Can cult movies save the world? Maybe; they saved a young Joshua Grannel, a.k.a. Peaches Christ, founder and host of camp/cult-fest extravaganza Midnight Mass. This summer marked the tenth anniversary of the series, which has been starring not only Peaches and her sidekick Martiny, but also a slew of celebrity guests (Mink Stole, Elvira, and John Waters, to name a few), as well as featuring plenty of audience participation. Upcoming screenings include ’50s sci-fi “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (this weekend in 3-D, with Cassandra Peterson/Elvira live and in person!), “Dead Alive” (Sat/25), and as a finale, The San Francisco Underground Short Film Festival (Sat/1). As the series enters its stretch drive, we needed to chat with our very favorite Hostess with the Mostest, the exceedingly lovely Peaches Christ.
SF360: What’s the spirit behind Midnight Mass and how did it come about?
Peaches Christ: Well, really the whole thing was inspired by John Waters, to be honest, which is why it’s so fitting that he was the special guest for the opening weekend. He came to my university and I was able to host his visit with Martiny, who’s my sidekick at Midnight Mass, at Penn State — and he told us about the Cockettes when we mentioned that we were thinking about moving to San Francisco. He was very encouraging and kind of told us how great San Francisco was and how Divine and Mink [Stole] had performed with the Cockettes and kind of put the seeds in our head for this idea that people and queens and artists and singers and weirdoes would get up at a movie theater in North Beach and do these shows, because it was before the documentary came out. So when we moved to San Francisco and actually started looking for Landmark Theatres, it was a perfect opportunity to pitch them this idea. So Martiny and I came up with the title ‘Midnight Mass’ because I had named myself Peaches Christ and pitched the idea of just a real simple kind of performance, a sort of a fun celebration of the movies before the actual movie screens. They were very…not so much concerned about the maybe sacrilegious nature of the title … they were more worried about the fact that midnight movies hadn’t really worked in San Francisco for a long time and ‘Rocky Horror’ had just left the Kabuki due to dwindling ticket sales and it was kind of like, you know, there’s so much that’s going on in this city that’s transgressive and ‘underground’ quote-unquote that midnight movies are sort of a suburban phenomenon at this point. Our [response] was ‘Well, let’s see, let’s see if we can draw a crowd where the focus is really the show or the experience around the movie,’ and it worked. People came and they dressed up and they participated and we would put on a show and kind of set the scene and then hand the movie over to the audience and say, ‘Do with it what you will.’ Which is still how it is to this day. When we walk off the stage, the movie starts and the audience kind of takes over. Very interactive.
SF360: Well it’s pretty fitting that John Waters came for the tenth anniversary.
Christ: It’s amazing. It’s like there could be no more perfect guest and it’s like a dream come true.
SF360: I know you saw him again after college, have you kept in touch with him between then and now?
Christ: No, and really kind of avoided him because I was so afraid of tainting that awesome memory I had of him from college. So even though we obviously have mutual friends and I’ve done all these shows with Mink Stole and have loved his movies and promoted his movies and celebrated his movies I really didn’t pursue him. Then the ten year anniversary was coming up and we had brought Cassandra Peterson last year when it was like I had become friends with Elvira doing Midnight Mass and she had had me over for dinner and she was going to come back to Midnight Mass this summer but it was like, ‘Oh my god, we have to get John Waters. If I don’t do it now… when would I ever do it if not for a ten-year anniversary?’ I really don’t plan on making it to 20 years of Midnight Mass. I don’t know, maybe we will, but I’m not planning on it, so it was kind of like ‘OK, we have to do it now!’ Amoeba Music is a sponsor of mine and they’re great friends of mine, of Peaches, and I’ll go over there out of drag as Joshua and introduce people for them sometime when they have a signing or something, and they set something up kind of last minute with John and called me at the 11th hour for when his CD released this past February, and I knew that I was going to do some outreach to him but I didn’t know it was going to be tomorrow, so I just scrambled to put something together. Really what I did is I just wrote him a really personal letter and kind of laid it all out for him. At the signing I actually introduced myself and I said, ‘I’m the guy that brought you to Penn State a long time ago,’ and he actually seemed to remember. I don’t see why he’d remember… and I said I’d moved here and started a midnight movie series and he sort of raised one eyebrow and I said ‘…and I host the series as my alter-ego Peaches Christ’ and then he just sort of screamed and laughed and said, ‘Of course I know who are, you became Peaches and Mink adores you!’ I kind of handed him this package and said, ‘There’s a letter in here,’ and he turned to his assistant and made sure that that was put with his scarf so he knew he’d take it. People give him so much stuff that it has to be shipped back to Baltimore because he didn’t want to take it on the plane with him, but he actually took my letter with him. I got a call from his assistant Susan a few days later and we set the wheels in motion. And it’s really amazing because he gets asked to do a million things like this all over the world
SF360: Are you going to be best friends with him now?
Christ: Well I don’t think that that’s possible. People have asked that, but it’s like when you admire someone so much… to me he’s this godfather, mentor, diva that I could never not have on a pedestal. I don’t think that could ever happen because I’m such a dorky fan. I grew up in Maryland and I discovered him at an age where it was kind of life-saving in some way because when you go to Catholic school and you’re growing up in Annapolis and you’re queer and you’re teased and you’re taunted
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