December 7, 2009
Ask anyone with an interest in movies what constitutes a "cult film" and you'll receive a different answer from almost every respondent. It can be a contentious debate, as there are countless ways to pose the question but there are only a finite number of concrete answers to it. The appreciation of art - much like the creation of it - is a highly subjective matter and although there are widely acknowledged norms, what moves one person or another is typically defined by their individual tastes and passions. Besides, when it comes to the creative process labels often make it easier to accept someone else's assumptions than to do your own analysis!
With that in mind, it could be argued that anything that becomes popular to any degree does so only though mass consensus. A group of like minded people - for whatever reason - decides to enjoy something together because it speaks to them on similar levels. That may seem obvious but what is it that separates those who enjoy film as transcendent experience from those who just want to kill a couple of hours any way they can? Is it just because we're all wired a little differently? Because it is sometimes the level of contrast between these two camps that determines not just the initial level of success a film enjoys, but also its longevity. And somewhere within this space exists a type of film with a small but devoted following, obscured from or shunned by the mainstream audience and yet it endures because relatively few people enjoy it so very much.
There are some who would object to me calling such films "obscure", but in my mind that's really what they are. However, if I call something like Logan's Run "obscure" I don't mean to imply that nobody has heard of it. But let's be honest with ourselves, movie fans. Just because you and I and Seth McFarlane have seen it five times simply places us in the movie-going population right where I graduated from high school - the lower fifth percentile. Just ask ten people walking out of the latest Michael Bay film about it and I'll wager eight of them will simply assume you've been drinking and move on.
No, not everyone is attracted to this sort of material but not everyone values the time they devote to entertainment in the same way. For many people it's nothing more than a welcome diversion from a busy day; a time to shut down the mind and be amused – and that's okay. But for others it is an essential experience; a time to expand the mind and become indoctrinated into something greater than you. But I'm not referring to the crowd pleasing summer blockbuster or even to the occasional thriller or drama that commands almost universal appeal. I'm referring to the type of film that the majority of people will dismiss as frivolous, obtuse or even vulgar. But for others, it is as though they've been made privy to another dialect or indoctrinated into an exclusive sub-culture. The film maker has chosen to communicate an idea through words and images that only a select few feel they can come away with.