Low-Flying Stars: Cult Stardom in Mumblecore

  • James Lyons


The American independent film sector offers numerous instances of what Timothy Corrigan (1990) describes as the ‘commerce of auteurism’, employing the filmmaker as a distinctive persona ‘organizing audience reception’, and ‘bound to distribution and marketing aims’ (Corrigan 1990: 46). Gerald Mast’s claim, made in 1981, that, in the New Hollywood, the director ‘had become one of the film’s stars’ (1981: 424) may be evinced in the crowd-pulling power of a Spielberg or a Cameron, but most studio releases still tend to rely on the perennial appeal of popular genres and actors. It is in the independent sector that the ‘director as star’ is observed most routinely, underpinned by what Michael Z. Newman describes as an ethos of ‘personal cinema … contrasting the independent artist against the soulless studio committee’ (2011: 45) — an ethos imported from art cinema and the avant garde. And in figures such as Gregg Araki, Larry Fessenden, Jim Jarmusch, Harmony Korine and David Lynch, we can make a case for the existence of filmmakers as cult stars, in the sense that their personalities are central to the discursive production that accompanies their films, which tend to inspire intense and obsessive responses on the part of fans. In the instance of Quentin Tarantino, whose work Newman describes as some of the ‘central examples of cult cinema of the 1990s and 2000s’ (2011: 211), on-screen appearances have significantly bolstered that cult persona, supplementing paratextual material with roles in his own films and those of others in which, I would contend, audience pleasure and engagement is principally derived from watching Tarantino doing his fast-talking shtick — in other words, we watch him perform a version of ‘Tarantino’ rather than marvel at a fully ‘integrated performance’ (Maltby 2003: 289).


Cult Acting Film Festival Cult Persona Independent Film Popular Genre 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Austin, Thomas and Martin Barker (eds) (2003) Contemporary Hollywood Stardom. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
  2. Berliner, Todd (1999) ‘Hollywood Movie Dialogue and the “Real Realism” of John Cassavetes’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 3: 2–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Carney, Ray (n.d.) ‘News and Events’, The Independent Film Pages [online]. Available at: (accessed 15 June 2011).
  4. Christian, Aymar Jean (2011) ‘Joe Swanberg, Intimacy, and the Digital Aesthetic’, Cinema Journal, Vol. 50, No. 4: 117–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Corrigan, Timothy (1990) ‘The Commerce of Auteurism: A Voice without Authority’, New German Critique, No. 49 (Winter): 43–57.Google Scholar
  6. Freeman, Nate (2011) ‘Greta Gerwig’s Sheer Effervescence Confounds Formula-Happy WWD Profiler’, The New York Observer [online]. Available at: (accessed 14 June 2011).
  7. Hawkins, Joan (2003) ‘Midnight Sex-Horror Movies and the Downtown Avant-Garde’, in Mark Jancovich, Antonio Lazaro Reboll, Julian Stringer and Andy Willis (eds), Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 223–34.Google Scholar
  8. Hebdidge, Dick (1989) Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Hirschberg, Lynn (2009) ‘Core Values’, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, 6 December: M21–2.Google Scholar
  10. Hubert, Andrea (2007) ‘Speak Up!’, The Guardian [online], 19 May. Available at: (accessed 15 June 2011).
  11. Jancovich, Mark, Antonio Lazaro Reboll, Julian Stringer and Andy Willis (eds) (2003) ‘Introduction’, Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1–13.Google Scholar
  12. Kemper Tom (2009) Hidden Talent: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  13. King, Geoff (2009) Indiewood, USA. London: I. B.Tauris.Google Scholar
  14. Koresky, Michael (2005a) ‘The Boring Twenties’, Reverse Shot online, Summer. Available at: (accessed 14 June 2011).
  15. — (2005b) ‘DVD re-run interview: The Mumblecore Movement? Andrew Bujalski on his “Funny Ha Ha”’, indiewire, 22 August. Available at: (accessed 14 June 2011).
  16. Kotsko, Adam (2010) Awkwardness. London: Zero Books.Google Scholar
  17. Lyons, James (2004). Selling Seattle. London: Wallflower Press.Google Scholar
  18. — (2010). ‘Too Much Commerce Man? Shannon Wheeler and the Ironies of the “Rebel Cell”’, in Paul Williams and James Lyons (eds), The Rise of the American Comics Artist: Creators and Contexts. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 90–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Maltby, Richard (2003) Hollywood Cinema. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  20. Mast, Gerald (1981) A Short History of the Movies. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  21. McCarthy, Todd (2010) ‘Greenberg’, Variety [online], 14 February. Available at: (accessed 15 June 2011).
  22. Murphy, J. J. (2007) ‘Mumblecore and Four-eyed Monsters’, j.j. murphy on independent film [online]. Available at: (accessed 19 December 2010).
  23. — (2009) ‘Medicine for Melancholy’, j.j.murphy on independent film [online]. Available at: (accessed 19 December 2010).
  24. Negra, Diane (2005) ‘Queen of the Indies: Parker Posey’s Niche Stardom and the Taste Cultures of Independent Film’, in Chris Holmlund and Justin Wyatt (eds), Contemporary American Independent Film. London: Routledge, 61–75.Google Scholar
  25. Newman, Michael Z. (2011) Indie: An American Film Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Poland, David (2011) ‘Why Do Some People HATE Joe Swanberg?’, Movie City News [online], 9 March. Available at: (accessed 14 June 2011).
  27. Quart, Alissa (2005) ‘Networked: Dysfunctional Families, Reproductive Acts and Multitasking Minds Make for Happy Endings’, Film Comment, July/August: 48–51.Google Scholar
  28. Quinn, Michael L. (1990) ‘Celebrity and the Semiotics of Acting’, New Theatre Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 22: 154–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Reichert, Jeff (2007) ‘Look Who’s Talking: The New DIY,’ Reverse Shot, Issue 20. Available at: (accessed 14 June 2011).
  30. Rohal, Todd (2007) ‘Google Buys Mumblecore for $1.6 billion’, Matt Dentler’s Blog [online]. Available at: (accessed 14 June 2011).
  31. Sconce, Jeffrey (2002) ‘Irony, Nihilism and the New American “Smart” Film’, Screen, Vol. 43, No. 4: 349–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Scott, A. O. (2010) ‘No Method to her Method’, The New York Times [online], 24 March. Available at: (accessed 14 June 2011).
  33. Seitz, Matt Zoller (2007) ‘Three Relationships, Seen Through a D.I.Y Lens’, The New York Times [online], 22 August. Available at: (accessed 15 June 2011).
  34. Taubin, Amy (2003) ‘Art and Industry’, Film Comment [online]. Available at: (accessed 18 December 2010).
  35. — (2007) ‘All Talk’, Film Comment [online], November/December. Available at: (accessed 18 December 2010).
  36. Törnqvist, Egil (2003) Eugene O’Neill: A Playright’s Theatre. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.Google Scholar
  37. Van Couvering, Alicia (2007) ‘What I Meant to Say’, Filmmaker [online], Spring. Available at: (accessed 3 May 2009).

Copyright information

© James Lyons 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Lyons

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations