such skill and imagination refuses to take risks. Especially since awards are given every year to “serious” directors with half his talent.