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Black Mass: A Secret History

Black Mass adThis site is a home for ongoing research for articles and a book. The aim is to map and explore the magic places of the midnight movie phenomenon of the early 1970s.

There are several books on ‘cult cinema’ – most from the early 80s – that cover the films and directors associated with midight movies thoroughly (‘Rocky Horror’, ‘Pink Flamingos’, ‘Night of the Living Dead’ etc).

‘Black Mass’ instead focusses on audiences: the people, the buildings and their locations… The atmosphere of late night double bills, as the counter culture was waning and punk was waiting to happen.

Midnight movie shows in the early 70s are often described decades later as having been Church-like.

You’d disappear at night into a secret congregation, sitting in a dark auditorium filled with white incense clouds of marijuana smoke. Once some movies became true ‘cults’ there was a call and response, with people in the audience joining in with the action on the screen (like in this famous sequence from the original 1980 ‘Fame’…)

We’re particularly interested in the way that an imaginative liturgy or canon of aesthetics emerged through midnight movie shows. This has had a huge influence of modern cinema and culture more widely, but its influence is so pervasive that it goes almost unnoticed.

(As an example, John Waters’ films are now being remade by mainstream studios, and turned into Broadway musicals… This was unthinkable when he first started making movies, inspired by the ‘Nocturnal Dream Shows’ staged by tranvestite performance artists the Cockettes, and underground art films like ‘Flaming Creatures’ that were seized by the LAPD in the late 60s as obscene).

We also stage occasional film shows. This is because we believe the term ‘cult film’ has become degraded through careless use.

We’re not trying to manufacture an elitist social movement, or end up with a Facebook group full of strangers. The earliest sell-out midnight movie shows – like Jodorowsky’s ‘El Topo’ playing at New York’s Elgin Theatre in 1970 – happened through word of mouth (often started by a single newspaper ad). It was driven by a spirit of exploration and individual’s curiosity, rather than an aspiration to be part of an exclusive scene.

We want to channel the spirits of midnight movies, restoring some of the mystery and spectacle to watching films as part of an audience.