Cult Film and TV research notes

Definition

The definition of a cult “Is a group of fans who are highly dedicated to a specific area of culture. A film, book, musical artist, television series, or video game, among other things, will be said to have a cult following when it has a small but very passionate fan base”.

Examples

Fight Club
Plan 9 From Outer Space
A Clockwork Orange
The Rocky Horror Picture Show 
The Big Lebowski 
Army of Darkness 
Donnie Darko
Ferris Beuller’s Day Off
Memento
Star Wars
Star Trek
Game of Thrones
Evil Dead + Sequal
Drive

Directors

Quentin Tarantino 
Ed Wood
Wes Anderson
J.J Abrams
Kevin Smith
Stanley Kubrick 
Joss Weadon

Auteur Theory

– J.J Abrams is a sort of fanboy director. Devoted to Sci-Fi, directing Super 8, Star Trek Franchise and is attached to direct and write the script for the new Star Wars film. Abrams did reveal in an interview with Simon Mayo and Mark Kemode that he wasn’t a fan of the Star Trek series before he thought of making the film and said as he was watching it that he felt like it was “exclusive”.

– Nolan directed Memento (considered a cult film) and directed The Dark Knight trilogy, bringing in a cultish element. Micheal Bay who is known for his over the top movies full of explosions directed the Transformers franchise which didn’t bring a cult element to it which it could have done, especially with the origins of the series.

– Tarantino would have the greatest success in turning cult films mainstream. He later used his fame to champion obscure cult films that had influenced him and set up the short lived Rolling Thunder Pictures, which distributed several of his favourite cult films. His clout led Phol Hoad of The Guardian to call Tarantino the worlds most influential director.

– Cult films are often approached in terms of autuer theory.

– Matt Hills states that autuer theory can help to create cult films; fans that see a film as continuing a directors creative vision are likely to accept it as a cult.

– According to Greg Taylor, autuer theory also helped to popularise cult films when middlebrow audiences found an accessible way to approach avant-grande film criticism.

– Autuer Theory provided an alternative culture for cult film fans while carrying the weight of scholarship.

– By requiring repeated viewings and extensive knowledge of details, autuer theory naturally appealed to cult film fans.

– Greg Taylor further states that this was instrumental in allowing cult films to break through to the mainstream.

Reasons for gaining a cult

According to a podcast by The Cult Film Club, there are 4 reasons:

– A failure of a film to reach an audience on its initial release – eventually it finds an audience through a revival of some kind – Denial from mainstream

– Typically has a counter-culture which is considered outside the norm – Transgressive Elements

– A film that is so bad it’s good

– A film that has a rabid fan base which has an almost “religious” following

A failure of a film to reach an audience on its initial release – eventually it finds an audience through a revival of some kind – Denial from mainstream

– A cult film is usually a film that hasn’t become mainstream.

– Stanley Kubricks A Clockwork Orange is a classic on which the directors withdrawal of the film in the uk after it’s release denied it’s place in the mainstream.

Typically has a counter-culture which is considered outside the norm – Transgressive Elements

– Examples of films outside the norm would be: 
 A Clockwork Orange 
Army of Darkness
The Rocky Horror Picture Show

A film that is so bad it’s good

– Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1956) was full of continuity errors and scenes where the actors clearly read from the script, the actor Bela Lugosi had died during filming and was replaced by an actor who was clearly much taller. The audience was so marvelled by how awful the film was that this gained a cult status as a comedy. 

A film that has a rabid fan base which has an almost “religious” following

– There is a difference between cult film fans and mainstream film fans. Mainstream film fans are passive, they are not as involved with the films as much as Cult film fans who are an active audience.

– Examples of how cult fans are an active audience range from fans of The Coen Brothers’ film The Big Lebowski who quote the dialogue and catchphrases to wearing purple jumpsuits. Another example would be fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with fans continuing the trend of dressing in leather and fishnet stocking and going to midnight screenings of this film, this trend has been happening for 35 years proving the devotion of the fans.

– It is argued that if these are the conventions of a cult film, then why are there people who go to watch mainstream films like Lord of the Rings dressed as orcs and elves. 

– I believe that these films have fans who try to bring the films to cult status but are unable to due to the popularity in mainstream cinema, I believe that there are mainstream films with fans who are as devoted to the film as much as a fan who is devoted to a cult film. 

