Cover image for Celluloid mavericks : the history of American independent film
Celluloid mavericks : the history of American independent film
Merritt, Greg, 1965-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thunder's Mouth Press ; Berkeley, CA : Distributed by Publishers Group West, [2000]

Physical Description:
xv, 463 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1995.9.P7 M418 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Filmmaking documents this rich history, showing what it meant to be "independent" in the 1930s and what it means today. Author Greg Merritt distinguishes between indie and semi-indie productions, explores the genres represented under the independent umbrella, and addresses the question of what makes a movie independent -- its "spirit" or the budget backing the production. From one-reel flicks at the turn of the century to the blockbusters of the '90s, Celluloid Mavericks takes readers on a fascinating tour of the industry.

Author Notes

Greg Merritt received an M.F.A. from the American Film Institute in 1991. He has eleven screenplays to his credit and has written one book

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Somewhere between Titanic and The Blair Witch Project lies the demarcation between commercial and "independent" film. In this thorough and audacious history, Merritt (How to Produce an Independent Film) attempts to offer a century's-end definition to this carelessly tossed-about term. "To truly gain freedom," he writes, "filmmakers must completely disassociate themselves from the studios until their vision is put on film: no financing, no presigned distribution agreement, no help, no interference." The dubious origins of independent cinema can be traced to a private screening of D.W. Griffith's Ku Klux Klan epic The Birth of a Nation in 1915. Merritt bestows the indie label on a select roster of films, mostly by "celluloid mavericks"--John Cassavetes, Roger Corman, John Sayles, Quentin Tarantino and the other usual suspects--who have had the courage to defy mainstream ideas and ideals. His excessive plot/theme analysis and Pauline Kael aspirations notwithstanding, Merritt applies sound research and an infectious amount of enthusiasm, often conveyed through sidebar anecdotes, cost-to-gross ratio charts, lists of award-winners and time lines. Yet while his linear narrative promises a sweeping conclusion, the last chapter fails to deliver. Instead of analyzing the relationship between the rise of Gen-X viewers and the recent proliferation of indie films, or offering predictions about the future of independent cinema, Merritt gets lost in the trees where the Blair Witch lurks and misses the forest. Agent, Victoria Sanders. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The blandness of current Hollywood product and the rise of a viable indie scene has increased public interest in the American independent filmmaking movement. This book is a timely look at a century of indie films--which the author defines as projects financed and produced outside the control of a studio. Attacking the subject from all angles, Merritt (a screenwriter and author of How To Produce an Independent Film) shows how forces like the Production Code, the blacklisting crisis, the breakdown of the studio system, and the counterculture of the Vietnam era shaped the indie film scene. But determining what an independent is gets more complicated as companies like Miramax fold into entertainment conglomerates, and Merritt stretches the definition by including genres like pornography, low-budget horror films, "underground" films of the 1950s and 1960s, even works by bad movie auteurs like Ed Wood. Although a narrower focus might have helped, this whirlwind tour of American independent films is recommended for most public and academic libraries.--Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

It's all here, from D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation to Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, from the crude exploitation movies of Ed Wood Jr. to the sophisticated documentaries of Frederick Wiseman. Merritt's definition is inclusive enough to accommodate all these maverick moviemakers. Readers knowledgeable about US film history will find little new information in this book, although Merritt has done a good job of culling from many other sources. Merritt gives only scant attention to the films themselves, and he has a penchant for broad statements and off-the-cuff judgments that are uncomfortably reminiscent of student essays (e.g., his observation that Pare Lorentz's political documentaries in the 1930s had "far-reaching effects"). Unfortunately, the author sacrifices depth for breadth with his breezy prose style, which tends to lapse into the jauntily journalistic: for example, movies are often referred to as "flicks" and directors are said to "helm" them. In addition, short, clipped sentences give some of the prose an unintentional choppiness that nicely parallels the less-than-seamless production values of many of the movies Merritt discusses. For extensive undergraduate and general collections. B. Grant; Brock University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
1896-1916 Birthp. 1
1917-1928 Explorationp. 24
1929-1944 Outside the Wallsp. 60
1945-1952 System Breakdownp. 94
1953-1959 Opportunity Knocksp. 123
1960-1967 Ahead of the Curvep. 154
1968-1974 Pushing the Envelopep. 194
1975-1982 Buildingp. 260
1983-1989 Coming of Agep. 310
1990-1999 The New Systemp. 353
Timelinep. 413
Appendix A Cost-to-Gross Ratiosp. 423
Appendix B Academy Award Nomineesp. 425
Appendix C Independent Spirit Award Winnersp. 427
Bibliographyp. 429
Indexp. 434