Have you noticed how many cult movies are around these days? It feels as if there’s just been a cult explosion. Films that not so long ago just seemed to exist by repute, something you’d only read about but never seen, or that somebody else had once seen and told you about. Cult movies used to exist in a kind of shadow world of unobtainability, like ghost stories told around a fire.
How things have changed! Suddenly cult is almost mainstream. With the continued growth of independent exhibition (and that’s partly down to the increased number of community film groups and organisations like us) there’s more and more choice beyond the multiplex and the current releases, and cult is the popcorn of film societies – it’s made for sharing. So, suddenly it seems to be everywhere. You’re practically falling over it.
We’ve got late night cult movie spots at the cinema, special screenings, seasons, mini-seasons, festivals – horror, sci-fi, music, film noir, you name it. Open-air, re-enactment, “event” cinema, dress up, drink along, sing along, you can share your love for Basket Case or The Big Lebowski with other fans or watch “Belle et La Bete” on a giant screen. You can even see some of them on TV every now and then – though still not often enough for our liking. Even Film4 is only adventurous up to a point.
Anyway, if you’re interested in films then there’s almost no excuse not to have seen some of these titles any more. We think it’s great.
But meanwhile….there are some films that don’t quite fall into the category of cult – they don’t inspire quite the devotion that the most classic cult movies do. They don’t necessarily have the one-liners or the darkness or the daftness or whatever X factor it is that makes a certain film cult viewing. And yet they are remarkable, unclassifiable and unique, and often with their own particular following. So they teeter on the edge of cult, somewhere between Cult and Quirk.
Our next film, “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” is one of these. To put it bluntly, it’s just nuts. The story line is classic cult, with two characters falling in love across the boundaries of possibility and time, partly told in flashback with another old favourite cult movie device, the voiceover.
Some of the dialogue is so mannered and melodramatic you wonder how the actors could keep straight faces, while the visuals look like painted Surrealist dream sequences – which actually they are, as Surrealist painter and photographer Man Ray was brought in to work on the art direction.
It’s set in what seems to be a ghost town only populated by the actors and a few shadowy extras. And the characters themselves – who in their right minds would put these guys together? A bullfighter with delusions of grandeur, a foppish world speed record holder and an archeologist with a penchant for pithy speeches, for instance, would not in any normal circumstances hang out together. But here they do, all transfixed by the wiles of a beautiful woman, and it just adds to the daftness of it all. But also the wonder. That’s one of the elements of the cult film that we sometimes forget in the midst of the hype.
And Pandora is full of wonder. The Surrealist-inspired statuary on the beach, the creepy legend behind the story, the other-worldly qualities of even the most mundane scenes, the dawning possibility of a love being reborn: even while you’re laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole set up, there’s something magnificent about it too. And don’t forget the hypnotic melancholy of James Mason’s voice running through it all.
So, is it a cult film? Not exactly, no. But it has been very much admired for some of the reasons we mentioned and for its strange and luscious cinematography by the great cameraman Jack Cardiff. Is it an oddity? Very definitely yes, and one that you really should see. We hope you’ll join us to share it in true cult fashion for our first screening of 2014.