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
October 23rd, 2013 at 9:33 am
I know this may be a ridiculous question but have you looked at other venues in the suburbs like the DesPlaines Theatre or the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge ? Would be a shame for this to end. I only attended two showings but loved them both. The Q &A post movie was a treat not to mention the great introductions beforehand . Would love to be part of this continuing forward
A Cinema friend
October 23rd, 2013 at 9:42 am
Thanks for the suggestions. I was only ever a presenter at Night School (my life as a teacher/writer/filmmaker is insanely busy enough as it is) but I believe that some of the folks responsible for doing the programming are already looking into other venues. I would love to still be involved as a presenter wherever Night School migrates to next. Of course, I will keep you posted about it right here on this blog.
October 23rd, 2013 at 10:17 am
As a former Facets employee and five-time Night School presenter, I’m sad about this, but optimistic that the programming folks will find another kick-ass venue. Very proud to be part of this group of nerds (and as a proud nerd, I use that term in the most loving way possible).
October 23rd, 2013 at 12:59 pm
Thanks for stopping by, Lauren. I’m proud to be a nerd too.
October 23rd, 2013 at 10:40 am
I sort of have mixed feelings about this. On the plus side, the three times I presented films did help me overcome my fear of speaking in front of large groups. I recently gave a presentation at The EMP Museum (in Seattle) about David Cronenberg and the history of the “Brundle Fly” which was met with much fanfare at an employee gathering. I really do tip my hat to Lew who stuck with it this whole time. He is a class act and I wish all of you the best of luck.
October 23rd, 2013 at 3:06 pm
That’s awesome about the EMP presentation, Miguel. I would’ve loved to have been there. And I know what you’re saying about speaking in front of groups. My SAVE THE GREEN PLANET lecture (the video of which is linked at the bottom of this blog post) is kind of hard for me to watch now. It was only the second night school presentation I ever did and I’ve noticed that I did this weird thing where I smacked my lips before every sentence. I got better over time though!
October 23rd, 2013 at 3:47 pm
So sad to hear about this program ending:( Hopefully, they can find a similar venue around the neighborhood:) Anyway, I just wanted to reply to your comment about American horror films in the other post. I loved this year’s The Conjuring as well as others you mentioned like Insidious as well as Ti West’s House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. I gave all of them * * * 1/2 stars (out of * * * *). I even liked John Carpenter’s The Ward which I gave * * * stars (Out of * * * *)) to. I actually own a copy on both DVD and Blu-ray. I bought it one month before I upgraded to Blu-ray. True the plot has been told a dozen times. It is the haunted hospital sub genre. Yet with Carpenter at the helm, you know you will at least get something entertaining. To you it may seem blasphemous, but I actually rank The Ward higher than Scorsese’s Shutter Island in my opinion, which I also gave * * * stars (Out of * * * *) to. Plus I think Amber Heard is always cute. In this film, I think she looks cute in this film as well even in a hospital gown:)
October 23rd, 2013 at 9:38 pm
I don’t consider it blasphemy to prefer THE WARD to SHUTTER ISLAND (although I personally prefer the latter); I’m just glad someone else likes THE WARD at all. You’re right that the script is recycled from a million other movies (let’s face it — every movie set in a mental hospital is going to involve some narrative sleight-of-hand concerning what’s real and what’s a delusion) but Carpenter sure did direct the hell out of it. It’s like a return to his low-budget roots — and it’s certainly much better than GHOSTS OF MARS or VAMPIRES.
October 23rd, 2013 at 6:47 pm
How sad! The Slumber Party Massacre presentation was a lot of fun.
October 23rd, 2013 at 9:39 pm
The only thing that made me happier than seeing students attend my Night School presentations was seeing former students attend my Night School presentations. Hope all is well at UNC!
October 23rd, 2013 at 8:35 pm
Of course, I am broken-hearted to hear this news. I loved, loved organizing Night School even when I was so busy with so many other chores at Facets that it was exhausting, esp. the Fright School component. Am glad Lew and Chris kept it going after I moved to Florida. The presenters, including you, and the audiences were always terrific.
October 23rd, 2013 at 9:43 pm
Thanks for the kind words, Suzi. You were the one who hired me to do my first Night School session four years ago!
March 6th, 2023 at 3:50 am
[…] With the Facets Night School closing down this weekend, Michael Smith looks back on some of the programming highlights of the past five […]