True cult status? Whoop-doo!
Both Internet pundits and blog critics alike are quick to bitch about the cliched nature of our current cinematic landscape. While they scream in bold words of disgust, they can't help but fall into a similar trap themselves. They're just as guilty of sipping from this dried well as the rest of our so-called "film community". How often do you read a review that screams, "Instant classic!" Or, "Modern day masterpiece!" How about, "A Triumph!" Then there's, "A true crowd pleaser!" "A thrill ride!" "The funniest comedy of the summer!" And, "Does for (insert blank) what Jaws did for swimming!" The list goes on and on. When it comes right down to it, there's not much new you can say in terms of film theory and structure. When all of our movies are repeats, reboots, and sequels, you have to guess that most critical movements in literature are stemming from the same old construct put into use nearly a hundred years ago.
These new works of criticism are no more sophisticated or original than the very first film review that went into publication shortly after A Horse In Motion hit theater screens in the late 1800s. Though most critics have their noses up in the air ninety-eight percent of the time, they've certainly succumbed to the fallacies of repetition. This conceit has never been more apparent than this past year; with every respectable entertainment news source quick to point out the hefty resonance of any new, exciting, original film to appear on the horizon. We are so bored with the "same old shit" that gets force-fed into our mouths on a constant basis, when something is a bit off-the-norm, we're quick to jump on it and support it.
We wantonly shellac its base with these six little words: "Sure to be a Cult Classic!" We, as a critical community, love to use that phrase whenever a provocative, fresh thought flops itself across the screen. If we assume general audiences aren't going to like it, we label it a "cult" affair as if branding a deformed cow with a winning personality. Just to make sure it isn't drug behind the barn and shot in the face. Somewhere, someday, someone is going to start a club in support of said film. And ten years after its release, we'll be inundated with merchandize that would have seemed remarkably crass had it appeared upon that film's initial theatrical outing.
We've already seen some mighty big contenders for cult film of 2009 come and go. District 9. World's Greatest Dad. Land of the Lost. Observe and Report. The problem is, none of them have picked up much traction. They were here one day, and gone the next. No one, at this current moment in time, is talking about them. We're all too consumed with the impending arrival of Avatar to remember the cool shit that came out earlier in the year. To become a cult film takes a lot of time and loving tenderness. These (sometimes lofty) projects need to cultivate their fanbase and grow accordingly. We won't get word back on some of these films this year. Maybe even for a couple of years. As it stands, they've pretty much sunk into the ether. They are eagerly awaiting their DVD, On-Demand, or cable television debuts. Will they or won't they seep into the mind of some impressionable child who, later in life, will adorn their college dorm rooms with artifacts supporting their existence as important pieces of celluloid? That's truly the burning question.
The problem with these four potential cult wannabes is that they are all commercial films. They are all American. And they were all quite readily available even before their wide releases. District 9's coveted word-of-mouth didn't spill into the public consciousness until moments before it hit theaters. There was no prolonged anticipation. There was no deep analysis or introspection. Now, as it heads for home video, there is a sullen, so-what attitude laced like bacon around it's hollowed husk. Land of the Lost and Observe and Report? They've leapt into the discount dustbin without nary a whisper. World's Greatest Dad? People grimace, giving the gas face when you mention how fucking awesome it is, "Really? Are you serious? Didn't Bobcat Goldthwait direct that? I can wait." It's one true cult oddity that's going to struggle into the arms of its awaiting audience. Because folks simply aren't willing to give it the time of day. Not yet. (And, oh, how I feel sorry for those people because this Robin Williams dramedy is one of the three best films of the year and it should win an Oscar; if not for Best Picture than at least for Best Screenplay).
When we look at films that've recently achieved true cult status, we see they fall into two camps. Those that grabbed their limited audiences right out of the gate, yet had a slow rollout, thus creating feverish anticipation. And those that planted themselves like seeds on the video store shelf only to grow mighty amongst the brave who watched them first.
Arriving in camp one we have Donnie Darko. It nabbed its initial fanbase quickly, yet had a very limited run at the arthouse theater. Sci-fi freaks and Steven Spielberg aficionados lucky enough to catch it in their hometown on a first run basis quickly spread word. Anticipation for this title reached a fever pitch before it hit DVD, and Donniewas snatched up by eager viewers the moment it hit store shelves. Now, eight years later, it is remembered as one of the great "cult" films of the Aughts. Same goes for Napoleon Dynamite. Its limited indie run kept getting an extension due to strong word of mouth, eventually flinging it into every theater in the country. The movie was labeled a cult hit before it ever stomped across Middle America. Five years later, it's an unstoppable merchandising machine. We also have Shaun of the Dead, which was championed by the Internet community to become one of the greatest cult films of the past twenty years. Again, people had to wait for it in the states, as it was originally a foreign release. Then there's the subtle works of Miike Takashi, whose films Audition, Ichi the Killer, and Gozu rose to prominence in the underground, soon infiltrating college campuses countrywide. Many of which had to wait a long time for proper region 1 releasing. This made the films even more cultish and worshipped, as some of them had to be nabbed through illicit means of dubious duplication.
