July 31, 2013

After Midnight: The Vampira Show and Fog Island

by Allen Irwin

This is the first post in a new series called Midnight Mass. It will be a place to examine different types of “midnight movies” and to experiment with different types of criticism, from information and link dumps to visual essays utilizing screengrabs and other media (and maybe a video essay or two if I get ambitious). The primary goal is to explore what makes a movie a “midnight movie” and how watching movies after midnight can affect our viewing experience. The only rule is that any movies I analyze must be watched... After Midnight.

A Condensed History of the Midnight Movie as Television Phenomenon

While the “Midnight Movie” as a cinematic phenomenon arguably had its heyday in the 1970s, with films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Eraserhead (1977) screening alongside offbeat oddities like Freaks (1932) and Reefer Madness (1936) at counterculture hangouts, the original midnight movie mania occurred much earlier in unsuspecting living rooms around the country. Almost any movie can become a midnight movie given the right framing or state of mind, and that crucial framing device was just what Hunt Stromberg, Jr., had in mind when he asked a young woman named Maila Nurmi to dress up like a vampire and introduce old movies on Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC-TV in 1954. Vampira was born.

July 25, 2013

The City in the 60s - Lost Gems from Non-Theatrical Distribution

by Allen Irwin

Last weekend the National Gallery of Art screened a series of 16mm documentary and educational films organized around the idea of “The City in the 60s” to highlight the neglected area of film culture that is non-theatrical distribution. Of the 7 films screened, only one was shown theatrically in the United States, and the majority were shown in schools or other educational venues. Most of them are also available to watch online, and well worth checking out:

Felicia (1965) - This short documentary about a young girl living in Watts, LA in the mid 1960s feels very much like a precursor to 1970s films like Killer of Sheep (1977) and Bush Mama (1979), albeit with a more straightforward documentary approach, and it was produced through the same UCLA film program that would be responsible for the later L.A. Rebellion film movement (of which Burnett and Gerima’s are a part). It also serves as a window into a very specific point in time, as it takes place only months before the 1965 Watts Riots.

July 2, 2013

Jason Bourne in Middle Management

by Mark Paglia

The Informant (2009) - dir. Steven Soderbergh

I’ve always accepted Matt Damon as a versatile actor, but he does have a tendency towards one type of character: the peerless hero. The sort of person who’s just utterly better than everyone else. Sure, his characters probably harbor psychological stresses, but most screen time is taken up by feats of smooth perfection, be they intellectual (Good Will Hunting) or physical (the Bourne series). Even when he plays an everyman junior executive in Syriana, Damon winds up as an advisor to a foreign potentate, working his way into a muddled conspiracy theory and surviving missile strikes. The guy’s just unflappable.