To paraphrase Citizen Kane, this weekend — as it must to all film programs — death comes to Facets Night School, the popular midnight movie series that was launched by Facets Multimedia in 2009 and has run continually in Fall, Spring and Summer sessions ever since. According to a beautiful tribute written by Joseph Richard Lewis at theundergroundmultiplex.com, the series was founded by Phil Morehart, who was also its first programmer, and who was succeeded in that position by Suzi Doll, Legendary Lew Ojeda, and Chris Damen. Among the many highlights of its 5-year run: Julian Antos, co-founder of the Northwest Chicago Film Society, presented his own 35mm prints of Hal Hartley’s Amateur and Allan Dwan’s Slightly Scarlet; Ojeda and Lewis hosted an interactive version of their Sisters of No Mercy film that featured “live circus performers, musicians, dancers and actors”; Bruce Neal and friends provided live original musical accompaniment to cult classics from the silent era including Haxan, A Page of Madness and The Fall of the House of Usher; “Everything is Terrible” co-founder Katie Rife presented several truly off-the-wall oddities including sleaze merchant Ron Ormond’s Please Don’t Touch Me! “in its original roadshow format” (an occasion for which the audience was also hypnotized); and the Chicago Cinema Society‘s Neil Calderone presented the local premiere of the Bollywood-style documentary The Bengali Detective. And this is to say nothing of the contributions of dozens of other presenters, too numerous to mention, who introduced movies and led audiences through Q&A sessions afterwards — all for the love of cinema and without financial compensation. Earlier this year, the Chicago Reader deservedly awarded Facets Night School for having the “best late night programming” of any Chicago movie house.
I was grateful to have had the opportunity to present movies at Facets Night School on eight occasions. In doing so, I intentionally avoided choosing “great films,” and tried to focus instead on more obscure titles that I thought would confound, surprise and provoke spirited post-screening debates: Save the Green Planet, The Devil’s Backbone, Dance, Girl, Dance, I’m Not There, The Old Dark House, The Slumber Party Massacre, Cannibals and, most recently, Fruit Chan’s Dumplings. I was particularly proud of having presented the Chicago theatrical premiere of Manoel de Oliveira’s 1988 opera-film Cannibals to a large and enthusiastic audience — all of whom were previously unfamiliar with the great Portuguese director’s work. I often made attending Night School an optional extra credit assignment for students in my college-level film history classes, most of whom had never attended a midnight movie in a theater before but all of whom wrote about the experience fondly in their “screening reports” afterwards. I will probably never know the politics involved in the decision to cancel Night School. Attendance figures surely had nothing to do with it; I was told that the packed Slumber Party Massacre screening, which I presented for a Halloween-themed “Fright School” session in 2012, had the highest attendance of any midnight movie in Facets history, and the numbers for the two subsequent presentations I gave could not have been far behind that. (This is in pointed contrast to the same theater being perennially empty during its regular weeklong theatrical runs.) I suppose we should just be grateful that Facets Night School lasted as long as it did, and hope that its spirit will soon be resurrected at another local venue. Chicagoans who would like to pay their last respects should note that the final two Night School sessions will occur this Friday and Saturday with Full Metal Frankenstein, featuring a live Bruce Neal score, and We are the Strange, which those wacky guys at the Underground Multiplex claim has been banned from public viewing by the FDA “due to audience mental health concerns.”
My 2010 Night School lecture on Save the Green Planet can be viewed online here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/5077314