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Anatomy of Cult Films

30 March 2012 | Others | by David Zou

Alejandro Jodorowsky pic

I re-watched Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult classic El Topo last night in blu-ray with director’s commentary,which gave me lots of insights into the ideas of making a cult film.Jodorowsky was a bad-ass when he made the film,he did everything against the government and director union in Mexico during his shooting.It’s interesting he said a director should make films only to express his own ideas and ignore everything others say including the reactions from the audiences,this statement is contradictory to his 1990 film The Rainbow Thief,which was his compromise to Hollywood system and suffered a huge lose in box-office at last,and he has to raise money from his fans through a video to begin his new project – an autobiography film called Danza De La Realidad.What a pathetic old man,and what a sad situation to a great director in his very later years.

Today I’m in the mood for cult.My wife once asked my about the concept of cult,I could not answer it,in one sentence,it was a too ambiguous word for me.So what is a cult film and what films can be called as cult films? I made a presentation here to discuss this interesting subject with you guys.





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  • Interesting questions. I find it very interesting, for instance, that in your first point, you suggest that films like Fight Club and Reservoir Dogs started as cults, then gained mainstream acceptance so may no longer be cults, but in your second point, you suggest that audience size is not defining of cult.

    For me, audience size is a part of it. Cult films, though, are hard to judge from the position of a blogger. I look, for instance, at a film like Duncan Jones’s Moon. Is that a cult film? Almost every blogger I know has seen and liked it, so there’s a positive buzz around it. However, almost everyone I know who isn’t tapped into the movie world has never heard of it. So does that define its cult status? A film of high quality that is known and enjoyed by a select (and relatively tiny) group of people?

    Probably not. For me, “cult” is about the buy-in. I like Moon, but I don’t talk or think about it obsessively, nor do I try to indoctrinate others into becoming Moon fans (although I did show it to a film class). Cult audiences are rabid about their fandom, or tend to be. I hated Rocky Horror Picture Show, but still call it a cult because its fanbase loves it. A film like Evil Dead is respected in movie circles and gets good reviews–and has been seen by most horror fans, but it’s still a cult because its core fanbase is rabid and watches it over and over and over, heads out to midnight screenings, quotes lines.

    A cult film, then, for me is defined in much the same way as a cult religion. It involves a splinter of people who devote a significant amount of time and energy to that thing. I like Fight Club, but I don’t live and breathe it or proselytize. I’m just a fan, not a part of the cult. And so, it’s the size of the group that defines the cult. It has to be big enough to be meaningful.

    • Very interesting thoughts,man.So you are saying not only the size of the fanbase but also the passion from the fanbase help define a film as cult.There are many film buffs who only watch a specific kind of films,and they live and breath them as everyday life,they treat them like something holy,so we may say that the films watched by them can be called cult films.Did I understand you correctly?

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