“I’m a little Jew from Ohio. I don’t know any answers, I fake it” – Ellison on Ellison.
A random grab-bag of images from those presented during the running time: a cool visit to Harlan’s house Ellison Wonderland, ‘The Lost Temple of Mars’ (which I would love to see – next time I’m in Ellay, right Harlan?)(yeah right); some cool photos from his stint in the army where he would write letters for illiterate soldiers to keep them off his back and doing his chores; Robin Williams riffing off-the-cuff about hunchback interns; Ellison receiving the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America last year, which puts him in the same esteemed scribe-pantheon as the likes of Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury; a tale about him pissing on a guy’s shoe; and on and on and on. There is a lot more, but I’ll leave you to see and discover it for yourself, as you will undoubtedly need to at the earliest opportunity.
Director Erik Nelson perceives the film’s audience to be “people starved for intelligent discourse. And the people who embraced (the Terry Zwigoff documentary) ‘Crumb’ – but don’t like his comics.” Which is fairly astute marketing, because, bottom line, you don’t have to be an Ellison fan(atic) to enjoy this documentary – it brings a wealth of information and entertainment to anybody willing to meet it on its own terms. Even my wife, who has never read Ellison, enjoyed watching “Dreams With Sharp Teeth” and said it’s one of the better done ones she’s seen (use the previous 25 words in a buyline on yer poster if you want, Erik)(nae bother big man)(you’re welcome).
There are more than enough entertaining Ellison spoken word performances to keep the usual casual viewer thinking and laughing. Because, as Michael Moorcock astutely noted in his excellent, insightful 1979 introduction to “The Fantasies of Harlan Ellison” the writer has drawn just as much of his inspiration (as a medium-and-style-sponge autodidact, a fact which makes it all the more impressive) from movies and musical performance as he has from literature; he is constantly onstage every day 24/7, an outrageous gutsy wee seat-of-the-pants soulwailer showstopper, as evidenced by the Nelson-shot footage of him in that 1981 PBS Special sitting in a window writing a short story in full view of the public. The writer says he did it to demystify and demythtify writing to the gawking perplexed man in the street, but it’s just as much an act of ego and performance as literary explication. This who-knows-what-he’ll-say-or-do-next wrecksibitionist streak always makes him a pleasure to watch, whether you’re acquainted with his superb head-and-heartgrabber literature or not.
“Dreams With Sharp Teeth” will play the festival circuit this year, and hopefully get a cinematic release – it certainly merits one anyway. The inevitable DVD will include out-takes not seen in the movie, some of which can be seen at the film’s official website right now. Of its larger-than-life subject matter, Nelson says “This film presents, for the first time I think, the whole enchilada. The public, the private, the personal, the protective.” Asked how he thinks Harlan Ellison will be remembered, the director says simply “as a writer who always told his truth.” This is absolutely true: indeed, both statements are. The film had a well-received premiere on April 19th this year in Los Angeles with the writer in attendance. But what of the celebrated-and-maligned writer’s own opinion on the documentary? Here’s what he posted on his Ellison Webderland website:
“I do not know what to say. It was one of the most bewildering and petrifying experiences at which I’ve been an observer, in a long life BLOATED with weird and memorable experiences. It was like being a disembodied spirit, floating invisibly above my open casket, hearing what everyone…ANYONE…would say about me when I’m gone.
I am truly and sans humility speechless.”
Harlan Jay Ellison, speechless – now THERE’S a first. Yes, “Dreams With Sharp Teeth” is THAT good. Congratulations, Erik. Thank you for your longterm wordwork headspinspiration in my own writing, Harlan. And as for the rest of you…look out for this biographical gem playing soon at a festival or theater near you. You WON’T regret it. Trust me.
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