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Clique Flicks

Film series focuses on cult cinema

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We know what you're thinking. Is When Cult Films Attack!!!!, the title and topic of this year's annual summer film series at the Main Library, a direct response to the recent issue of Entertainment Weekly which revealed the mag's picks for The Top 50 Cult Movies?

Not at all. In fact, Sam Shapiro, manager of the library's film department, assures us he came up with the idea of booking cult flicks as far back as last summer, and, validating his claim, media members first received his list of scheduled titles before the EW issue hit stands.

Still, it's apparently a good time to be a cult film. EW came up with an entertaining list, though the placement of This Is Spinal Tap as the number one cult movie, over number two pick The Rocky Horror Picture Show, was something of a surprise (let's face it: Spinal Tap may be a much better film than Rocky Horror, but when it comes to a dictionary definition of "cult film," nothing has ever matched the midnight movie perennial). Still, the demotion of Rocky Horror didn't rankle readers as much as the movies that were omitted completely: Responding to this outcry, EW followed up a few issues later with the 11 titles cited by the most readers as being the pictures that should have been included on the original list (Monty Python and the Holy Grail topped this bunch).

With midnight movies largely a phenomenon of the past (at least in most cities outside of New York and LA), cult films have had to turn to the home theater market to thrive. And, apparently, many do: A look at Amazon.com's current 100 top sellers, for example, reveals that several of the movies cited in the EW issues, films like Donnie Darko, The Big Lebowski, The Princess Bride and Office Space, continue to sell well despite having been out on DVD for months or even years. And many bookstores harbor a respectable number of texts on the subject, although Danny Peary's three Cult Movies books (first issued in the 80s) arguably remain the definitive chronicles on (as the first book's subtitle puts it) "the classics, the sleepers, the weird & the wonderful."

Over the course of eight Mondays (with a break on September 1, Labor Day), the library will screen a total of 10 cult flicks. Some may argue about the inclusion of The Great Train Robbery and perhaps even Sherlock Jr. -- these are established classics of silent cinema, viewed more from a historical than fringe point of view -- but the remaining titles are bona fide cult items, though, interestingly, only Brazil made EW's list (frankly, I'm shocked that Rock "n' Rock High School, a defining cult film if ever there was one, didn't make the magazine's final cut). The movies will be shown in the library's Francis Auditorium; admission is free. For more information, call 704-336-6217.

The Lineup:


July 14, 6:45pm: The Great Train Robbery (1903) / Sherlock, Jr. (1924) / Duck Soup (1933). The 10-minute Robbery is a landmark film, one that helped carry the motion picture medium forward in a number of ways. Sherlock, Jr. is Buster Keaton's hugely influential (ever see Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo?) comedy about a projectionist who walks right into the film that's playing in his theater and becomes a part of the action. And Duck Soup might be the Marx Brothers' best movie, a hilarious military satire that includes the usual quota of choice Groucho quips ("We're fighting for this woman's honor, which is more than she ever did!").

July 21, 6:45pm: Brazil (1985). Former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam was at the helm of this staggering sci-fi odyssey whose troubled behind-the-scenes history is as entertaining to absorb as the visually engrossing, Orwellian saga that ended up on screen in versions both butchered and intact (the library, of course, will feature the longer cut).

July 28, 7pm: Rock "n' Roll High School (1979). With the help of The Ramones (whose songs pack the soundtrack), a music-loving teen (P.J. Soles) stands up against a fascistic school principal (Mary Woronov) in this infectious good-time comedy.

August 4, 7pm: Assault On Precinct 13 (1976). John Carpenter suddenly had a career with the release of 1978's Halloween, but I actually prefer this exciting earlier effort about a small group trapped inside a police station that's completely surrounded by murderous gang members.

August 11, 6:45pm: Diva (1982). A key foreign import of the early 80s, this crackerjack thriller employs plenty of sass and style to relate its pulp tale about an opera fan who finds himself in hot water after illegally taping a concert.

August 18, 7pm: Raising Arizona (1987). Still the Coen Brothers' best movie (love that dialogue!), this irresistible comedy draws marvelous performances from Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a married couple (he's a crook, she's a cop) who elect to kidnap a baby once it's determined that they can't conceive. The living room interrogation scene with the kidnapped toddler's dad (a wonderful Trey Wilson) is already a classic.

August 25, 7pm: King of Hearts (1966). A cult item that played for years during the late 60s and early 70s (college kids especially dug it), this French flick cast Alan Bates as a pacifist soldier who, during World War I, befriends the inmates at a small town's insane asylum.

September 8, 7pm: Night of the Hunter (1955). A misogynistic preacher (Robert Mitchum) believes it's his God-given mission to marry lonely women and then murder them, and it takes a kindly Christian senior citizen (Lillian Gish) to finally bring him down. Fascinating on any number of levels (it's as much a warped children's fairy tale as a nail-biting thriller), this is the one where Mitchum has the words LOVE and HATE tattooed on the knuckles of his hands.

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