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The 10th Anniversary of Midnight Mass

Mass Devotion

If the purpose of film is to offer escape, insight and entertainment, then it shouldn’t matter whether what’s onscreen is an Oscar contender or an offbeat, alternative film. Cult cinema is avidly loved by its audiences precisely because it promises escape from the bounds of mainstream propriety. The extreme devotion that cult films inspire in their audiences has nothing to do with following trends; instead it has everything to do with inspiration.

On July 13, Peaches Christ, and her alter ego Joshua Grannell, will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Midnight Mass with a double-billed weekend (the first in its history) by screening John Waters’ Desperate Living on Friday and Female Trouble the following night. Given the appeal that Waters’ films have on the non-conventional, it seems only fitting that he will be on hand that weekend to help kick off this anniversary season. But the connection between Waters and Peaches runs deeper than a mutual appreciation of transgressive cult films. It goes back all the way to the inception of Midnight Mass and the inspiration behind one of the most notorious and beloved of San Franciscan traditions.

As a kid in Maryland, Joshua Grannell shared more than just a similar hometown with John Waters. “John was the first icon that I could really look at and think, ‘you can have this other world and still be in Maryland,’ which is where I grew up.” When Grannell decided to become a filmmaker and performer, he knew he needed to get out in order to make it happen. “I knew I wanted a liaison city, bridging the gap between rural city and big city.” Then he met Waters and Waters turned him on to the Cockettes, which helped him realize San Francisco was the only place it could happen. With his roots firmly planted in the city’s underground art scene, Grannell then created and built a team around his films and his drag persona Peaches Christ, who also hosts Midnight Mass.

Describing the ideas behind the beginning of Midnight Mass, he says, “I knew I wanted to do something different. . .When John told me about the Cockettes and Divine, the seed had been planted in my head. This is going to be a stage show before a movie.” At the time, however, midnight movies were doing no business in San Francisco. And when Grannell approached Landmark films with his pitch, they were skeptical about its chances for success. He needed to do something special in order to draw a crowd.

What resulted is as much audience extravaganza as it is a stage show. Much of the success behind Midnight Mass can be attributed to the almost rabid frenzy and participation of its audience. Grannell remembers that, “at the beginning. . . it was very amateurish and it was very much with the audience. Every successful show inspired us to raise the bar for the next one.” Since then, the success of the show has even taken Peaches and Co. on the road to New York and abroad, but Grannell insists San Francisco will always remain its home base. “I could never leave these people. I wouldn’t have it any other way because I love San Francisco. . . I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

He explains it as “the kind of community that embraces the flaw, the underground.” In fact, the entire show is about “creating art but not worrying about it being perfect.” While it may lack the metropolitan chic of New York or the international appeal of Belgium, “San Francisco is the best as far as audiences go. In terms of enthusiasm, excitement, costuming, and being ready to have a good time.”

That enthusiasm will be put to the test this season as Peaches Christ will be filming six of the seven scheduled screenings as part of the development of a new show in conjunction with the Hdnet Movie Channel. The television show, titled “Midnight Mass With Your Hostess Peaches Christ,” consists of six 30-minute episodes centered around the Midnight Mass stage shows. Grannell describes them as “the cult movie experience from the point of view of the audience with Peaches as the ringleader. [It’s] focused on the fans. Celebrities will be secondary to the cult that’s grown around these films and why people love these films.”

Designed to be an uninterrupted pre-show about the rehearsals and the stage shows, there will also be audience interviews. Audience members are encouraged to come dressed in costumes. In fact, the more outrageous the get up, the more likely you are to be interviewed. The show launches at the end of August but shoots from July and every subsequent screening after that. Special guests scheduled to appear this season include Mink Stole at the opening bash performing with Peaches and Elvira on the double-billed weekend of August 24 and 25.

The fact that the success of Midnight Mass itself has enabled the development of this television show isn’t lost on Grannell. It was something that he couldn’t even have imagined 10 years ago. But after a decade of bringing Peaches to the world, and now to television audiences everywhere, Grannell wonders what it could possibly do for him 10 years from now. His ultimate goal remains filmmaking, which he admits to have placed on hold in order to focus on this anniversary season and the TV show. But that won’t necessarily mean the death of Midnight Mass and Peaches Christ.

“I’ll do Peaches as long as it’s fun. I always say -- as long as we’re having fun, they’re having fun . . . In 10 years, if we’re still doing Midnight Mass, it just means we’re still having fun.” That is an encouraging sentiment for everyone who enjoys the Midnight Mass performances, but perhaps the effect is felt most strongly by its creator, whose initial fascination with film grew out of a need for escape. “I really now realize how much I love this city. No matter where I go . . . wherever I’ve been able to go as Peaches or as Joshua, I’ve always been excited to come home. . . This is my home. And that’s also a great realization after 10 years.”

The 10th Anniversary Season of Midnight Mass kicks off on July 13, and culminates in September with a party at the De Young Museum celebrating a decade of Peaches Christ. For screening schedules, tickets and more information, please visit http://www.peacheschrist.com