Audience Theories

– Cult films fans can be seen as Niche Audiences 

– Niche Audience:
Smaller than mass audience 
Influential 
Dedicated 
Loyal

– Passive audience usually are audiences who use the media for gratification purposes.

– The active audience – more recent developments still suggest that there is a decoding process going on among the active audience who are not simply using the media for gratification purposes.

– The audience accept or agree with the encoded meanings, they accept and refine parts of the texts meanings or they are aware of the dominant meaning of the text but reject it for cultural, political or ideological reasons.

Types of cult films
– So bad it’s good
– Midnight movies 
– Camp & Guilty pleasures
– Art, Exploitation and genre films
– Animation 
– Nostalgia

Time

– Time is a factor of defining a cult film or cult classic. The Hunger Games is not a cult film, yet it could become one in 10 to 20 years time.

Cosplay

– Cosplay is short for costume play and is a performance art in which people wear costumes to represent a specific character or idea

– This often occurs with cult films

Cult Blockbusters

– A “cult blockbuster” involves a cult following inside larger mainstream films. Although these are big budget mainstream film they still attract a cult following.

– The cult fans differentiate themselves from ordinary fans in several ways: longstanding devotion to the film, distinctive interpretations and fan works.

– Star Wars, with it’s large cult following in geek subculture, has been cited as both a cult blockbuster or a cult film. Although a mainstream epic, Star Wars has provided it’s fans with a spirituality and culture outside of the mainstream.
Fans, in response to the popularity of these blockbusters, will claim elements for themselves while rejecting others. The character Jar Jar Binks, for example, is rejected not because of racial stereotyping but because he represents mainstream appeal and marketing.

– To reduce mainstream accessibility, a film series can be self-reflexive and full of in-jokes that only longtime fans can understand.

Hollywood’s Attempt 

– Since the late 1970s, cult films have become increasingly more popular and mainstream, which has drawn accusations that Hollywood studios have begun trying to artificially create cult films.

– An attempt of a cult film that has gone wrong would be Samuel L. Jackson’s Snakes on a Plane, they tried too hard to make the film appeal to a cult fan base but it failed. All films are available to become a cult, but “you cannot guarantee the manufacture of one,” (BBC Arcticle) 

Internet and Social Media

– Some films have acquired massive quick cult followings, virally through social media.

– Easy access to cult films, via video on demand, and peer-to-peer file sharing have led some critics to pronounce the death of cult films.

– Sites like twitter allow cult fans to widen the cult status of the film, they can create account of the characters of the film. An example would be the twitter account of Tyler Durden (Fight Club character) “@tylerusesoap” is the twitter account in which it tweets quotes from the film.  

– The rise of social media has been a boon to cult films. Sites such as twitter have displaced traditional venues for fandom and courted controversy from cultural critics who are unamused by campy cult films.

Instant Cults

– Some films are frequently stated to be an “instant cult classic” now, sometimes before they are released. 

– Fickle fans on the internet have latched on to unreleased films only to abandon them later on release.

Quoting Dialogue 

– “The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club”. Most people would have heards the words said by someone they know or someone in the public, this line is the most famous line from the film Fight Club.

Postmodernism

– Ernest Mathijs suggests that cult films help to understand ambiguity and incompleteness in life given the difficulty  in even defining the term. That cult films can have opposing qualities – such as good and bad, failure and success, innovative and retro – helps to illustrate that art is subjective and never self-evident.

– This ambiguity leads critics of postmodernism to accuse cult films of being beyond criticism as the emphasis is now on personal interpretation rather than critical analysis or metanarratives.

Extreme cult devotion 

– Dudeism is a philosophy and lifestyle inspired by the modern-day fictional character Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, as portrayed by Jeff Bridges in the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski.

– Dudeism has sometimes been regarded as a mock religion, though it’s founder and many adherents regard it seriously.

Other Notes

– The Rocky Horror Picture Show was distributed by 20th Century Fox which is a major conglomerate.

– The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn’t released on Home Video until decades later, it then became the 7th highest grossing R rated film ever.

– Anchorman is considered a cult film yet it’s sequel is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. 

– Cult film fans consider themselves collectors rather than consumers, as they associate consumers with mainstream, Hollywood audiences.

– Films can lose mainstream momentum and gain a cult following 

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4 thoughts on “Cult Film and TV research notes

  1. Okay, looks like you have a lot of interesting material here and it certainly is going to blow your mind when you start reading the massive tome I have to give you…but we still need to get some kind of clear focus about what your essay is going to be about and what it is going to say!

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