“But that’s just, like, your opinion man"
If you are a Generation Y kid, at one point you probably pretended a stick in your yard was a light saber, or annoyed your friends by repeating “Party on, Wayne.” Cinema has an incredible influence over our society, which is especially demonstrated through the films that have become cult classics.
The particular genre deemed “cult films” or “cult classics” have special appeal to selective populations. Known for being offbeat, strange, or simply outrageous, these films are often considered controversial because they exist outside of the standard narrative and technical conventions of cinema. There is no checklist to determine what makes a cult classic, but most of the time, such films did not fare well initially at the box office yet gained an intense and loyal following afterwards due to word of mouth recommendations.
Look at The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There’s no denying that this film has gained such a following, being constantly redone or referred to in other movies and books (see Perks of Being a Wallflower). Originally a play, Rocky Horror was not well received by Broadway, and first coming out in theatres in 1975, the film garnered unimpressive box office appeal. However, the film picked up momentum when it was moved to Friday and Saturday night midnight shows.
And it didn’t stop there. Shocking a generation with racy get-ups, cross-dressing, and sexual liberation and all tied up with a bow (or a thong), Rocky Horror has truly developed a distinct campy feel in its cult following. People who like the film may dress as Magenta for Halloween, but the true fans will lace those corsets for a midnight show and could do the “Time Warp” dance in their sleep.
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It appears that some directors and producers are more prone to making cult films, such as Sam Raimi, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, and David Lynch, says movie critic Tim Kirk. These movie-makers have such individualistic styles that set them apart from the rest, while also refusing to enter the mainstream of Hollywood.
And as much as Tarantino’s films are revered by his band of followers, it would be a shame for anyone to follow in the precarious footsteps of Mia Wallace or Mr. Blonde. Yet, even within the last few years we have seen how one movie can act as an avenue, or an excuse, for people to act outside of the law. Since it’s debut in 1999, Tyler Durden’s persuasive power in Fight Club has inspired numerous “Project Mayhem” examples across North America, including the bombing of a Starbucks in New York in 2009, and more recently, a major plan by a hacktivist community to collect and expose confidential information from a variety of companies.
Lifestyles mimicking those of characters in cult classics are not necessarily action-packed. Sub-slackers – otherwise known as Kevin Smith fans – can be found loitering around convenience stores and mall food courts à la Clerks (1994) and Mallrats (1995). As well, for a film that didn’t manage to break even at the box office, Donnie Darko (2001) has stalled the study sessions of college students for over a decade as they painfully theorize how the literal plot of the film does not seem to make sense, how the shifts of time travel operate, and, of course, what the true meaning is behind Frank, the creepy bipedal rabbit. Inactivity can be infectious. Ron Livingstone, Office Space (1999), even said in one interview that people often approach him to let him know that he is the inspiration for them quitting their jobs. Throwing your future away on a whim for your favourite movie may not always be the best choice, but hey, if you were inspired, you were inspired.
Cult films, as previously demonstrated by Rocky Horror, can impact people’s relationships in real life. Take Harold and Maude (1971), for example. This black comedy/romantic drama is about a young man, Harold (about age 20), and an older woman, Maude (age 79), who develop a friendship that later turns more intimate. Even though it was not immediately received well – Roger Ebert famously dismissed it – fans of this film were drawn to its original take on love.
In a society of youth rebelling against their parents’ conservatism, Harold and Maude opened up to them a world of unconventional relationships. Today, it has been said to have influenced contemporary filmmakers, such as Wes Anderson, but perhaps also the types of relationships young people choose to be a part of (see The Ontarion’s Jan. 31 article on Sugar Babies on Canadian campuses).
Yet how far do cult movie worshippers go in altering their lifestyles?
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It was only when I found the Church of the Latter Day Dude that I realized how much of a great impact cult classics could have on their following. My mind was blown; it appeared to have a larger congregation than the line-up was for the iPhone 5. Sure, I loved the The Big Lebowski (1998), and I think I could learn a thing or two from Jeff Bridges’ character and his carefree lifestyle.
“The Dude abides,” says a full-moustachioed-cowboy-hat-wearing man dubbed “The Stranger,” with whom the film ends with. “I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals.”
For those not familiar with The Dude, he’s a character actually named Jeff Lebowski, a full-time slacker who drives around L.A. and smokes weed, with a strong passion for bowling. As the opening scene shows him clad in flip flops and a bathrobe and sniffing cream at the grocery store, you immediately know he is relaxed and does not, if you excuse my French, give a fuck. Prompting a culture of Dudeism – with over 134,000 followers on Facebook – The Big Lebowski is most often regarded as the number one cult classic of all time.
Whether you are inspired by your favourite movie to let out your own “sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania,” tell off your boss, or sway through life with bowling ball in hand, there’s no denying that human behaviour has been, and will continue to be, greatly influenced by the novel ideas found in off-beat cinema.
Let’s just hope nothing becomes of Gigli.
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