ACM SIGMOD Vancouver, Canada, 2008
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Editorial Advisory
Board:

Reviews of Cultographies:

 

"Wallflower’s pocket-proportioned dissections of cult flicks prove that size isn’t important. Favouring keen concision over bloated verbosity, these ‘Cultographies’ weave vigour into punchy brevity ... The trio dish out a toned triple-punch of erudite passion, scrupulous study, theoretical heft and crap-cutting acuity."
Kevin Harley, Total Film

 

"Part of Wallflower’s new pocket-size Cultographies series, this examination of what many regard as the ultimate cult film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, chronicles its making, from Richard O’Brien’s creation of the original Royal Court stage musical through to its emergence as a celebrated midnight feature, complete with audience participation and fancy dress ... Full of intriguing detail, it certainly sheds plenty of new light on the film, and will be a must for Picture Show obsessives."
Howard Maxford, Film Review

 

"One of a series of Cultographies on the more niche film classics. Seife knows the film backwards, but it's his warm tone, mixed with academic analysis, that makes this - it's good to read a critic who can pick apart a film and still sense that you may enjoy it just because it's funny."
Empire

 

"a thorough, engaged, and thoroughly engaging case study"
Justin Smith, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, on Donnie Darko by Geoff King

 

""The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its cult will remain a glorious anomaly within the world of cinema - and will retain its popularity precisely for this reason". Thank you Mr. Weinstock, I'll drink to that."
Rob Bagnall, Timewarp.org.uk, on The Rocky Horror Picture Show by Jeffrey Weinstock

 

The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 8, 2008 Friday

Cult Pleasures
BYLINE: NINA C. AYOUB
SECTION: THE CHRONICLE REVIEW; Pg. 18 Vol. 54 No. 22

Jeffrey Weinstock was a virgin for too long -- at least in Rocky Horror terms. His first exposure to The Rocky Horror Picture Show came at 13 in the early 1980s in a novelty store. There he saw a poster of the disembodied scarlet lips whose singing, against a velvety black background, starts the 1975 cult movie. Weinstock was riveted, but he didn't buy the art. He was not quite ready for "dorm-room displays of subcultural capital built around intimations of sexual perversity," says the scholar, an associate professor of English at Central Michigan University.

A few years later, at a party, Weinstock watched the videotape but stopped in the middle and wasn't that interested when another teen tried to reproduce the intense audience interaction that marked theatrical screenings. His Rocky interruptus ended, finally, in Philadelphia when, as a college freshman, friends took him to a midnight show.

There Weinstock saw audience members' use of rice, water pistols, and other props. He heard the near-constant shouts at the screen. And he watched a costumed "shadow cast" mimic what was happening on the screen, to wit: After attending a wedding, a wholesome young couple, Brad and Janet, drive through the countryside on a dark rainy night. A sudden blowout leads them to seek help at a nearby castle (in Ohio?! shouts the crowd). There, they meet Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who's "just a sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania," and a similarly outré group of servants and guests. Seduction and a campy riff on Frankenstein follow.

Weinstock's account of his "first time" begins The Rocky Horror Picture Show, one of three books that debut Cultographies, a new series from Wallflower Press. "Despite its emergence as one of the most popular and debated areas of cinema," write the series' editors, "there is little systematic discussion of cult movies available." They hope to fill that gap.

Yet Weinstock warns his will not be a wholly celebratory study. Although he has seen the film many times, he tends to walk away, he writes, "exhilarated, but not quite satisfied." Along with other themes, tensions in the Rocky Horror audience experience are key to his analysis. He argues that the fans' behavior may reflect competing desires both to be a part of the film and to control the film. Rocky Horror cultists, he says, come to fetishize the interruptions themselves. A desire for control as well as community helps explain why, over years, fans often saw the film at the theater dozens or even hundreds of times.

For Donnie Darko, Geoff King grapples with a film drenched in enigma. Among the elements of the 2001 movie are a troubled suburban teenager, a reappearing man in a rabbit costume, time travel, threatened apocalypse, and sacrifice. "Twenty-eight days, six hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds, that is when the world will end," the lagomorphic stranger tells Donnie. Unless of course it is all a dream. King, a professor of film and TV studies at London's Brunel University, does explore the film's mysteries and blend of genres. But central is how a cult movie can be transformed through its reception and through new modes of transmission. Donnie Darko had only a limited theatrical release. It took off with the DVD, soon making more than $10-million, some 20 times its theatrical gross. King describes how the DVD's "extras," along with elements from fan Web sites, were incorporated into a later "director's cut." A mixed blessing. While some fans welcomed more answers, others yearned for an Edenic return to the ultra-cryptic original.

It is Ethan de Seife, writing on This Is Spinal Tap, who is perhaps the most unabashed fan among the first three Cultographies authors. Many would agree that Tap, about a British heavy-metal band, is a drily brilliant comedy made all the more amazing by the fact it was largely improvised. De Seife has a sweet first-time story. He saw it in the theater at age 11, with his mom, and recalls that he didn't get the joke: that this was a mockumentary of a rockumentary. Later, fully initiated, membership in the first MTV generation left him "groomed for Tap-appreciation," says the scholar, a visiting assistant professor of film at Gettysburg College.

The film, he writes, reflects his own ambivalence about metal with its "fond taunting" -- a clear emphasis on the fond part. Much pleasure comes from how dead-on its parody is regarding rock and rockumentaries. To take one example, the band's core members have been around a while, so there's a hysterical montage of their skiffle phase, their Merseybeat phase, their psychedelic phase, then their path into heavy metal, all the while losing drummers to unfortunate ends.

One of Cultographies' two series editors is Ernest Mathijs, of the University of British Columbia. Via e-mail, he confirms that coming attractions include books on Bad Taste, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Touch of Evil, The Evil Dead, Blade Runner, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and Frankenstein.

On a beautifully designed Web site, http://cultographies.com, visitors can learn more about the elusive nature of cult movies and check out a list of 111 top cult films polled from various sources, among them the series' editorial board, which includes Peter Greenaway, Joe Dante, and other filmmakers. The list has less science fiction and horror than one might predict. The intent, says Mathijs, is to push beyond those genres.

Visitors are invited to agree or disagree with all choices, and they do, Mathijs says, "sometimes in blunt terms." Academics and other writers can also use the lists to pitch a submission. The editors are looking for books that are "lively, fun, critical, and accurate." Asked about that last unusual emphasis, Mathijs notes the ambiguity that surrounds many cult movies and argues that the genre is a topic in which the academic's care for accuracy and the cultist's mania for detail can usefully coincide.

Mathijs and his co-editor, Jamie Sexton, of the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, also offer their own lists of 25 to show how different choices can be, says Mathijs. That's for sure. While his list includes such cult favorites as Man Bites Dog, Eraserhead, and Un Chien Andalou, there is at least one surprise. Gently queried, the scholar is unrepentant. "Trading Places is simply the best film ever," he replies, "and if I am the only member of its cult so be it."

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