The sadistic serial killer Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde) takes aim at good taste in the 1992 mockumentary Man Bites Dog.
If you’ve ever been to one of the screenings slotted into TIFF’s Midnight Madness program, then you know how starkly they stand out against much of the other programming at the festival of festivals. You won’t, to cite an example from last year’s raucous Fubar 2 premiere, run up against some drunk guy in the bathroom pissing with his sweatpants around his ankles during a screening of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives or In A Better World. You also won’t see as many zombies and vampires and Glasgow-grinning Yakuza headhunters. In a way, even as TIFF has stoked its own prestige, Midnight Madness has always seemed the weird, unruly kid brother at the table. Which is precisely why we’re glad the program is becoming a year-round affair, starting with the Lightbox’s new Best of Midnight Madness series.
Colin Geddes has been programming Midnight Madness since 1997 (when then-programmer Noah Cowan brought him on). But he’d been in Madness audiences since 1988, when he was still a student and when TIFF was still screening movies at the Bloor. Geddes’ tenure has been as long as it has been colourful. He enthusiastically recalls finding clothes for Ong Bak‘s Prachya Pinkaew, whose suitcases were mislaid by the airline somewhere between Thailand and Toronto, scoring pot for Sarah Silverman during the premiere of Jesus Is Magic, and unleashing Eli Roth onto the world (“For better or worse,” he notes) with the premiere of Cabin Fever.
So besides being full of anecdotal fodder, Geddes knows what films will play well with the rowdy, but no less discerning, midnight crowds. “The curatorial style that I have for Midnight Madness is programming films that people will go back to again and again and have a ball,” says Geddes. “After being in the audience since ’88, I have a feeling of what flies at Midnight. If you’re a diehard festival-goer at TIFF, this is your last stop, and it’s my job to wake you up. I look for films that grab you in the first 10 minutes and hold on for the next 90 minutes. I’ve rejected films not because they’re bad films, but because they wouldn’t play at midnight.”
Best of Midnight Madness represents the cream of that crop, culled from both Geddes’ tenure and that of his predecessor. The series brings together the range of Midnight Madness offerings—from exploitation horror-comedies (Brain Damage, which opens the series this Saturday), coming-of-age stoner films (Dazed and Confused) to grisly, gory epics touching different registers (both Ichi the Killer and À l’intérieur made the cut), to a mockumentary about a Belgian serial killer (Man Bites Dog) and more. Programming these kinds of films at the über-classy Lightbox may seem a bit odd at first, kind of like smuggling a lukewarm Whopper into a five-star French restaurant.
But Geddes is determined to make use of the first-rate facilities his position at TIFF affords him. “We want to bring a fun, edgy kind of cinema into the building,” he says. “It’s not just about the pillars of cinema, about the Fellini and Mizoguchi and Terrence Malick. It’s going to be fun… A lot of these films are going to be playing for a generation who’s never seen them on the big screen. A lot of these films have been marginalized. And I want to see the things presented properly: with proper aspect ratios and the proper sound. It may also bring in an audience who may not pay attention to these kinds of films, and give [them] a new level of esteem and polish.”
Things get pretty ghastly in À l’Intérieur, a premiere example of the so-called New French Extremity.
It’s also a welcome series at the Lightbox, which tends to suffer from taking itself a little too seriously. Sure, we love their Terrence Malick retrospective. But connecting Fellini to MTV and Lady Gaga in the press release for their upcoming Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions show smacks a bit of desperation. With a solid opening lineup, and more to come, Best of Midnight Madness proves that fangirls, splatter hounds, and cult-film enthusiasts of all types have a year-round home at the otherwise well-mannered TIFF. “It is at times kind of like a sidebar,” Geddes says of Midnight Madness. “It’s definitely a very different audience reaction from the rest of the festival… It’s an audience of cinephiles. But it’s an audience of cinephiles that know that cinema can be fun—that it’s not all boring, pretentious arthouse films.”
Just try not to spill your smuggled beer on the seats, guys. They’re still like brand new.
Stills courtesy of TIFF.