Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!


-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL


Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH




       The Documentary form is capable of far greater variety (in both subject matter and in its effect upon an audience) than usually given credit. Most people hear the word “documentary” and think -- I’m in for it now; 90 minutes to 2 hours of some cinematic polemic about this or that world-shaking crisis -- and many doc.s do, indeed, fall into this all too limited mold (An Inconvenient Truth comes to mind; oh sure, its relevance is undeniable and its message should be heard -- but it’s hardly compelling filmmaking). The last ten or twenty years however, have seen the release of many documentaries that break this mold. Humorous doc.s like those of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock. Deeply personal ones (and often deeply funny) like those of Ross McElwee. Cinematic “essays” like those made by Errol Morris, which make extensive use of re-creations (supposedly a “no-no” in any serious documentary). But one class of doc. that always seems in short supply is the character study; not a biography per se (there’s been a fair number of those made all along), but a film that simply documents a person -- as he or she really is. Such a film might include a degree of biographical background and historical documentation; but its real intent is to recreate the experience of meeting the subject of the film. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, as it not only requires a charismatic figure to make it work, but also said personage’s complete cooperation in the creation of the film as well. So when it does work, -- as it does in Dreams With Sharp Teeth -- it is worth noting.


       The subject of the film is the writer, Harlan Ellison. Ellison’s accomplishments and accolades would require the remainder of the length of this post to cover -- even briefly -- but suffice to say he’s one of the most notorious and recognized figures in science fiction (or speculative fiction, as he prefers to call it), having won a bevy of Hugos and Nebulas; but Ellison has also written -- and won awards for -- his Mystery and Horror stories (and won both the Edgar and Bram Stoker award multiple times). In terms of his accomplishments as a scribe, it would be a lot more economical to inventory the genres he hasn’t written for. The general public probably knows Ellison best as the screenwriter of two acclaimed tele-plays: The City on the Edge of Forever episode of Star Trek:TOS and an episode of The Outer Limits entitled Demon with a Glass Hand. Ellison’s life away from the typewriter is also detailed: his difficult childhood; his years as an activist (he participated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama); his brief and turbulent stint in the U.S Army; his rise to fame and fortune in NYC; and his eventual relocation to L.A. Any portion of the events covered would make for for an interesting anecdote; collectively they add up to an extraordinarily fascinating life story; a story corroborated by many of his fellow writers (including Neil Gaiman) and a notable celebrity or two (Robin Williams).


       Truth be told, this write-up is far from unbiased; I’ve been reading Ellison’s short stories since I was 11 and have come to regard him as one of my favorite writers. More damning towards my impartiality, perhaps, is the fact that I also actually worked on the film. As a segment producer, I had the opportunity to look at most of the interviews with Ellison myself -- and if the finished film hadn’t managed to put them together in a way that was both entertaining and accurate, I’d be the first... no, make that the second, after Ellison (who’s no stranger to complaining, let me tell you...), to level some harsh criticism -- fortunately there’s no need to. In presenting the man, Ellison is neither sugar-coated nor demonized; he’s contentious, at times abrasive, and quick to dominate any conversation he enters into; but he also has great integrity, the courage of his own convictions, and in the end, a considerable amount of compassion for his fellow man (well..., some of them, at any rate). And if he is at times quick to pummel others with his considerable verbal skill, ... well -- at least he has the courtesy to make his comments entertaining as all get out. If you’re going to be skewered, it might as well be done with style; and Ellison never fails on that front.


       Dreams With Sharp Teeth has yet to find “official” distribution, but having made the rounds on the festival circuit to mostly positive reviews, it seems to be creeping through the major markets. It opens at NYC’s Film Forum on June 4th, and plays for a week. After that... ? It seems likely that it will receive some sort of distribution on DVD or perhaps on one of the networks. Check the sidebar for future updates.


Next post -- 06/22/08

5 comments:

PCarino said...

Groovy--I will need to see this. Film Forum is right around the corner from my office.

jonderneathica said...

Looks very interesting. Speaking of documentaries, I am working my way through "Haxan" (when the kids aren't around). It was shown on both IFC and TCM last week. COINCIDENCE?

grigorss said...

Oh yeah, Haxan's a hoot! I wonder what version IFC and TCM were screening? The original silent, or the later, re-edited version that had voiceover by William S. Burroughs!?! This later version is known as Witchcraft Through the Ages, and both versions are available on the Criterion DVD of the film (which, coincidentally, I happen to own -- why, you ask? It's all just part of my deth-metal lifestyle...)

jonderneathica said...

Both channels screened the silent film, with a classical score. I recorded both to my DVR, hoping to compare the original against the Burroughs version. I guess I'll have to buy the DVD. The original was fascinating in itself. I wondered why both channels broadcast the film on the same night -- was 5/30 a pagan holiday?

grigorss said...

was 5/30 a pagan holiday?

Yes -- it was the day after my birthday:

GRIGORWEEN!!!