Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
I saw your coverage in regards to the recent tribute for Uncle Forry and thought you may be interested in an event we will be hosting at the end of May. This event most definitely pays homage to some of our the beloved classic monsters.
We will be hosting a two night double feature with guest appearances to celebrate some of our most beloved classic Universal Monsters. I've provided a link to the details below.
THE AMERICAN CINEMATHEQUE AT THE EGYPTIAN THEATRE CELEBRATES THE RETURN OF FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND!
The films will be introduced by Sara Karloff (daughter of Boris, who played Frankenstein’s Monster in SON) and by actresses Carla Laemmle (DRACULA), Janet Ann Gallow (GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN), and Jane Adams (HOUSE OF DRACULA).
We've been working hard to put this together and without our friends at American Cinematheque and the Egyptian Theatre this could not have happened. We hope your readership will be interested!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman
01/04/2009 . Source: Geoff Willmetts
pub: Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment KAL8009/B001NGGBB2. 48 minute film with extras. Price: £12.99 (UK).
I have to confess two things about Forrest Ackerman that I never liked. His coining 'Sci Fi' in 1954 as a pun for 'Science Fiction' which unfortunately the mass media took into its vocabulary and we've been trying to correct ever since for its cheap intonation. Then there was his bad puns in Famous Monsters Of' Punland...excuse me, 'Filmland'.
Then again, when I pulled the odd issue from a poor circulation in the UK in the 70s, I obviously wasn't the sixteen year-old American audience it normally catered for and although I was envious of the ads it and the other Warren Publications carried.
Unless you've been living on the farside of the Moon the past couple centuries then you must have heard of Forrest J Ackerman let alone his Science Fiction collection which those who saw it were extremely envious of what he accumulated over the years. This film shows how he met everyone from HG Wells to becoming literary agent for over three hundred authors. With the latter, you wouldn't have become that unless you were a nice guy so yeah, Forry is one of us. Indeed, probably the original one of us and you have got to have respect for him when he died December 2008 at the grand old age of 92.
This film is really a homage to Forrest Ackerman's life with contributions from the likes of John Landis, Joe Dante, Roger Corman, Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen amongst others. You need to pay attention to the screen and the various backgrounds these people are interviewed on and the various collections and props they contain. The audio commentary explains that not all of these folks were in their own homes so not all their own stuff but its still jaw dropping stuff to see and I'm saying that as someone with my own elaborate collection.
Oddly, there isn't much directly from Ackerman himself in the film but considering his age and fragility when this was filmed, that is understandable. There is a lot of information that you might not know about him. Did you know his dad was the architect who designed the Bradbury Building? Don't look puzzled. You would have seen it in 'Blade Runner' and other films. Forry's middle name is actually Clark and the 'J', no full stop, is from Jehovah. Why? Beats me.
I was intending to watch this DVD over a couple days but when it ended, I went over the extras which after the audio commentary filling in some of the gaps the errors the film crew made, like omitting Forry's wife's name, Wendayne, until much later than they should have then suddenly became even more interesting. As with all such documentary recordings, far more is made than what got into the final version and much of it is in. We have Ackerman's memories of Fritz Lang and Bela Lugosi and his discovery that Sammie Davis Jr was a fan of 'Famous Monsters'.
There are also a couple impromptu interviews with Grace Lee Whitney and Caroline Munro, who clearly isn't ageing at all. There is also a look around Forry's smaller collection and that of Dan Roebuck's which I found jaw dropping but wouldn't want to be in when the lights went down. If ever you want some reassurance that your collecting habit is only just a symptom of your interest in Science Fiction then its nice to know that there are others far worse than yourself.
I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by this DVD and how much we owe Forry Ackerman for setting the pace for SF in the USA.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
BY IAN JOHNSTON - Writer/filmmaker, Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman
The late, great Ackermonster continues to show up in the oddest places.
