The midnight movie model of cult and underground film screenings has seen resurgence of late. Coming to prominence in the US during the ’70s, cinemas would screen off-beat, exploitation and esoteric fare to a knowing and diverse audience. London had its own outlet in the 1980s with the Scala (now a music venue), and since the emergence of digital technology which has enabled a number of titles under the ‘midnight’ banner to become accessible on home entertainment (many having been cleaned-up and re-mastered) screenings in a number of cinemas and unusual locations around the city have begun to emerge.
US-born, London-based Josh Saco is one of a number of cineastes keeping the scene alive through his monthly Cigarette Burns screening nights at The Rio in Dalston, and the most intimate surrounding of The Mucky Pup pub in Angel.
We caught up with him during his preparations for a rare Cigarette Burns excursion to the Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square for a Ringu/Poltergeist double bill on the 8th July to chat about this new surge in popularity and whether the Midnight Movie is here to stay.
What prompted your initial decision to start Cigarette Burns?
I went to a Sunday double bill of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) at The Rio and as I left, suitably impressed with Jekyll and Hyde, I thought, why can’t I do this? Why can’t I share some of my favourite films with people? I took a look around London and at the time there didn’t seem to be much beyond some pub screening the likes of Goodfellas or Clockwork Orange. To me those aren’t ‘pub films’ and they certainly aren’t films that people haven’t seen. Where’s the fun in that? Just stay home if you want to watch that, show me Bronx Warriors [an ’80s cheap and cheerful Mad Max/The Warriors rip-off], something ridiculous, something I don’t have in my own collection, something I can have a pint with and enjoy with some friends.
Why do you think the midnight movie world is still proving to be a popular alternative?
As Hollywood continues to churn out more and more glossy derivative crap, people get bored I suppose. Hollywood wants to save money and so remake things with total disregard to the source material or why something is cherished and loved in the first place. But people are still interested in where these films come from and celebrating the originals.
We all watch so many films on a computer screen, or worse still, on our phone or game consoles. It’s easy to forget the majesty of some shots. Films aren’t made to be watched small, they are made to envelope you, drag you in, detach you from reality. A hand held device can never do that. Then there’s the whole geek culture element, the information age, where people are hungry for more than just what is handed to them.
Edgier films, screened late at night, there’s an allure to that as a concept, as something to do, as an alternative to clubbing. Plus late-night cult film screenings inherently have a sense of doing something special, that you are doing something secret. There are a million different reasons, and a million different films to suit each one.
I’d like to think that the main attraction is the film, that’s what it should be about – a celebration of a lost or forgotten classic. Now, as the months pass, regulars start to become apparent and people start to make friends and the whole thing changes from just a night with a couple mates you’ve dragged along, to an evening with familiars and new friends.
We try to spice it up, but always with an eye on the film, that’s why people come, so Dee Dee’s Vintage clothing sets up a small merchandise stall where we sell exclusive limited shirts inspired by that month’s film, but over all, we celebrate the film.
Have there been any titles in particular that you’ve felt needed championed and screened for a new audience?
Oh hell yeah. Screening films like Daughter of Darkness in February and last month’s offering Who Can Kill a Child? are pretty much what Cigarette Burns is all about. Stunning films that people just don’t know, but should, need to know about and to see on a cinema screen. It’s risky showing the lesser known films, but where’s the fun in showing Halloween (unless it’s Halloween III)? Again we return to the Goodfellas level of ‘cult’ pop cult. Safe is boring. Let’s have some fun and take a chance of something we don’t know.
The city now plays hosts to a number of cult film nights. Is there anything which you think distinguishes those and Cigarette Burns from each other?
We’ve all carved a style out for ourselves, but it’s also down to programming. Filmbar70 specialise in ’70s Euro Class, The Duke Mitchell embrace such an eclectic array of film/trash that it boggles the mind and always amazes. Midnight Movies mix the new with the old with a much more party atmosphere.
You host monthly screenings in a cinema and a pub. Do you find both locations pull in a similar crowd, or are they different?
I think they pull different crowds, but then I programme them differently as well. Ms. 45 [a recent screening at the Rio] starts with two full on rape scenes, I could never feel comfortable showing that in the confines of a pub. In my mind a pub film needs to be a bit easier, something you can dip in and out of, not something that challenges you after you’ve had three (or more) pints, it need to give you something on a regular basis. When you sit down in a cinema seat I think you hand yourself over to the celluloid gods and it’s easier to be challenged, in part because of the world you allow yourself to enter. In a cinema seat, a gritty NYC scene becomes more palatable and you can put it all into perspective. Also, the pub is on a Monday night, so you need to be happy to go out on a Monday evening, even though we promise to be done by 11pm.
I think we will always have people who want to stay out all night and watch crap cult films. When the last horror fan dies, the human race may very well be over.
Again, there’s a place for everything, but I think that Hollywood’s choices are affecting the cinemas – it’s got little to do with the cinemas if their choices are so limited. That said, there’s nothing special about a multiplex. Small screens, charmless buildings, irreverent staff, shouting bell-ends on mobiles, over priced popcorn and all you get in exchange is drivel and a lighter wallet. If that’s your bag, then go for it.
Cigarette Burns will also be screening bizarre ’70s Grindhouse favourite The Doberman Gang at The Mucky Pup pub in Angel on 4th July
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