Midnight Specialists: Midnight Mass

The queen of midnight movies in SF: Peaches Christ

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The funniest line in movie history didn't pass from the lips of Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950), Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934), or Alvy Singer in Annie Hall (1977). That honor belongs to Taffy Davenport (Mink Stole) of Female Trouble (1974), who responds to the advances of her dentally challenged stepfather thusly: "I wouldn't suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!" Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, who will die for your sin of omission?

The savior of midnight movies in San Francisco, Peaches Christ, that's who. If she can fit it into her busy schedule, of course.

Joshua Grannell, the surprisingly subdued and clean-cut gentleman behind the character of Midnight Mass's holy hostess, says so during coffee talk about the author of that historical piece of dialogue, John Waters, and the massive undertaking that is the Mass's special 10th-anniversary season at the Bridge Theatre. Mink Stole and Tura Satana will kick off the summer program on Friday, July 13, with Waters's equally quotable Desperate Living (1977; "Tell your mother I hate her! Tell your mother I hate you!"), while Waters will introduce Female Trouble the following evening. Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a. Elvira, will be on stage for both nights of Midnight Mass's closing weekend.

Grannell was particularly keen on landing Waters, the only one of the four cult deities appearing this summer who has never done Midnight Mass before, because the director unknowingly played a role in the genesis of the show.

Back when Grannell and his friend Michael Brenchley were film students at Penn State, they brought Waters to campus to do a monologue performance. "John told us about the Cockettes," Grannell remembers. "He encouraged us to move to San Francisco and told us how much fun Divine and Mink had here."

The pair took his advice, arriving in 1996 in the city, where they would eventually become infamous as Peaches Christ and her silent sidekick, Martiny. One decade later, when Amoeba Records asked Peaches to introduce Waters at a promotional appearance for his CD A Date with John Waters (New Line Records), Grannell seized the opportunity to remind the trash auteur who he had been in college and who he'd become. Waters was aware of Peaches through Stole, who has appeared at Midnight Mass four times. "He kind of screamed and went, 'Oh, I know Peaches!'" Grannell says. The rest is scheduling history.

When Grannell moved to San Francisco, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) had just left the Kabuki, and there was no midnight show in town. Peaches Christ, a character originally known as Peaches Nevada in Grannell's senior-thesis film project, Jizzmopper: A Love Story, had already been appearing at the Stud's Trannyshack for a year when Grannell pitched the Midnight Mass idea to Landmark Theatres, owners of the Bridge. (Grannell used to be general manager of the Bridge and is now paid by Landmark just to be Peaches.) At the time, he was told that midnight movies didn't work in San Francisco.

Though Midnight Mass's focus has always been on movies, it serves up a unique form of live spectacle. "Peaches is literally 20 people," Grannell says to me more than once, as much to emphasize the scale of the productions as to give due credit to people such as the show's amazing costume designer, Tria Connell. During the summer of 1998, the debut season of Midnight Mass offered such entertainment as audience makeovers (for the first of many Female Trouble screenings), a Sal Mineo–inspired wet Speedo contest (in conjunction with the incredible Who Killed Teddy Bear?

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