The most recent appearance by Uncle Forry came on this week’s Youtube sensation (700,000 hits in one day) featuring actor Billy Bob Thornton’s interview meltdown on CBC Radio.
The Wednesday interview – also carried on Canadian TV and, thus, captured on Youtube for all time – found the always-entertaining
But apparently, morning interviews ain’t
He offered no answer to simple questions, got pissed when he was asked if he was passionate about music (“Would you ask Tom Petty that?”) and generally made Ghomeshi squirm.
But wait – we were talking about Forrest J Ackerman weren’t we?
Yes. We were.
When a desperate Ghameshi soft-balled Thornton with the question of what music he listened to as a child, Thornton just went off - explaining his passion for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland and Forrest J Ackerman.
He didn’t. But hearing him talk about Forry even in this radio crazy context made me think there’s a lot of truth to that rumor that Billy Bob loves his scifi and horror. Hell, Dwight Yoakam’s character in Slingblade is easily one of the best modern film monsters out there. No shit. Check it out. That man is creepy.
And there have been rumors of Billy Bob as the new Freddy of Nightmare on
So what the hell? If a million Youtubers around the world now see Forrest Ackerman as a musical influence, I can live with that. Don’t matter how they remember you. As long as they remember.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
This hilarious interview with Billy Bob Thornton and his band, BoxMasters, on CBC's the Q has people scratching their heads. Thornton is a prickly interview, but he does go on a bit about good 'ol Uncle Forry. As a kid Thornton subscribed to Famous Monsters of Filmland and even entered a contest or two. Apparently he didn't win anything.
Here is a little taste of the film, FAMOUS MONSTER: FORREST J ACKERMAN
To get your copy of Famous Monster, the documentary
B7 Media (our main distributor)
I wonder if Billy Bob Thornton has ordered his yet?
Monday, April 6, 2009
'Famous Monster' is ostensibly a short biopic on the life and times of Forrest J Ackerman, the man who coined the term ‘sci-fi' and the original editor of 60s fear mag Famous Monsters of Filmland.
By Shelley Marsden - 25/03/09
At the same time, it’s also a homage to being a fan, as Ackerman was a zealous collector of all aspects of fantasy and fiction.
A 48-minute documentary, Famous Monster uses archival footage, film clips and interviews with the man himself to show how much influence Ackerman had some of the biggest names in fantasy films (Ray Bradbury, Joe Dante, George Clayton Johnston and others).
It also charts the journey he took from a kid who read Amazing Stories mags to a literary agent, to the biggest names in writing, to editor of Famous Monsters…
This is a breezy, fast-paced watch, an affectionate profile of the man which is packed full of interesting extras, such as deleted interviews and a tour of the infamous ‘Ackermansion’ (which houses ‘Forry’s 300,000 piece collection of horror memorabilia).
Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, Region 2 DVD, £13, on sale from March 23.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Posted on Friday 03 April 2009
Famous Monster: Forrest J. Ackerman
DVD review (region 2)
Written and Directed by Ian Johnston and Michael R. McDonald
Starring Forrest J. Ackerman, Joe Dante, Roger Corman, Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, John Landis
Release date Out now
The life and times of number one SF fan Forrest J. Ackerman (curator of the Ackermansion and editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland) are chronicled in this all-too-short documentary…
Up for sale at the moment is a large, prestigious (and expensive at upwards of $3.5 million) property at 2495 Glendower Avenue, in the hills above Hollywood. Built in 1923, the property is spacious (five bedrooms and six bathrooms) and the real estate agents photographs show a modest frontage which gives way to a vast, very empty looking interior. There’s something infinitely sad and depressing about seeing the property made over in this soulless, bland way.
Those in the know will have recognised the address, for this was the home of the original ‘Ackermansion’, the house-come-science fiction museum lived in by the late Forrest J. Ackerman — the man who coined the term ‘sci-fi’ and founding father of science fiction fandom. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the Ackermansion in its heyday, to have met Ackerman and had a personal tour of his vast, messy and endlessly surprising collection of SF ephemera. Ackerman died last year, at the ripe old age of 92, and his collection has been scattered to the four winds: first reduced to the contents of the ‘mini-mansion’ where he spent his final few years, with the remainder now auctioned off to the highest bidders.
