Underground film and cult cinema

Authored by: Glyn Davis

The Routledge Companion to Cult Cinema

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138950276
eBook ISBN: 9781315668819
Adobe ISBN:


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Ron Rice’s film The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man (1963/1982) was planned as a lengthy epic but was left incomplete at the time of Rice’s death. Rice, born in 1935, made only a few films during his lifetime, his career prematurely cut short by bronchial pneumonia in 1964. Taylor Mead, one of The Queen of Sheba’s lead actors, eventually edited it into a final form and added a soundtrack of classical, country, pop and rock music in 1982. Mead plays an impish innocent who wanders around a number of New York locations; Winifred Bryan stars as an often-naked odalisque with a penchant for alcohol. The film exhibits many of the markers of cult cinema. First, although low-resolution bootlegs of the film can be found online, The Queen of Sheba is difficult to source in a high-quality format; limited availability and scarcity can often contribute to a film’s cult status. Second, as with the foci of various forms of cult practice and behaviour, Rice’s film has a small but passionate and devoted audience (mainly scholars of experimental film and fans of 1960s avant-garde cinema). Third, as a film that was left unfinished and which was only forged into one possible edit years later, The Queen of Sheba displays the ‘organic imperfections’ and ‘glorious ricketiness’ that Umberto Eco identifies as core characteristics of the cult object (Eco 1987: 198). Fourth, Rice’s premature death adds to the film’s potential cult value, its role as a marker of lost opportunities: cult appreciation has a tendency to flower around actors and directors who die young. Other factors could be added here: even the film’s title makes it sound like an example of cult cinema, a trashy piece of exploitation fare in which actors in rubber suits battle each other in a generic Midwestern town.

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