There is, in Los Angeles, a very cool art gallery called Gallery 1988. Once a year they hold a show called Crazy 4 Cult, in which they invite underground artists (some of them quite famous, like Shepard Fairey, who did the Obama “Hope” poster and co-starred in the art world puzzle-box “Exit Through the Gift Shop”) to contribute, imprinting their specific style onto a moment or image from a classically cultish movie. Also, once a year Kevin Smith masturbates to gay sex.
You’ll learn all of the above in the introduction to the gorgeous coffee-table book “Crazy 4 Cult: Cult Movie Art,” an introduction written (of course) by Kevin Smith. The book itself is a collection of the first four years of the show’s run, with over 170 pages of art, paintings, collages, even little stuffed figurines of characters from “The Big Lebowski” all beautifully presented on big, slick pages.
Smith wrote the introduction because he has helped the gallery before, and on more than one occasion taken home pieces, usually works that have some connection to his own films because, really, who wouldn’t want to pay thousands of dollars for an art deco riff on “Mallrats” (by Laz Marquez) that wouldn’t look out of place in the opening credits of “Mad Men”? Smith says that just seeing these pieces boosts his ego, and it’s not hard to see why – even if you don’t care for the movies, or for the paintings, collages, or little stuffed figurines, yourself – every reproduction in “Crazy 4 Cult” has the sensation of not only hard work, but also the obsessive love that defines cult films (without that love, they’d just be films).
Most of the inspiration for the pieces come from where you’d expect – graphic novels (like Julian Callos’ sketchy riff on “Rocky Horror Picture Show” or Chris Sanchez’ jaw-dropping “Warriors” piece that looks like it could also function as a cover to Jason Aaron’s comic book series “Scalped”), recognizable street art (2Cents’ spray-paint-y Doc Brown head for “Back to the Future”), anime (Allison Reimold’s “Boondock Saints” painting, in which the heroes appear less like vigilantes and more like vampire hunters) and expensive Japanese action figures (Andrew Wilson’s “Tron/Tron Legacy” piece, which features bulbous-headed versions of characters in both films and stands out as one of the book’s highlights.
The pieces that make the most impact, though, are the ones that separate themselves from the snake-eating-its-own-tail world of geeky art and geeky movies, and that don’t seem like they were simply included (in both the book and the gallery show) because they’re things you’d imagine might be hanging in Tim Burton’s house, possibly in the hallway that leads to his washer/dryer set.
On the side of atypical oddness, Mark Bodnar’s surreal (and weirdly cute) “Wizard of Oz” piece, early on in the book, grabs your attention, as do a pair of pieces devoted to “Back to the Future.” One, by Eric Tan, is a print meant to simulate a postcard for fictional Hill Valley (“The perfect place to start your family’s future!”), while another by Michael Steele, is an oil painting devoted to the futuristic miscellanea from the second film in the franchise (including the holographic shark head, a sign from the Café 80s, and, of course, a hoverboard), crunched into a ball at the center of the canvas like a junk-ball from a “Katamari Damacy” videogame.
Equally intriguing is an Alex Grey-like oil painting by Charlie Immer for “Re-Animator,” a digital print by Joey Spiotto that imagines Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western “Serenity” as an LP cover for a folk band called River Tam and the Fireflies, complete with Hanna Barbera-esque renderings of all your favorite browncoats. And then there’s what might be the funniest mixture of styles – Sean Calrity’s “Fight Club” piece which apes beloved comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” except instead of a giant tiger, the Calvin is paired with a caricature of Brad Pitt, with bandages all over his face, trailing debris that includes a bar of soap, a bottle of lye, and, most importantly, the Xeroxed rules of Fight Club.
For the most part, “Crazy 4 Cult” is an absolute joy, if not for the actual art (which too often hinges on a post-modern Gothicism more suited to the shelves of Hot Topic than an actual gallery), than for the conversations that can come out of having someone flip through it in front of you, as you explain about some dingily esoteric corner of cinema and why it matters so much for so many people. This discussion-starting is probably best facilitated by a multi-page series of watercolors by Scott Campbell called “Great Showdowns,” in which cuddly characters from movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” are shown facing their greatest foes (who always, charmingly, are smiling). The more straightforward ones are fun, like seeing Arnold pointing a cartoon gun at the Predator, but more amazing are the zanier pairings, like Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze from “Point Break” staring down a giant, grinning wave or “Die Hard” hero John McClane squaring off against a band of tiny anthropomorphic shards of glass.
We could easily see the book being used as visual aid for some forthcoming New School lecture called “From ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Star Wars:’ Geek Culture in Popular Society,” or as an artifact, should the tide ever turn in Hollywood away from nostalgic pandering and towards movies for grown-ups. However you view “Crazy 4 Cult,” though, there’s enough of that giddy, discovering-it-on-late-night-cable feel that the best cult movies convey, on every page, to make this book a keeper. [B+]
“Crazy 4 Cult” hits bookstores on June 21st.
Erica Gibson (www.iamericagibson.com)
Shepard Fairey (www.obeygiant.com)