A brief, hazy, and far-from-official SF history
CHRISTIAN BRUNO In the mid-'60s the Presidio hosted Underground Cinema 12, a package of late-night movies that might incorporate a little [George] Kuchar, a little Busby Berkeley, and a lot of porn posing as art. It was a traveling package of films that was curated by Mike Getz out of LA, but the Presidio put its own SF (which usually meant gay) stamp on things.
KAREN LARSEN Gosh, I remember going to see the Cockettes at the Palace in North Beach in the '60s. And I remember going to a theater in Chinatown that was 99 cents and showed midnight movies.
MICHAEL WIESE (from "25 Great Reasons to Stay Up Late," by Jennifer M. Wood in MovieMaker): "[In 1968 Steven Arnold and I] were able to book the Palace Theater. At the premiere [of Arnold and Wiese's Messages, Messages], 2,000 people showed up for a 20-minute, black-and-white film with no dialogue.... That was the real genesis of midnight movies."
MIDNIGHT MOVIES, by J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum (Da Capo): "Despite, or perhaps because of, the film's antihippie gibes, the city in which [Multiple Maniacs] enjoyed its greatest success was SF. Throughout the first half of 1971, it was the weekend midnight feature at the Palace, a movie house whose main attraction was the stage show performed by the Cockettes.... Divine was invited out for an appearance that April, and [John] Waters conducted a special live show. Introduced as 'the most beautiful woman in the world,' Divine sashayed out on the Palace stage in Multiple Maniacs costume, pushing a shopping cart filled with dead mackerels. In between 'glamour fits,' she heaved the fish into the audience, strobe-lit by the continual detonation of flash bulbs."
PETER MOORE We [the Roxie Cinema] were approached by Ben Barenholtz with Eraserhead in 1977 and showed it for years. Early in the run we brought David Lynch out, and I remember having lunch in a Tenderloin diner that completely charmed David. We also showed Pink Flamingos, The Honeymoon Killers, and Thundercrack! (of course). And we showed Forbidden Zone, but that was a case of trying too hard for cultness.
ROXIE CINEMA CALENDAR, APRIL 1977 "Midnite Friday: Curt McDowell's Thundercrack! Midnite Saturday: Divine in Mondo Trasho."
ANITA MONGA Curt McDowell, the talented and charming underground (as we called them in those days) filmmaker, was a student of George Kuchar at the [SF] Art Institute, then his lover and collaborator on many films, including the infamous midnight favorite Thundercrack! Curt's films were moving, confessional, ribald, and often absurd, with brilliant sound and picture, art direction, and original music on the teeniest of threadbare budgets. He was inventive to the bone.
MIDNIGHT MOVIES "At the Strand in SF where the performance group Double Feature would mime virtually the entire [Rocky Horror Picture Show] pickaxes were brandished in the audience when Frank took after Eddie with one."
MARCUS HU I remember going with a bunch of high school classmates to the Strand Theatre in 1979 and seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show and being completely mesmerized by the religious experience of being in a packed theater that was singing and performing in sync with the silver screen. It must have made an indelible mark on me, as I went to work for Mike Thomas, who ran the theater, and that pretty much defined my life!
MARC HUESTIS [Huestis's Whatever Happened to Susan Jane premiered at midnight on Feb. 13, 1982, at the Castro Theatre to a wild, sold-out house replete with the crème de la crème of San Francisco's '80s new wave scene. Mel Novikoff, president of the Surf Theatre chain, gave Huestis a good deal on a fourwall as the fledgling director pushed popcorn at one of his theaters. However, legend says he was heard running out of Susan Jane screaming,] "They'll go see this garbage, but they won't come see the Truffaut at the Clay!"
ROXIE CINEMA CALENDAR, AUG.<\D>SEPT. 1982 "Saturday at midnight! Basket Case!"
SUSAN GERHARD I remember screenings of Todd Haynes's amazing Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story at the Castro right when I first moved to SF, around 1988.
MIDNIGHT MOVIES "[Otto Preminger's] Skidoo ... has slowly but surely been gaining a second life as a midnight feature particularly in the SF Bay area, where the movie is set."
ROXIE CINEMA CALENDAR, JULY<\D>AUG., 1990 "Saturday midnights ... Frank Henenlotter's latest and possibly greatest grim sex and gore comedy, Frankenhooker!"
WILL "THE THRILL" VIHARO Thrillville began as a midnight series called the Midnight Lounge in April 1997 before switching to prime time 9:15 p.m. on Thursdays in January 1999. Around the same time the Werepad shared its vast film library with the public weekly not at midnight, but they were definitely midnight movies.
PEACHES CHRIST The first Midnight Mass, featuring Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, took place on May 30, 1998.
JESSE HAWTHORNE FICKS Midnites for Maniacs began at the Four Star on Aug. 2, 2003. The slumber party all-night triple feature with free cereal at 4 a.m. featured Revenge of the Cheerleaders, Pinball Summer, and Joysticks. The first Midnites for Maniacs event at the Castro took place on Jan. 27, 2006; it was a disco roller-skating triple feature: Roller Boogie, Xanadu, and Skatetown, USA. (Johnny Ray Huston)