The Mysteries of Midi Minuit
Every once in a while there are publications that are transcend the status as magazines and become symbols of a cultural revolution. Think back on the early issues of Rolling Stone, Les Cahiers du Cinema, and International Times. You can add to the list Midi Minuit Fantastique, the first magazine ever to take the fantastic and horror genre seriously while creating a wonderful visual style all its own. Let me take you back through time and space to the Paris of 1957.
That year Cinéma 57 released a whole issue devoted to ‘’Le Fantastique’’. Cinéma 57 was a pocket sized magazine published by the ‘’Federation Française des Cinés-Clubs’’ (French Federation of Film Clubs’’), which was a very important organization devoted to promoting film appreciation in schools, campuses and other cultural venues. The issue featured Universal’s Werewolf on its cover and was full of fascinating black and white photos. The articles were written by ‘’la crème de la crème’’ of French film critics and scholars, among them Lotte Eisner, Ado Kyrou, and Pierre Philippe. Even though the magazine was published solely in French it’s impact was widespread internationally and even inspired Forrest J. Ackerman to begin work on his Famous Monsters project.
Reunited for their love of genre films of the spooky & dreamy kind some angry young men mostly hanging around ‘’Le Quartier Latin’’ who bore the names of : Michael Caen, Alain Le Bris, Jean-Claude Romer and Jean Boullet. These young men were highly literate, good looking, and sophisticated dandies far removed from the nerdy types depicted today on TV shows like Big Bang theory. Michael Caen, 15 years old at the time, discovered fantastic and horror film classics while on a trip to New York City. Visiting Times Square (prior to its deteriorating into a porno district), Caen got the shock of his life viewing films like those by William Castle, Universal’s The Mummy, The Black Cat with Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi, The Mask of Fu Manchu and other classics.
Back in Paris, while taking up medical studies Michael Caen encountered another like-minded individual, Alain Le Bris. He and Le Bris began spending their free time watching as many fantastic flicks as possible in the Latin Quarter theater, Le Midi-Minuit (1939-1985), which specialized in showing this kind of genre film. The Midi-Minuit theater was the place to go for budding counter-culture activists, Surrealists of all kinds, snobs, intellectuals, weirdos, Beat types and personalities like Serge Gainsbourg and Boris Vian. You have to remember that in De Gaulle’s France fantastic and horror films were stigmatized as lowbrow entertainment for deranged individuals. In the minds of the majority of the bourgeoisie, horror movies were considered to be on the same level as porn films. So to go to the Midi Minuit was in itself a form of dissent from the establishment.
In the year 1962 Eric Losfeld entered the picture. Losfeld was a legendary publisher, announcing the moral revolution that would eventually explode in the same Latin Quarter in May '68. Losfeld owned Le Dernier Terrain Vague bookshop, friend of André Breton and publisher of Eugène Ionesco, Boris Vian the film magazine Postif, erotic novels sold under the counter such as Emmanuelle Arsan Books (The Story of O) . Saint Germain des Près was the center of the cultural uprising to come with bookshops like the Minotaure that sold books on Surrealism, the Occult, Pataphysics, Erotism and Humor. This was a place where one could run into important cultural figures such as Henri Jeanson, Jacques Prevert or Monica Vitti. At that time two regular customers, Jean-Boullet and Jean-Claude Romer, decided to write a whole issue on fantastic cinema for Bizarre magazine, a Surrealistic and Pataphysical review published by Jean-Jacques Pauvert. Eric Losfeld was feeling enthusiastic about the Bizarre magazine issue and decided to introduce Boulet and Romer to Caen & Le Bris
The issue came to the attention of Eric Losfeld, owner of Le Dernier Terrain Vague bookshop, friend of André Breton and publisher of Eugène Ionesco, Boris Vian, the film magazine Postif, and under-the-counter erotic novels like Emmanuelle Arsan's books and Pauline Réage's Story of O. After seeing the issue, Losfeld introduced Boulet and Romber to Michael Caen and Alain Le Bris, thus forming the nucleus that would give birth to Midi Minuit.
Losfeld never paid his authors on time (if they were lucky enough to be paid at all) but he was a true innovator and pioneer. He was the father of adult comics, being the first to publish ground-breaking works such as Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella, Guy Peellaert’s Jodelle and Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane. Druillet would become, along with Moebius, a master of mature sequential art. The work of the two artists was published in Metal Hurlant magazine, a big influence on the American film maker Georges Lucas among others.
In may 1962, the first issue of Midi Minuit was published. With it’s powerful cover featuring a still from Terence Fisher's The Curse of the Werewolf with Oliver Reed (as the Werewolf) strangling Yvonne Romain the impact was a phenomenal hit on Paris newsstands. And the magazine's content fulfilled the promise of the cover with material along the lines of a deep analysis of Terence Fisher's fantastic Psychopathia Sexualis.
Jean Boullet was the top writer for the magazine. Ten years older than the rest of the Midi Minuit squad. Openly gay, obsessed with tattoos, clad in black leather, friend of Jean Cocteau, Boris Vian, Edith Piaf, Kenneth Anger, and Marcel Carné , Boullet began to handle a cult comic books store in 1968.
He was the first to introduce EC comics, as well as American superhero comics, to French audiences. Boullet was an anti-government and anti-religious radical who took great pleasure in angering both the Communists (who despised American genre culture as bourgeois degeneracy) and the Catholic church. These two groups wielded powerful censorship authority in the days before the revolutionary events of May '68 in France. He was as steadfast friend for life with the writers and artists he worked with but exhibited an explosive temper toward those daring to contradict him. A gifted illustrator, he had the ability to imagine scenes that didn’t exist in the movies he wrote about. Mind you..that’s not important.. and that way of imagining universes and concept even stronger than the films they were based upon is what makes Midi Minuit so important.
The visions, the wide cultural range of writers ranging from William Blake to Christopher Lee (Hammer’s Dracula himself) and the high level of writing in general are qualities that can luxuriate in while wading through this remarkable anthology.
Alain Le Bris eventually departed in order to follow the developments going on in free jazz, as well as to engage in countercultural ventures that laid claim to his attention. And Michael Caen became the central force behind Midi Minuit from 1962 to it’s demise in 1972.
Thanks to talents of the erudite Nicolas Stanzick, born long after Midi Minuit ceased publication, we now have access to the literary treasures in this ground breaking magazine along with accompanying high-quality photos. On top of that, this new edition has even higher production values than the original issues. The illustrations are mesmerizing covering a wide spectrum of fantastic cinema.
And as icing on the cake, the volume comes packaged with a bonus DVD featuring vintage documents: incredible Scopitones featuring Serge Gainsbourg and Stella , period documentaries on vampires and monsters. Let’s not forget the fantastic ‘
Barbara and her Furs’’ sequence originally directed in 1968 by Ado Kyrou (cult filmaker and genre film critic) for DIM Dam Dom a french TV top fashion and art show featuring the incredibly seductive Barbara Steele who was the saint (or evil?) patroness of Midi Minuit.
Travel back to a time when writers composed thoughtful and extensive essays, and most of the daring pioneers of fantastic cinema were able to give interviews. Midi Minuit is more than a true work of art than a magazine. Even if you can’t read a word of French you should purchase this perfect coffee table book and let your mind and imagination wander through an exhilarating world filled with such wonderful creations as King Kong, Dracula, Mario Bava films, horror pin-ups, Gustave Doré , Georges Méliès, and marvelous articles like Federico Fellini writing on Italian fumetti (comics). When you close the book you can't help thinking of this lost paradise when horror and fantastic cultural analysis reached such high levels of sophistication !!