Hello. Thanks for checking out my movie guide Quirky Cinema, a website for fans of movies with personality. A movie without personality, I should say, is not necessarily a mainstream movie, an action movie, a TV movie, a family movie, a period piece, a glamorous love story, but such movies included here are rare. I’ve always preferred movies driven by highly particular performances from actors with distinctive faces, underdog and outsider characters, unusual plots, tweaked realism, and eccentric auteurs. In an era when even mainstream films appropriate independent film styles yet telegenic is more and more the onscreen norm, Cinema With Personality honors movies you may not know about that feature and express idiosyncrasy.
Just because you love quirky movies doesn’t mean you’ll like every movie included in these pages. Still, those who prefer quirky movies are often more eclectic, over all, in the films they seek out. Your film preferences are surely more eclectic than many of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. If you ask my dad what kind of movies he likes, he could answer with a single name: John Wayne. My grandparents weren’t really aware of movies at all. My dad’s mom saw only one movie in a theater—ever: Disney’s The Love Bug in 1963. My mom proved an exception, thankfully, and together we watched many horror movies and tearjerkers. Though she didn’t like excessive gore, especially the cannibal zombie kind, and queer-themed stuff made her uncomfortable, she met my various rental demands for a number of years. A good sport, I dare say. So now when we’re going to watch movies together, I honor her only request: “No Dead. No Divine.”
A significant reason movie buffs like myself, of my generation, tend to be eclectic and to admire the quirky or idiosyncratic over the conventional is partly because it was a cable TV and video store norm from the mid-1970s into the mid-1980s—especially compared to today’s more demographic-specific notion of variety. A typical Saturday afternoon on just one of the few cable TV channels on the air during my childhood might offer Shirley Temple followed by Godzilla or, maybe, some old western followed by the likes of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). The shuffled nature of the movies and old TV shows filling all that early cable airtime influenced me greatly. HBO in its early days also expanded my sense of movies and the world beyond my small town in southernmost Illinois. Even when my family couldn’t afford HBO, cable subscribers were rewarded with occasional “free weekends” and I watched it all, what I liked and what I didn’t like. Most serious dramas, subversive comedies, and gory horror movies, however, remained inaccessible. My factory-working mother moaned for years, “Well I guess I never will get to see Norma Mae!” Not until VCRs/VHSs became increasingly rentable did we get to see some of the many movies that bypassed our small town theater.
All of the sudden it was a Video World and not just because that was the name of the video store where we first rented movies. As early cable channels had airtime to fill, new video stores popping up in small towns everywhere had shelves to fill. Since many of the proprietors were just cashing in on a trend, their uninformed selections were peculiarly diverse and often sensational. So gory Italian horror, sexploitation, and avant-garde titles like James Ivory’s Savages (1972) or Peter Medak’s Negatives (1968) mingled with blockbusters, family fare, and the occasional Hollywood classic. Even our grocery stores rented videos, compiling similarly odd assortments. I remember the IGA had Rabid (1977), Kroger had Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), and, later on, the convenient store where we’d get gas offered a bevy of cheap documentaries about UFOs and the supernatural. By default, it seems, the VCR era encouraged a new, or at least more widespread, eclecticism in movie preferences and taste for the quirky. My VCR still encourages this as I find, among the hundreds of old workout tapes washing ashore in thrift shops, some fantastic little gems I either didn’t know about or wouldn’t risk over a dollar to find out about.
So the movies collected here reflect the range of movies I’ve grown up with and a taste for the quirky I’ve cultivated as an adult for two decades now. Some movies are longtime favorites. Others I’d sought after for years prior to the internet. And others yet I’ve merely stumbled over on YouTube.
As a guide to films, Quirky Cinema is a 21st Century project stemming from the margins of US film culture in the 20th Century. As noted, I do not actively include mainstream titles, nor do I exclude them. Same with new titles and foreign language titles. Overall the typical critic’s standards of distinction, which strike me as either suspiciously professional or unadmittedly personal, do not apply. I’m not saying critic response is irrelevant. Reviews and honors (or lack thereof) are as pertinent to the life of a film as its distribution and box office (or lack thereof). And I know readers of this guide expect to be informed about what to avoid as well as what to seek out. Nonetheless I believe liking a movie or not—rating a movie good or bad—depends largely on expectations, changeable mood and attention span, matters of identity (sex, race, class, sexual orientation, education, region, generation), the movie’s cultural or historical significance, and, of course, the movie’s personality or the personalities of its characters. So I’ve refrained from a ‘stars’ rating system and top ten lists because they would undermine the whole canon-resistant project.
Aside from creating a movie guide that embraces genuine cinematic manifestations of personality, a major goal in writing this movie guide has been to heighten my—and your—awareness of not just films and film history but also: how one film may lead the ardent film buff in any number of surprising and rewarding directions. Call it web-like. Compare it to a tapestry. I prefer to think of it, of all popular culture really, as an endless house of mirrors.
~Thomas A. Loudermilk
My essays and articles have appeared in Bright Lights Film Journal, The Journal of Consumer Culture, River Teeth (A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative), The Journal of International Women’s Studies, Tran(s)tudies, and Polari Magazine. My poetry collection Strange Valentine won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Individual poems can be found in journals like Tin House, Salamander, Gargoyle, Smartish Pace, and Pool. I teach creative writing and literature at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore.