Mike Watt’s new book Fervid Filmmaking: 66 Cult Pictures of Vision, Verve and No Self-Restraint is something of a breath of fresh air within cinema scholarship. This entertaining celebration of highly idiosyncratic movies rescues a number of bizarre and remarkable films from obscurity while offering a visceral new appreciation of films that were scornfully treated upon their initial releases.
Watt, who is a prolific underground filmmaker and film reviewer, took some time from his busy schedule to discuss this new book and his unique perspective on cinema appreciation.
Q: What was the inspiration for Fervid Filmmaking and how long did it take to write it?
Mike Watt: Fervid Filmmaking grew out of my private blog column, Movie Outlaw, which in turn was borne out of a desire to write about movies that have been overlooked or difficult to find over the years. Rather than simple “reviews,” I wanted to write more critical essays about the films, the filmmakers, the historical and cultural contexts in which the films were made, and the impact these films had after release (if they were even released at all). After about a year of semi-consistent posting, I realized that I had written enough to fill a book.
My initial thoughts were to self-publish through our own POD imprint, Happy Cloud Publishing, which motivated me to begin contacting the disparate filmmakers, cast and crew, in the hopes of obtaining more personal photos, anecdotes, etc., the kinds of things you don’t usually get with the average promotional article. During the course of this research, I discovered even more obscure or under-reported movies which allowed me to fill the book out with more unpublished material.
Realizing that I had something that might be a little more commercial on my hands, I approached McFarland Press. The publishers were intrigued by the idea but were honest in saying they weren’t quite sure what to do with it, since the films were so varied. (Hence the title change from Kitchen Sink Cinema to their title, Fervid Filmmaking.)
Q: How did you come to choose these 66 films? Was there a particular pattern or common theme you were striving for?
Mike Watt: The majority of the movies were simply personal favorites, particularly the more “psychotronic” movies like The Final Programme, Dr. Caligari, The Boneyard, Head, Scooter McCrae’s Sixteen Tongues, Forbidden Zone and Thomas Edward Seymour’s The Land of College Prophets. These all, invariably, led me to other un- or under-released movies, in addition to ones that long existed on my “Need to See” list, which I’ve kept over the years. I was fortunate enough to run down copies of The Bed Sitting Room and the lost Findlay film, Banned, etc.
Finding a common theme among all of these movies was probably the most difficult part of marketing the project to the publishers. “Weird” isn’t an all-encompassing description, but neither was “obscure.” I realized that the one thing they all had in common was a singular or joint vision to bring a specific movie to life, for better or worse, on the parts of the creators. Very few of the movies were made under the constraints of a studio or producer requirements, which often added to the movies’ difficulty in finding an audience in the end. The only thing I wanted to do was to bring some light onto movies I thought other film lovers would enjoy. At the very least, I wanted to bring awareness to these movies.
Q: What films did not make the final cut, and what kept them from print?
Mike Watt: The original first draft of the book contained over 100 films and weighed in at close to 800 pages. I started winnowing before I approached McFarland, eliminating things that might be better-known (like Saturn 3, George Pal’s Doc Savage), or essays I just couldn’t expand on beyond a review (many Ozsploitation movies sadly fell into that category, particularly as they were covered to a greater degree in other media).
The ones I hated most to cut, The Big Fix with Richard Dreyfuss, Doc Savage, and Alatriste with Viggo Mortensen, ultimately didn’t “fit” with the other sixty-six. To that end, I tried to bring the total down to a more reasonable 65 but couldn’t bring myself to excise any further.
Q: What is your ultimate goal for this book?
Mike Watt: It would be dishonest to say that I didn’t have dreams of the best-seller list during the assembly. Ultimately, my motivations were to bring some of these wonderful movies back to light, and to give the filmmakers some well-deserved and, in some cases, long-delayed kudos for their hard work. The most satisfying thing for me was that I got to correspond with some of my left-of-center heroes including Alex Cox, Tom Schiller, Ralph Bakshi, William Richert, Peter Greenaway, Richard Elfman – all of whom were very generous with their time and their support of the book.
Q: What are your upcoming projects?
Mike Watt: 2014 will see the release of our latest movie, Razor Days, starring Amy Lynn Best, Bette Cassatt and Debbie Rochon, helmed by the same team behind Tales of Poe (Alan Rowe Kelly, Bart Mastronardi and Robert A. Kuiper), so prepare for an inundation of festival screenings there.
I have received some interest from film schools in turning this book into a class (in my experience, film schools manage to suck the fun and wonder out of film history and this would be a much more enjoyable experience), so a number of my professorial friends have been assisting me in creating a syllabus, which I’m pitching now. An unfortunate employment loss has given me a lot more time to concentrate on writing, both fiction and nonfiction, so I’m back to seeking outlets with financial rewards, which has become harder over the last decade, despite my modest reputation. Still, I’m continuing on. The universe turns on a dime. Any day now I’m sure I’ll graduate from obscure to esoteric.
In the interim, visit me at www.happycloudpictures.com or on Facebook!
Mike Watt’s Fervid Filmmaking: 66 Cult Pictures of Vision, Verve and No Self-Restraint is published by McFarland and is now on Amazon.