Sunday, December 23, 2012

CINEMATIC COOKBOOK: How to Make a Cult Movie

When the time is in for a new feature, there is no point in delaying its arrival and no wrong time to introduce it. Hence, despite my publishing the new 100 Favourite Movies list just recently, today is another day for a change here at Lime Reviews and Strawberry Confessions.

In The Cinematic Cookbook, you will - as time goes by and more and more entries are published - be able to find recipes for any film-related meal. Be it the classic action flick or the new trend of philosophic, complicated films that search for a meaning in life, we know all about it. Theoretically, that is. 
Perhaps you will find inspiration for your own soon to be coming production, or what is more likely and the actual intention of this, you will find amusement and pleasure in reading the various recipes and if possible sharing thoughts for additional ingredients or refinements with the other gourmets here.

To start with, I have decided to take up a meal that I have been ordering almost every night for the last two weeks; the cult film. The basis for my knowledge of this speciality has been derived from an excellent list from my favourite place for film-related lists - the 500 Essential Cult Movies list based on the book by Jennifer Eiss, published on (for some reasons there are 502 movies in the list). I was simply looking for some interesting new films to watch and decided on one of the lists I had seen fewest movies from and that didn't sound as scary as "The 100 Most Significant German Films" (notice the use of 'films' instead of 'movies' here).

Anyway, I've spent many of my recent evenings watching a wide range of very different films - there's really everything from "f*cking crazy" to "incredibly beautiful" in the list - that all have an extreme cult following by a supposedly small group of people in common. Some of these films have had an influence on cinema, others have gone by unnoticed and unwanted until (re)discovered by some people that could appreciate them.
Although some of them made it really hard for me to like them (sorry, but Assault on Precinct 13 is so predictable when you've seen the remake before the original), I was surprised to love most of them. So, now that there are only 459 movies left for me to watch, here's my newbie-ish suggestion on how to make a cult movie.

(in no particular order)

A catchy soundtrack is one of the most important factors that make out a good film for me - it adds the special flair to the movie, like the mushrooms on my pizza. If I have to download the music right after seeing the movie, that's really a big plus (although there are bad films with good soundtracks as well). 
What would Godard's Á bout de souffle (Breathless) be without its relaxed jazz score? What would 2001: A Space Odyssey be without the unforgettable uses of classic music such as my beloved Blue Danube by Strauss? What would Priscilla be without the groovy remix of "Finally" in the climax's drag show?
They'd be pictures without music - bodies without souls, sentences without grammar! The music not only catches the audiences interest, but it's part of the movie - or at least supposed to be. It makes the pictures sway, dance to the rhythm. 
What makes the catchy soundtrack especially important for cult movies is the fact that cult movies are made to be loved into every single detail. You quote the quotes, you copy the style - and you sing (or hum) the songs.

As culty as it gets: 200 Motels (1971) with its sometimes horrible sometimes awesome rock installments, Barry Lyndon (1975) with the majestic Schubert theme and Requiem for a Dream (2000) with the melody you've all heard at X-factor or something like that.

Exceptions: None I can think of.

The quotes of a cult movie are like the butter you put on your bread (and no, I have absolutely no understanding for those people who don't like butter). They may be the essential thing about cult movies, although I'd rather say they're the thing that proves whether a film is worthy of a cult following. 
In my opinion, the quotes from a cult movie have to be impressive and unforgettable immediately. You need to hear the quote and right away feel the urge to write this genius thought down. 
Some of these quotes are even that famous that you know them before you watch the movie (examples below). Others make you wonder why you've never heard them before. 
By the way, I'm also really bad at quoting; the right quotes just never pop into my head at the right times. It's a pity.

As culty as it gets: "I am your father", "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse" and "It's not a handbag, it's a satchel". 

Exceptions: Foreign films because it's just not so cool to quote in French and when nobody understands you. Which brings us to the third ingredient.