Ackerman’s life and achievements are celebrated in the biographical documentary Famous Monster: Forrest J. Ackerman. From the earliest days of science fiction’s mass popularity in the 1930s, Ackerman was there, forming clubs, publishing fanzines and attending the first ever Worldcon in costume. All this led to his famed editorship of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the magazine that became the house journal of the ‘monster kid’ phenomenon of the 1950s and 1960s.
As the classic 1930s and 1940s Universal horror movies (and their cheap imitators) were released to TV in Shock Theater packages, kids across the US lapped them up. Uncle Forry, as he became know to a generation, provided fans with insights and illustrations that recalled their favourite characters and actors (in a time long before video and DVD). Ackerman, born in 1916, was ‘nerd zero’ from whom much of today’s geek chic film and TV culture was spawned.
As well a chronicling Ackerman’s personal history, Famous Monster serves as a potted history of US SF and monster movies from the 1930s to the 1970s. Ackerman was one of the first to start collecting disposable stuff no one else wanted, from lobby cards and film posters to actual props from the movies. In the 1960s up to his final days in 2008, he threw open his doors on a Saturday to allow curious fans to come visit, hear his well-rehearsed stories and examine his collection. His magazine Famous Monsters gave rise to a whole publishing niche that is still going strong today. Ackerman himself even featured in several movie cameos, which only went to prove he was a better fan than he was an actor.
Those he inspired — among them Joe Dante, Roger Corman, Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, and John Landis — contribute their thoughts to the documentary, while Lost actor Daniel Roebuck (Arzt) confesses his admiration of Ackerman and shows off his own growing collection of ‘monster kid’ memorabilia.
Made in 2007, Famous Monster: Forrest J. Ackerman is a fitting tribute to Forry’s life and captures him towards the end, still opening his doors to fans and still telling the same old stories. It’s a well-made fan-produced documentary that deserves a wide audience as it is both the ideal primer for those who are curious about Ackerman and a very welcome celebration of the great man’s life.
Extras consist of off-cuts from the featured interviews, plus more scenes of the (very) elderly Forry holding court at home and in his favourite restaurant, the House of Pies. There is some B-footage of the Ackermansion itself (now very valuable, given it’s long gone) and more from the very likeable Roebuck’s collection. There’s a photo gallery and a commentary by the writer and director team that chronicles the making of the documentary in some interesting detail. Brian J. Robb
Great documentary, if a trifle curtailed at only (a TV friendly) 48 minutes. Most of the extras are of the take-em-or-leave-em variety.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
| Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman|
featuring: Ray Bradbury, John Landis, and Roger Corman
director: Michael MacDonald
48 minutes (tbc) 2008
Kaleidoscope DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Andrew Darlington
If you're going to be a geek, why not be the über-geek - the greatest geek of all time? Forrest J Ackerman was the 'the nerd-zero from which every sci-fi and horror fan sprang fully deformed'. Forry - as he was universally known, the Acker-monster, Mr Ack-Ack, or - anticipating texting - 4E, was 'a lightning rod for like-minded fans who enjoyed a good scare'. He was 'the ultimate collector', one of the coolest guys on the planet. As John Landis points out, "he shook the hands of H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ray Bradbury. You name it, Forry was there."
Screams! Trash! Horror! Creature-features! Low-budget exploitation! Scary monsters! Things that go bump and whirr in the night! - this biog-DVD opens with a dazzling collage of cinematic-terror's finest moments from Fay Wray in King Kong, through Max Schreck as F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, and James Whale - director of Bride Of Frankenstein, all the way into George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead - a kaleidoscope of celluloid shockers that excited the impressionable Acker-eye.