In camp two we find The Big Lebowski, a flop upon both its theatrical and DVD release. Quite misunderstood, it's taken eleven years for this crowning Coen Brothers achievement to reach true cult status. Its hardcore fans are some of the most loyal and supporting film freaks you'll ever meet. They've gone on to create Lebowski Fest, which celebrates bowling and White Russians with a grand costume contest. And The Big Lebowski has also taken on a merchandizing life of its own, with custom bowling balls, action figures, a bazillion novelty T-shirts, and its very own line of powdered milk. The same exact thing happened with Mike Judge's first two films Office Space (arriving a year after Lebowski), and Idiocracy. The word is still out on this year's Extract, but the hushed nature surrounding its considerably small theatrical release and impending DVD release indicate that it, too, may spawn a similar hardcore cult fan base somewhere down the road.
All of the above mentioned films have become permanent fixtures in our current cinematic lexicon. Everyone knows them. Everyone loves them. They have an adored location in each and every one of our personal media libraries. There is a profound, undeniable aura surrounding each of these titles. Can that be said about any of the potential cult films released this year? Do they have what it takes to reach true cult status? We won't know for quite some time. As A Christmas Story will attest, now that this box office flop is considered one of the biggest holiday classics of all time twenty-six years after it failed to register with its 1983 audience of fools.
Thing is, not one 2009 film seems capable of registering in quite the same way as those cult films that came before them.
Suddenly, and surprisingly, five brand new films have arisen out of the murky depths of obscurity. As their trailers screech across the Internet, they seem to be picking up a lot of interest and traction. Each and every one of these titles is cultivating a mighty sense of anticipation through word of mouth. They are all new, interesting, and original. They've become the must see movies of next year, according to the underground consensus that is always two steps ahead of the General Pop Cultural manifestations mooed in by our average American theater attendees. To catch you up to speed, we now go Five on the Five to showcase the Whoop-Doo future classics most likely to attain TRUE CULT STATUS in the coming years:
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil: This genre-bending indie horror comedy stars Tyler Labine (Reaper) as Dale alongside Alan Tudyk (V) as Tucker, two good-natured hillbillies mistakenly accused of being psycho killers by a group of college kids camping at the same lake where the hillbillies have just acquired a dilapidated cabin as their summer vacation home.
A Town Called Panic: Animated plastic toys like Cowboy, Indian and Horse have problems, too! Cowboy and Indian's plan to surprise Horse with a homemade birthday gift backﬁres when they destroy his house instead. Surreal adventures take over as the trio travel to the center of the earth, trek across frozen tundra and discover a parallel underwater universe where pointy-headed (and dishonest) creatures live.
Bunny and the Bull: A road movie set entirely inside a flat. Stephen Turnbull hasn't been outside in months. Living with a painfully restrictive routine, he refuses to interact with the world or think about the past. When a sudden infestation of mice forces him to change his ways, he finds his mind hurtling back to the disastrous trek around Europe he undertook with his friend Bunny, a womanizing, gambling-addicted booze-hound. Unable to stem the flood of memories, Stephen's flat becomes the springboard for an extraordinary odyssey through landscapes made up of snapshots and souvenirs, from the industrial wastelands of Silesia to the bull fields of Andalusia. A story of love, disillusionment, stuffed bears and globalized seafood, this is an offbeat and heartfelt journey to the end of the room from the creators of The Mighty Boosh.
Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day: Ricky, Julian and Bubbles are about to get out of jail, and this time, Julian vows to go straight, maybe even open a legit business. Soon the Boys will all be rich. At least that's what they've told the parole board. But when they arrive back at the park, they find it's not the same old Sunnyvale,. And it's not the same old Jim Lahey, Trailer Park Supervisor. Lahey's a new man, one that hasn't had a drink in two years. And he has plans - BIG PLANS - for Sunnyvale. Unfortunately for Lahey, Julian stands in his way. With his big plans for Sunnyvale going down the toilet, his relationship with Randy broken down, and having the Boys back in the park is all way too much pressure for him to bear. For Jim Lahey, the countdown to liquor day is on. Meanwhile, Julian's having problems of his own and the Boys are forced to resort to doing what they know best: Breaking the law. Lahey's descent into the liquor coupled with the Boys descent into crime puts them all on a collision course to mayhem and destruction.
Trash Humpers: Tired vocabulary like "enfant terrible" and "provocation" is a constant threat when writing about Harmony Korine and his films. His latest is no exception: Creepy masks, low-grade torture, frequent public urination, senseless vandalism and the title, acted out on defenseless garbage cans, all have a confrontational panache about them to be sure. But the film is also full of poetry, dance, song and moments of aching poignancy.
There you go. If those don't look like films worthy of the TRUE CULT STATUS we, as critics, seem eager to staple onto anything daring and original, then we are truly in grave danger of never seeing another True Cult film again in our lifetime. I hope you enjoyed the show. Eat food! Kill Grandma! Bold|Whoop-doo!