It was actually meant to be "or/ preferably and", but I got confused was to cool and stylish to write that.
Did you ever try to buy a new mascara? Okay, stupid question because every girl has and no guy has. So, have you ever tried buying bottled water in a big supermarket? It's so hard, even if you're not going after the taste - besides, you never know what it's going to taste. Suppose you're in a foreign country. And you have to buy a bottle. Which one are you going to take? Well, I'd honestly go after the design. Of course, the price is important too, but not essentially when the bottle looks ugly and unhealthy, unstylish, uncool. 
However bad this example is, I hope you get the point - style and coolness are quite essential to (most) cult movies. I also must confess that I'm a person who's largely influenced by the way a movie looks, no matter what kind of movie - which doesn't mean it has to be "beautiful" for that's something else than stylish. I just like it when good movies have an impressive and intriguing visual quality expressed through cinematography, lighting, costumes, props and so on. 
The coolness factor is a little bit different, because it applies mainly to the behaviour of the fictional characters of the story. Cool characters often don't express their feelings out of various reasons, and that's even better when there's a contrast, for example a breakdown of one of the characters.
Conclusion: Coolness and style are not necessarily essential for every cult movie, but they play an important role in the overall image of the genre/ whatever-you-call-cult-followed-movies.

As culty as it gets: Definitely the best example is The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which in fact, I saw for the first time tonight), but newer movies like Pulp Fiction, and most recently Drive, prove the point too.

Exceptions: Woody Allen's Bananas and Peter Jackson's horrible Bad Taste.

And the last ingredient is... (tatataTAAAA!!!)...

That's right, eccentrism. A word that has not been officially adapted to the English language, as far as I know (the only place I could find it was the so-called "urban dictionary"). It is here described as "The act of being eccentric, mad, or crazy", which is just what I had in mind when I wrote it.
Eccentrism is simply the core of the cult movie "genre". It's what defines these movies and what causes their cult following, so-to-say making them what they are.
I would go as far as stating that every single movie that could be described as "eccentric" has produced a cult following, however big or small this following may be.  If something is different from the rest, especially if it's very different, there will always be people that love this thing to pieces. 
It may be the story (people experimenting on human behaviour in a morally questionable way - Das Experiment), the narration (music interpreted by moving images - Fantasia) or everything (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) - the keyword is provocation. Movie buffs don't watch movies because they want to be comforted by the same old thing time after time, no, they (should I say "we"?) long for inspiration, fascination, indignation - oh yes, provocation.

This, at my knowledge, counts for every cult movie ever made.


After finding the ingredients, it is up to you what you make of them. You may add a dash of this and a spoon of that, or take plenty of it all. Just stay true to yourself and you will be sure to be producing the next cult movie. Bon appétit! 

who has to go to bed now, before she scares Santa Claus away...


  1. Another fascinating read, and a big thank you for the link to the 502 cult movie list. I've only seen 32 or so, but at least one of them is probably my second favourite visual cinematic experience after Lawrence. The Navigator: A Mediaeval Odyssey

    1. I was really thankful to the person that recommended icheckmovies to me too. It's a great site for lists.
      Also thanks for recommending The Navigator, just added it to my watchlist.

  2. Brilliant post! Love the Wes Anderson inspired photos. But I think there are a couple of other factors essential for a Cult Film. There should be something not just eccentric (by the way, the correct word is 'eccentricity', but I like yours better) about it, but also morally, culturally, or traditionally transgressive in some way. An acquired taste guaranteed to offend someone, something like anchovies, cilantro, or licorice. I think it's also very important that at least one of the ingredients used triggers a sense of nostalgia in the viewer.

    1. Thanks!
      I guess that's what you get from watching all Wes Anderson movies in one month, although that was a while ago.
      Of course I don't state I'm an expert in cult films or anything, but I guess you can see that from what I wrote. It's good there are people who actually have real knowledge about it, so thanks for sharing it with us :).
      The cult film book I bought in London also says that Pulp Fiction isn't a cult film because of its main stream appeal...


Let the discussion begin!