Book Review – Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need to Know

While there isn’t a definitive definition of what makes a cult film, there is an essential agreement among film fans that these movies are not business as usual. The description “cult” evokes thoughts of bizarre, potentially uncomfortable, or even controversial cinematic expression. In Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need to Know, Ian Haydn Smith explores the works of fifty filmmakers that he categorizes as cult, following that essential definition.

Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need to Know
Ian Haydn Smith
White Lion Publishing, 2019

Smith has compiled the most richly inclusive list of cult directors I’ve ever seen gathered in this category. His selections span gender, race, country, and background with fascinating breadth. As a result he has come up with an especially exciting list of filmmakers. While my own definition of cult doesn’t align with some of these directors: for example, the undeniably bizarre Tim Burton has nevertheless enjoyed mainstream success for most of his career which I don’t see as fitting that label, Smith always gets the spirit of this brand of cinema and the impact of each artist is undeniable.

The directors are presented in fifty brief entries of a few pages each. These are short bios, intended as an introduction to the works of each filmmaker. Instead of going into depth about the films or their impact on audiences, the essays focus on the nature of each director’s work and the movies that define them.

While this kind of book is ideal for those who are new to exploring film, as a long-time fan of so-called cult movies I found this to be an addictively enjoyable read. I learned more than I expected, primarily because Smith has moved beyond the usual suspects in compiling his list and particularly because he is so knowledgeable about world cinema, including visionaries like Vera Chytilova, Seijun Suzuki, and Amat Escalante in addition to directors more established as cult like John Waters, Kenneth Anger, and Ed Wood.

Smith covers a lot of ground in a brief book. By the time I raced through Cult Filmmakers, I had that rare feeling of disappointment that there were no more entries to read. The list of films at the end of the book, divided by director will come in handy. Reading about these varied talents got me fired up to revisit favorites, in addition to seeing something new.

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