Born on the 24th November, 1916, a native Angelino, Forry loved science fiction before it even had a name. He was gravitationally drawn by the cover of the October 1926 issue of Amazing Stories on a newsstand at the northwest corner of Santa Monica and Western boulevards, a cover showing what looked to be two lobster-like aliens ushering a ragged human into their cylindrical spaceship... or maybe it was the man who had emerged from that cylindrical submarine? Whatever, "in those days, magazines spoke, and that one said 'take me home little boy, you will love me'." And sure enough, that purchase "would influence, orient and govern my entire life." Hooked, he had a fan-letter published in Science Wonder Quarterly, and formed the 'LA Science Fantasy Society' fan-group soon after. They met upstairs at Clifton's Cafeteria in LA's Broadway theatre district, where an intimidated young Ray Bradbury came to join.
If Forry was working today he'd probably be writing a sci-fi blogspot. But when he started out the technology of delivery was cruder - mimeograph sheets stapled together into flimsy fanzines with titles like 'The Time Traveller' or 'Futuria Fantasia'. Yet the levels of ferocious energy and dedicated 'fan'-aticism were, if anything, more powerful. He not only attended the first-ever 'World SF Convention' dressed as a character from the H.G. Wells/ Alexander Korda film Things To Come (1939), but paid for Ray Bradbury's bus-ticket enabling him to get there too. He tried his hand at fiction, and sold a few, including respectable tales in the British 'Nebula' and Authentic SF (becoming known to British readers through his obsessive 'Report From Hollywood' columns, too). In fact, he published some 50 short stories under a variety of odd aliases.
Then he became the literary agent representing some 200 activists across the spectrum from L. Ron Hubbard to inspired eccentric movie-maker Ed Wood, from Isaac Asimov to Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone. He opened up genre-warfare by coining the term 'sci-fi' in 1954, a variant of hi-fi that he claimed was found "tattooed on the end of his tongue." In another version of the tale, he was merely popularising a term Robert Heinlein first uttered. Whatever, it was an apt term. For although he started out with SF pulp magazines, his enthusiasms simultaneously enveloped all of fantasy's other low-brow formats, on celluloid and beyond. And if science fiction defines print, sci-fi is the term appropriate for those other manifestations. Eventually Arthur C. Clarke declared a truce, and accepted both terms as interchangeable - after all, his own genre-contributions were pretty cross-media too! But it was as a fan - a super-fan of the genres of fantasy and horror that Forry achieved his greatest fame. His eighteen-room 'Ackermansion' was crammed with beautiful trash. Located on Glendower Road in the Lincoln Park area of L.A., not far from the Griffith Park Observatory, his preferred address was 'Horrorwood' or 'Wholly-Weird', 'Karloffornia'. His obsessive hoarding of SF and movie-memorabilia became not only the stuff of legend, but of research too when his collection was plundered for the Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine.
Consciously looping back to Hugo Gernsback's elision 'scientifiction', Forry first played around with the title 'Scientifilm World' until publisher John Warren's intervention. Their first issue of Famous Monsters Of Filmland sold 200,000 copies. The first-ever magazine of its kind, it was playful but well-informed, with a learned focus on behind-the-scenes movie-crews and obscure lost gore classics. With the orb-popping cover of each issue targeted to have that 'take me home little boy' effect on new devotees. Surfing in on the 1950s' revival of scary-movie re-runs on late-night TV and the new atom-threat monster-mutation films, the magazine persisted for 191 issues spread between February 1958, and 1983. To Robert 'Freddy Kruger' Englund, it made Forry "the Hugh Hefner of horror." A 14-year-old Stephen King once submitted a short story. And with his penchant for monstrous punning fun Forry appeared as both 'Dr Acula' and 'Claire Voyant' in its pages!
