“John Waters’s Midnight Cult” explores director John Waters’s early films in relation to cult cinema and a form of expanded spectatorship that bursts beyond the confines of the frame through a showmanship approach to publicity and visceral images that cause rowdy outbursts from their audience. It historicizes Pink Flamingos (1972) as one of the films that launched the “Midnight Movie” trend of screening offbeat films at a late hour for counterculture audiences in North American centres, and constructs a theory of spectatorship from archival resources including contemporaneous reviews and materials belonging to Waters. It also considers how Waters deliberately cultivated a cult audience through transgressive humour and revolting comedy that was designed to shock and appal normative sensibilities, thus landing him in the canon of cult auteurs.
Kate J. Russell is a PhD candidate in Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto, where she also completed her Masters in Cinema Studies. Her dissertation project positions John Waters as filmmaker and theorist, using his films, writings, and archival materials to mount a theory of the comedic potential of cult spectatorship. Her interests more broadly include animality, abjection, eroticism, gross-out comedy, trash cinema, surrealism, and horror. Her essay “The Cinematic Pandemonium of William Castle and John Waters” appears in ReFocus: The Films of William Castle (University of Edinburgh Press, 2018). She also holds a Masters in History of Art from the University of Glasgow, where she specialized in political and transgressive art of the twentieth century.