November 1, 2007

Time Warping Through Classic Cult Hits

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Instead of wearing as little clothing as possible, while donning a pair of bunny/cat/mouse ears for Halloween last year, I dressed up as Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. No one got it. I was completely disturbed by this reaction, as I assumed that everyone would have seen, or at least heard of, this cult classic film. However, I suppose that movies are in fact labeled as “cult” for their relative obscurity in the eyes of the masses. Many cult films present themes that are vastly abnormal, or in some cases, revolutionary, so it is less likely that they will appeal to the majority of people. They often employ innovative story-telling techniques and gripping cinematography. These qualities engender a very unique experience for the viewer, and so I have decided to compile a list of cult films that I feel everyone should have exposure to at least once in their lives.
The film most synonymous with the genre of cult classic would definitely have to be The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Based on a musical written by Richard O’Brien, the story follows a naïve newly-wed couple who, because of a “flat tire on a wet night,” ends up finding refuge in the abode of a transvestite mad-scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Despite being formerly straight-laced, the pair soon learns to disregard their previously accepted conventions of gender, sexuality and self-expression. This process takes place amidst a cast of “transsexual Transylvanians” clad in fishnets, feather boas, platforms, and party hats galore. The film received little critical attention or mainstream consideration upon its inception in 1975. However, it soon developed a small, yet potent, fan base of individuals who would dress up like the characters for midnight screenings of the movie. The audience would also “participate” via observing traditions such as throwing rice during the wedding scene. I feel that the most endearing aspect of this film is its message of acceptance despite perceived differences. It also features some great tunes and choreography (let’s do the Time Warp again?).
Harold and Maude is another film that did not make a large profit upon its debut in 1971, but has since gained a large cult following. It follows a death-obsessed teen, named Harold, who meets a spirited 79 year-old woman named Maude at a funeral. Believe it or not, the tale turns out to be a love story, yet the movie itself also happens to be hilarious. Harold’s repeated attempts at staging his own death are met with no reaction on the part of his mother. On one occasion, after spotting Harold hanging from a noose in the living room, she responds with “Oh, dinner at eight, Harold. And do try and be a little more vivacious.” Despite the bizarre, unlikely pairing of the teenager and the senior citizen, the movie expresses a very poignant message through what has been referred to as “Maudism,” or the philosophy of living each day to its fullest.
One cult classic that was actually very successful from the beginning is Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The movie is based on a novel by Anthony Burgess, and it follows the misadventures of a young man named Alex DeLarge whose principal interests are ultra-violence, rape and of course, the Ludwig van. He and his cronies roam about committing violent acts until he is ultimately imprisoned and put through a system of shock therapies to rid him of his aggressive inclinations. The film is rife with trippy imagery and speaks to the theme of the human will.
A fairly recent release which has quickly achieved status as a cult classic is 2001’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This film follows a transsexual punk rock star from East Berlin, named Hedwig, as she tours the diners and lesser venues of America following her ex-boyfriend who has stolen her songs and used them to become commercially successful. The movie is very comical; one of my favorite lines comes when Hedwig is regaling her life story and comments, “I got kicked out of university after delivering a brilliant lecture on the aggressive influence of German philosophy on rock and roll entitled ‘You, Kant, Always Get What You Want.’” The music in the film is inspired by the androgynous ’70s era glam rock, and the songs greatly augment the movie on the whole.
Other great cult films include Oliver Stone’s Scarface, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, and the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski. Many consider such recent films as Donnie Darko and The Boondock Saints to be in prime contention for joining the ranks of the cult classic elite.
There you have a few of the most prominent of the most obscure films of all time. So next time someone makes a reference to “Harolding,” or hanging around cemeteries, you’ll be in the know.