He enjoyed his growing celebrity, appearing in walk-on roles as himself in a range of bizarre low-budget movies - including Amazon Women On The Moon (1987), and Nudist Colony Of The Dead (1991), as well as The Howling (1981), and the 1976 remake of King Kong. He's also a character in Philip José Farmer's Blown erotic-SF novel. Never the stern intellectual, interview footage shows him, even in later life, burbling with a contagious sense of fun. Later, a contentious and litigious Famous Monsters Of Filmland re-launch from 1993 is best passed over. Better to point out that Forry is the guy in the Thriller video sitting behind Michael Jackson in the movie theatre eating popcorn. Forrest J Ackerman was a teenager until he died. Less slasher or Saw torture-porn, more a preference that remained with the pre-DVD pre-eBay pre-'Planet Hollywood' adolescent days of Universal horror, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, not only as a fan-boy, but as a historian, turning those pubertal dreams into a kind of mutant academia. Eventually he was forced to downsize to a smaller Acker-mini-mansion in Los Feliz, L.A., where he died on the 4th December 2008, after covering pretty much of a century of imagination. As A.E. Van Vogt observed, Forry never did "live within the same world or time as most of the rest of humanity." But this brilliant DVD ensures that he's not so much dead, as an undead presence, still very much with us.
DVD extras: a silent tour of mini-Ackermansion, blooper reel, and Dan 'Dr Shocker' Roebuck (actor from Lost) on a 'Hall of Horrors' tour of his own SF and fantasy collection.
WHY IS FORRY SO COOL?
by Ian Johnston
So why is Uncle Forry so cool? Why should we care about Forrest J Ackerman?
Well, there’s the obvious answer – he’s the first fan of scifi, the “original geek” as I wrote in our documentary. He coined “scifi”, he collected all this great stuff, he inspired a generation of film-makers….blah blah blah…
You know, that’s all true. But it’s not why I was in awe around him. It was his stories. His life, as it was. He was truly the Kevin Bacon of all time. That’s a joke of course. Bacon couldn’t carry Forry’s scifi jockstrap.
I’m talking about the Kevin Bacon game. Being with Forry was a one-degree separation from the biggest stars of past generations. Icons. Legends.
He was one degree of separation from the golden age of…well….everything. When he put the Dracula “whammy” on you, you knew that you were getting one-degree of separation from the original vampire, who Forry not only met, but hung out with.
He got into an argument in letters with HP Lovecraft. One degree. He shook the hand of H.G. Wells. One degree. He knew Karloff. Lugosi. Chaney Junior. Fritz Lang. Arthur Conan Doyle. Marlene Dietrich. Al Jolson. Cary Grant. Sammy Davis Junior.
He knew L Ron Hubbard and what a dick he was. He knew Ed Wood and what a drunk he was. One degree.
He worked backstage at the Oscars when Gone With The Wind won big…
We lost all that when he died. But I figure, in a little way, I can do a two-degree that’s not as good, but pretty cool nonetheless. As director Mike Macdonald observed at our Egyptian screening, when me and Mike put the Dracula whammy on you, that’s only two degrees from Lugosi. Consider yourself blessed. Well, by the undead, but blessed nonetheless.
Of course, the biggest treat was Forry's Lincoln chair, which he kept in his bedroom in his final days.
His grandfather took photos of Abraham Lincoln in that chair. Abraham fucking Lincoln, can you believe it?
In our last interview with Forrest Ackerman, he wasn’t all that healthy. But once he saw our red-headed producer Holly, he woke up and began leading her about the mini-Ackermansion, including his red-walled bedroom, which was a bit more “adult” than the rest of his house, covered as it was in scifi pics of semi-nude ladies and female stars (Monroe, Dietrich). He loved the ladies and was an incredible flirt till the end. And he was one of those kid-like flirts who could get away with saying almost anything to girls. Oh, he’s so cute…
Anyway, at one moment, I was standing in his bedroom by the Lincoln chair, which I remember having red velvet lining, very ornate, dark wood, but simple in a way.
