Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Crazy4Cult Cult Movie Art

 (crossposted on

The Big Lebowski. Fargo. Edward Scissorhands. They Live. Shaun of the Dead. Back to the Future. Jaws. Blue Velvet. Beetlejuice. Blade Runner. Planet of the Apes. Tron. The Warriors. The Evil Dead. Office Space. Donnie Darko.

If I just listed any of your favorite movies, then brace yourselves, an art book is being released by Titan this week that is going to make you lose your mind.

Gallery 1988's Crazy4Cult Cult Movie Art is a collection of art based on, you guessed it, cult movies, that has been displayed in four different shows at Los Angeles' Gallery 1988 over the past couple of years. I've had the good fortune to have attended two of these showings and the better fortune to have picked up some art prints before they sold out at said showings.

The idea is brilliant - tell a bunch of uncommonly talented underground artists to create a piece or multiple pieces based on their favorite cult movies. The results are beautiful, gruesome, clever and comfortingly nostalgic. I've salivated over some of these pieces for years and am thrilled that I now own all of them in a 175 page coffee table book, the cover of which features crazy eyed, Pulp Fictioned Sam Jackson, surrounded by bullet holes, pointing a gun in my direction. My living room just got a whole lot happier.

The book begins with a forward by longtime Crazy4Cult supporter, Kevin Smith, a third of which is appropriately one long penis joke. I wish there had been more background information on Gallery 1988, on Crazy4Cult, on the artists, on the artists' relationships with the filmmakers whose films these pieces were inspired by, but the focus of this book, like every showing I've been to, is simply the art speaking for itself. As Smith says in his closing paragraph,
"No words I use here can prepare you for what you're gonna see inside: artists painting other artists. Andy Warhol would be so proud."
And to a certain extent this is true. I suppose my knowledge hungry mind can take to the Internet if I wish to learn more about the process. My only other small gripe is wishing there was an index in the back of the book with page numbers beside each artist, but perhaps aware of an overall lack of context, a more digital age friendly road was taken, listing the artists' websites beside their names instead.

But on to what works in this book, because the introduction and index are really the only weak points.

The layout is spot on, flowing easily from one movie to the next. Right before Smith's introduction is a haunting Shepard Fairey piece inspired by They Live, which upped the film's want-to-see factor for me ten fold. After the introduction, the first collection of pieces are, naturally, based on Kevin Smith joints, my favorites of which were specifically inspired by Mallrats. The book then moves into some stunning takes on true classics - Dracula, Metropolis, The Wizard of Oz, and Nosferatu (Seriously, Maria, Dorothy Who, and Snowfall Over Poppies became instant favorites, based on the artwork alone) before going Full Cult, delving into Pink Flamingos, Clockwork Orange, Harold and Maude, Dawn of the Dead and all too long section on Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory aka the most terrifying movie of all time. The book continues jumping from film to film until concluding 170 pages later on The Big Lebowski.

One of my favorite things about having each movie grouped together is noticing each artists take on characters' specific costumes. This is especially fun with The Goonies, comparing the cartooned take of Goonies Never Say Die with the detailed paper doll like series consisting of their costumes paired with memorable quotes.

Even just casually flipping through the book, one can't help but notice the true artistry at work from all directions. Each person who contributed to this book has such an incredibly distant style, that no two pieces even begin to look alike. If an artist created more than piece, you instantly recognize the style, but because each of these films has such powerful imagery on its own, the book doesn't become the slightest bit redundant. It's absolutely fascinating to see how each film triggers each artists' imaginations.

I loved seeing how one person would be moved to create a simple, beautiful portrait like (The Big Tourist) Marla, from Fight Club, The Eraser Guys Are Coming from Eternal Sunshine, or Mathilda from The Professional, another compelled to fit entire plots of the movie into one painting like Self Respecting Consumers from Mallrats, or Back To The Future Part 1/Back to the Future Part 2, others inspired by one moment or one image like Temptresses from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Come Play with Us from The Shining or I Can't, Eddie and Hold Me...I Can't, three works inspired by the same moment in Edward Scissorhands, and some who took characters and created something completely new like The Parking Ticket from Star Wars or River Tam and the Fireflies from Firefly.

And of course, we can't forget about the mash-up, one of the stand out delights of Crazy 4 Cult, a novelty that now appears regularly in apparel from companies like RIPT, Tee Fury and Threadless. We see them here in all the Crazy 4 Cult posters as well as 8 Bit Beach Party, a piece I was happy to have the chance to dissect again and LA Plays Itself, a take on a postcard that combines multiple movies set in Los Angeles.

It doesn't stop with paint on canvass. The book shows off mixed media sculptures, stuffed dolls, 3D paper collages, figurines of all kinds and matchbook sketches. While neat to see photographed in the book, they aren't quite the same as seeing them in person and act as a strong motivation for making your way to Crazy 4 Cult 5...or 6....or 7...if you weren't convinced already.

But more so than having the chance to admire the artists and creative teams behind the films, the book is a must own for the feelings it engenders and memories it brings back for the reader. A Goonies inspired map, entitled In Pursuit of Willy, took me back to elementary school, when I would draw elaborate maps filled with obstacles set in Fantasy worlds instead of paying attention in class. Sweets for the Sweet, a Rocky Horror inspired piece, caused me to recall the first time I saw the film in high school and felt simultaneously hip and depraved for loving it as much as I did.

The movies depicted in Crazy4Cult Cult Movie Art were selected because of the gut connection audience goers (no matter how few saw the films upon the initial release) developed to them over time. They are about the weirdos, the outcasts, the unlikely hero, they are quirky, horrific, filled with joy, they are filled with characters we relate to, and characters we want to relate to, they are atypical, they are special and for all of these reasons, I've always adored what Crazy4Cult has done and continues to do, and am thrilled to see a collection like this available for those who don't live in Los Angeles and have never had the chance to attend a showing.

If the book, available now, simply isn't enough for you, Titan is also releasing a Crazy 4 Cult calender next month. If you do live in Los Angeles, Crazy 4 Cult 5 is opening Friday, July 8th, at Gallery 1988, and will run until the 30th.


Zannid said...

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Thank you

Matthew said...

I had the opportunity to assist to that Gallery in 1988, one of greatest I've gone. The unique negative fact was the rain... that day was raining so tough.