A Night School Swan Song

Transmission from the Brain Kitchen 10.22.XTRACT
by JRLXOX

This upcoming weekend will be our final Night School presentation at Facets Multimedia.  Night School was founded back in 2009 by Phil Morehart.  He was the first series programmer and was succeeded by Suzi Doll, then Legendary Lew Ojeda, then Chris Damen.  In addition to the programmers,  the series was staffed by dedicated volunteers who were motivated by little more than their love of movies and their desire to create a place where “midnight mindf#ck cinema” (Chicago Tribune) could still have a home.

I first became involved back in 2009.  I had just gotten back into town after shooting my movie Scumbabies, and I was beginning to seek out the kind of people and the kind of community that loved movies as I did, and hopefully would eventually embrace the kind of movies I liked to produce.

First Audience for Sci Fi Sol I went to Facets and saw Legendary Lew Ojeda present the Indonesian cult masterpiece Lady Terminator.  He gave a quick lecture before the feature, and even screened a short video piece that he had made specifically for the event.  I loved the vibe of Lew and the rest of the Night School crew, and I started hanging out with them and quickly realized that I had never truly understood what cinema appreciation was.  These cats had seen EVERYTHING!  I knew I’d found my crowd.  I needed a crowd, too.  I was pretty sad and beaten up at the time.

I formed a close friendship with Lew that eventually led to a production partnership.  We had the same ideas about media application in community activism and a love for the obscure and peculiar.  We started producing events thru Night School and producing original content to supplement the screenings.  We wanted an audience to have no idea what to expect when they came to the theatre.  Would there be a live zombie dance number?  A public seance?  A silly soliloquy? (try saying that 5x fast!)

I still remember vividly, back in 2010 – I was working with Lew trying to come up with our next adventure.  Scott Walker had just dissolved the Wisconsin unions and Lew turned to me and asked, “Do you think we could get some people together to dress like nuns and priests and drive up to Madison and exorcise the state capital?”

Yes, Lew.  Yes we can.

Nite School POSTER XOXThe Summer of 2012 was incredible.  Lew was programming Night School now, and I was helping produce.  We called the series – “Trash-O-Rama!”  The whole series felt like a wonderful celebration of life and absurdity.  My older brother, Noah, designed and produced a beautiful black ink drawing of a clown sitting on a toilet for our poster.  I had asked him for that favor back in May when we were both in Upstate NY preparing for my Mom’s emergency long-shot cancer surgery.  Honestly, I hadn’t expected her to make it.  She did.  They called it a “curative resection”.  She was going to live.  I returned to Chicago and Trash-O-Rama began.

The final screening of that summer series was going to be the Chicago theatrical premiere of Scumbabies.  The movie featured my Mom playing the role of a Fairy Godmother.  I invited she and my brother to Chicago to celebrate and party hardy with my friends and I.  By the time August came around we had hosted some of the craziest screenings I have ever been to.

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We summoned the spirit of Bettie Page, moderated a debate between Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, hypnotized an entire audience, and created a unique family of attendees that faithfully returned again and again to witness the zaniness.  The Scumbabies screening was still a couple weeks away when Mom starting not feeling well again.  When she got rediagnosed we all were stunned.  The cancer was back and this time it wasn’t going to go away.  Mom was dying.

IMG_0971She and Jon still came to Chicago to see Scumbabies.  It was her farewell trip.  She must’ve been in such pain, yet she managed to smile constantly.  She even stayed up til the very end of the movie.  I introduced her to the audience and they cheered.  Everyone agrees that she gives an incredible and touching performance.  Th movie ends with an image of her wearing a halo and angel wings.   Less than six weeks after that screening she passed.

I’ve been more removed from Night School these last 12 months since her passing.  It was hard to remember her, there, sitting in the theatre with me and my friends and the Night School crew.   After the incredible summer of Trash-O-Rama,  we had  managed to finally grab the attention of the local community.  The Chicago Reader awarded Night School an award for “Best Late-Night Programming” in early 2013.  I remember how special that summer of work felt…a group of friends showing movies to one another, late at night, and all the while I was thanking God that my mother had survived her surgery.  There was a joy we all felt and shared.  Then after my mother died,  that group of friends helped me mourn.

Night School came to mean a great deal to me over these last many years.  The people that it introduced me to, and the community that I became a part of will forever be dear to me.

Fright SchoolThis upcoming weekend I host my first Night School presentation since the Scumbabies premiere.  It also happens to be the last weekend of our 5-yr run of midnight movies at Facets.  The screenings this Friday and Saturday night will be EPIC!

On Friday we have FULL METAL FRANKENSTEIN– Bruce Neal hosts and performs another in his stellar series of original live scores with the assistance of his merry band of musical misfits.  Don’t miss it!

And on Saturday come to Facets at 11PM for a cider and donut reception followed by a screening of WE ARE THE STRANGE, a movie banned from public viewing by the FDA due to audience mental health concerns.  I’ll also be showing some highlights from our five-year Facets run before the feature.  Many thanks to all the faithful friends that helped us as volunteers and audience members.  Love you all.  HAPPY HALLOWEEN aka  ALL HALOS LEAVE XOX

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3 responses to “A Night School Swan Song

  1. A beautiful tribute. I was proud to be a regular presenter throughout the Night School run and will miss doing it at Facets.

  2. Pingback: R.I.P. Facets Night School | White City Cinema

  3. Pingback: Chicago's Biggest, Spookiest Guide to Halloween 2013

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