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In the midnight hour

Anybody who's ever tried to keep a group of enthusiastic young people on task can sympathize with Caity Birmingham. Birmingham, operations manager for the Fargo Theatre, serves as a kind of den mother for a rotating group of 15 high school and co...

midnightmovies1.jpg

Anybody who's ever tried to keep a group of enthusiastic young people on task can sympathize with Caity Birmingham.

Birmingham, operations manager for the Fargo Theatre, serves as a kind of den mother for a rotating group of 15 high school and college students who serve as the theater's Midnight Advisory Board, picking out which films will be shown for the midnight movie series. This year's series begins Friday.

Committee members also write movie reviews for a publication, The Midnight Zine, and drum up audiences by talking about the series at school.

But during the meetings, "90 percent of the time, we're just rambling on tangents," admits member Toby Jones, a senior at Fargo South High School.

With a relatively small audience for midnight movies in Fargo, the committee must balance edgier fare with films attracting a larger audience.

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"You usually find stuff that we like, but we also have to realize the things we like aren't what the population likes," says Josh Dahlman, a Concordia College junior.

This is the third year of the midnight movie series. Low attendance forced cancellation of the series midway through last season.

The cancellation prompted formation of the advisory committee, Birmigham says. She assembled it through recommendations from local film teachers and movie buffs.

"Our goal is to get a sort of constant audience going," Jones says.

"The problem is there isn't a big enough cult audience in Fargo-Moorhead," Birmingham says. "You kind of play on people's nostalgia."

Thus, the theater has booked midnight movies like "The Goonies," which is a TV staple but still can attract people to the theater who grew up with it.

There's a hard-core group of people who come to midnight movies virtually every week, with anywhere from 40 to 100 people at the midnight shows most nights.

But individual films have varied widely in popularity, with some movies seemingly made for midnight showings drawing sparse audiences and other, more popular movies getting big crowds.

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The most successful film was "The Boondock Saints," a frankly weird - and gory - crime drama released in 1999. It drew 400 people over two nights in January, making $1,000 for the theater. It will be repeated this season.

But "Run Lola Run," an innovative 1999 production using frenetic camera work and animation, bombed. It drew only 35 people over two nights in March and lost about $100 for the theater. Likewise, the Adam Sandler vehicle "Punch-drunk Love," which garnered critical raves and is "the cult movie of the future," didn't do well, Birmingham says.

Committee members have widely varying cinematic tastes. Asked to name their favorite cult movies, they cite everything from difficult films like "Brazil" to classics like "The Godfather." Favorite directors vary from David Lynch to Orson Welles.

In picking the schedule, the committee looks for movies that have a certain effect.

Dan Muck, a Fargo North senior, says he knows he's seen a potential midnight movie when "at the end of it, you're like, 'Wow.' " A movie like "The Matrix" would make a good midnight film, he says.

And on a practical level, a midnight movie "has got to keep you awake until 2 in the morning," Birmingham says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

Fargo Theatre midnight movies

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- Friday and Saturday: "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981)

- Oct. 1-2: "Aliens" (1986)

- Oct. 8-9: "Jaws" (1975)

- Oct. 15-16: "Superman" (1978)

- Oct. 22-23: "The Boondock Saints" (1999)

- Oct. 29-30: "The Exorcist" (1973)

- Nov. 5-6: "Pink Floyd's The Wall" (1982)

- Nov. 12-13: "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984)

- Nov. 19-20: "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (2001)

- Nov. 26-27: "Little Shop of Horrors" (1986)

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