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Oral History of ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ Explores the Making of the ‘Best Movie Ever’

What’s the best movie ever? For entertainment reporter Russ Burlingame, there’s no question: it’s Josie and the Pussycats by a mile.

The 2001 musical comedy is loosely based on the characters from Archie Comics. The MGM/Universal production flopped at the box office, receiving mixed reviews from critics. But in the decades since then, Josie and the Pussycats has become a cult classic, with fans praising the movie for its critique of consumerism and upholding it as a satirical approach to pop culture.

It’s that cultural shift that fascinated Burlingame and made him want to delve deeper into Josie.

Josie is an interesting case, because it took several years to really cement its legacy as an underrated gem,” Burlingame said. “Other movies that have been box office failures and later cult classics, like Kevin Smith’s Mallrats or the first Tremors movie, tended to do so almost instantaneously after the home video release. With Josie, it felt more like there was a story there.”

The Josie Renaissance

(L-R) Tara Reid, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Rosario Dawson in ‘Josie and the Pussycats’

Despite earning less than $20 million at the box office, Josie and the Pussycats did have one thing going for it from the beginning: people dig the music.

Music from the Motion Picture Josie and the Pussycats sold over 500,000 copies, making it a certified gold album. And while it’s hard to point to any one factor causing a cultural shift, Josie’s music undoubtedly played a role in sending the film from critical failure to cult classic.

In this way, 2017 proved a pivotal year for Josie and the Pussycats. That’s when Mondo opted to release the Josie soundtrack on vinyl. And with the vinyl release came a huge launch party in Los Angeles, featuring a new screening of the film and a cast Q&A. Suddenly, people wanted to talk about Josie again – and even make apologies for misjudging the film before.

Burlingame, already on the Josie train, bought the record. Included with the purchase? A special booklet detailing some of the film’s history.

Josie and the Pussycats vinyl soundtrack
Music from the Motion Picture Josie and the Pussycats on vinyl via Mondo

As fans, we all love a little bonus content. But for Burlingame, the 12-page leaflet wasn’t enough. Instead, it rekindled a desire from the past: the urge to write a book about the making of Josie and the Pussycats.

“I first started kicking around the idea of talking to the filmmakers and writing a book about the movie back when I talked about it on my podcast, Emerald City Video,” recalled Burlingame. “I back-burnered the idea when Mondo announced the vinyl release would include an oral history, since that made my idea feel somewhat redundant. But the mini-magazine that came with the record wasn’t what I envisioned.”

Best Movie Ever: An Oral History of Elfont and Kaplan’s Josie and the Pussycats

Best Movie Ever: An Oral History of Elfont & Kaplan's "Josie and the Pussycats."

That’s why Burlingame began work on Best Movie Ever: An Oral History of Elfont and Kaplan’s Josie and the Pussycats. The book follows the production, reception, and legacy of the film, told through interviews with the people who know Josie best.

Work on Best Movie Ever is ongoing, though Burlingame has already completed dozens of hours of interviews with the likes of directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan and star Rachael Leigh Cook, unearthing never-before-told-stories about the film.

“I’m so thankful to Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplan, Rachael Leigh Cook, and everyone else who has taken time out of their lives to take this trek down memory lane with me,” Burlingame said. “If it were made now, a movie like Josie would have been extremely well-documented, with all the cool trivia showing up as headlines on internet news sites eager to draw in views. Back in 2001, the industry was very different, and as a result, almost every person I spoke to had at least one cool story that had been left completely untold before now.”

If you want to help bring those stories about Josie and the Pussycats to life, you can. Burlingame is crowdfunding the release of Best Movie Ever via IndieGoGo. The goal aims to cover an initial print run for the release, as well as offset the cost of having interviews professionally transcribed. You can order your copy of Best Movie Ever as an ebook, paperback, or hardcover, as well as grab on screen-used props and exclusive custom Josie memorabilia. 

“When good people make something good, it’s worthy of examination and celebration,” said Burlingame.

Find the campaign running until April 11, 2021 at 3pm ET/12pm PT here: https://igg.me/at/josiebook.

Best Movie Ever: An Oral History of Elfont and Kaplan’s Josie and the Pussycats is expected to be completed and available by this fall.

By Jessica Lancaster

They say write what you know, and I definitely know how to be a nerd.

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