Directors Discuss the Obscure, Bizarre Films They Love

Robert K. Elder
Robert K. Elder
Esther Kang

Robert K. Elder, a writer and editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, is a veteran of crowdsourced cinephilia, having written The Film That Changed My Life, featuring discussions with film directors on the subject.

His new book is The Best Films You've Never Seen, which discusses those films that never received a proper audience, and has already garnered praise from movie fans and film critics (such as Roger Ebert). The book features interviews with 35 directors, from mainstream (Danny Boyle, Kevin Smith, Guillermo Del Toro) to the more transgressive (John Waters, The Brothers Quay, Guy Maddin). Elder be discussing the book on Wednesday at 7p.m. at Book Soup.

The project began years ago when Elder simply contacted directors with a letter asking for help with a book on the lost, forgotten and critically panned films they love. From there, Elder explains, "The book just became a giant game of telephone, where one director recommended another director and they would put me in touch and it grew organically."

Even for the most hardcore cinephile, the films are ridiculously under the radar. Yet there's a real pleasure to be had in reading each director's defense of movies that even they acknowledge as difficult to absorb, let alone enjoy. John Waters, for instance, chose the campy art house bomb Boom! starring Elizabeth Taylor, while Guillermo Del Toro went with Arcane Sorcerer, a gothic Spanish film about sorcerers.

Elder noticed a strange trend throughout his interviews. "Some of these films were things they used in dating," he says. "They loved this film and knew it was difficult, so they would choose this film to show to a date, and if they didn't like it they knew the relationship wouldn't work."

Directors Discuss the Obscure, Bizarre Films They Love
Chicago Review Press

Another trend was the discovery -- most directors happened on each film by chance. Director Brian Herzlinger happened upon his favorite cult film Killer Klowns From Outer Space one day as he was flipping television channels. Joe Swanberg was blown away by ivansxtc, an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, after walking into the Laemmle Fairfax theater to kill time. A lot of these films are available on Netflix or streaming on YouTube, which wasn't the case when Elder started his book.

Today, blogs abound with movie buffs flaunting knowledge of lost films, but Elder wanted to "cut through the noise" of all that to allow directors to speak directly to their fans. In the end, it's the filmmakers' enthusiasm that's the most relatable part.

Robert K. Elder will discuss The Best Films You've Never Seen along with director Brian Herzlinger, who defends his love for the cult '80s B-Movie /Killer Klowns From Outer Space, along with the film's director, Stephen Chiodo. Wednesday, June 26 at 7 p.m. Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hlywd. (310) 659-3110,

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