The chair was covered in video tapes Forry had been watching. With no one around suddenly, I figured – this is my moment. I removed the tapes and, with all the reverence I could muster, I sat my ass on that chair. Two seconds.
Forry. His grandfather. Lincoln Three degrees of separation? Or is it two? No matter. My butt cheeks shared space with Lincoln.
That’s why Forry was cool….
Friday, March 27, 2009
That's Scream Queen Bobbie Bresee and her husband, Frank. Mr. Oldtime radio himself - in their Hollywood home.
This is Ian's second WGC nomination in this category. The award will be presented at the Canadian Screenwriting Awards April 20th in Toronto.
Turning fandom into a lifestyle
A biography of the original "fanboy" will be screened during the Drexel's annual sci-fi film fest
By Richard Ades
Along with the usual assortment of old classics and new features, the festival will include a documentary that’s appropriate for the expected crowd of sci-fi fans, as it’s about the man known as the greatest fan of all time. In fact, he may have been the original “fanboy,” said TV writer Ian Johnston, one of the two Canadians who made the flick.
Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman is about the late “Forry” Ackerman, a journalist and literary agent who took his favorite film genre so seriously that in 1939 he became the first known person to show up for a sci-fi convention in costume.
“You can’t forget about that significance—’39, for God’s sake,” said Johnston.
As a result, said Michael MacDonald, the film’s director and producer, the documentary is not only about Ackerman but about the celluloid-worshiping lifestyle he helped to popularize.
“You can’t separate the two,” MacDonald said. “Through Forry, we celebrate fandom.”
Speaking on the phone Monday from Toronto and Halifax, respectively, Johnston and MacDonald explained how two Canadians came to make a film about the man whose devotion to science fiction is credited with helping to turn it into a mainstream phenomenon.
He’s the guy, in fact, who turned science fiction into sci-fi, reportedly coining the nickname back in 1953.
“I first met Forry back in the early ’90s,” said Johnston, who was writing for the fan magazines Fangoria and Cinefantastique at the time.
Ackerman had served as editor of his own fan magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmdom, from 1958 to ’82, and he remained active in the sci-fi and horror fields into the ’90s. Johnston said Ackerman organized two “Famous Monster” conventions, in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. In addition, he owned a vast collection of film memorabilia that he gladly showed to anybody who dropped by the “Ackermansion,” his LA home.
In 2005, when MacDonald was making a movie about sci-fi cover art, Johnston suggested that he talk to Ackerman. However, Johnston had been out of touch with Ackerman and wasn’t even sure he was still alive. When MacDonald not only talked to Ackerman but included footage of him in his film, Johnston decided it was time to make a movie specifically about the legendary fan, who was then in his late 80s.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to go down and film this guy quick,’” said Johnston, who signed on as the project’s writer and interviewer. “Not to be crass or anything like that, but after you’re in your 80s, all bets are off.”
The resulting 48-minute documentary includes interviews with Ackerman and with some of the many filmmakers and other celebs who’ve been inspired by him through the years, including Roger Corman, Ray Bradbury, John Landis and Joe Dante.
It also includes reminiscences about people who are no longer around to speak for themselves, such as legendarily bad filmmaker Ed Wood, for whom Ackerman served as an agent. Johnston said Ackerman’s support of Wood had nothing to do with the quality of his work.
“He accepted anybody, almost, as an agent,” said Johnston. “He was very disparaging of Ed Wood.”'
“He said Ed Wood was a drunken voice on the other end of the phone at 2 o’clock in the morning,” added MacDonald.
Even so, Ackerman not only worked with Wood but remained his friend for years.
“Forry was always for the underdog,” said MacDonald.
He noted that Ackerman also befriended Bela Lugosi, the one-time Dracula who died partway through Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, often cited as the worst film of all time. MacDonald said Ackerman and his wife once helped the down-and-out actor by taking him to get his shoes fixed.
“That’s so cool,” Johnston said. “Like, who fixes people’s shoes?”
Of course, Ackerman himself is the main character in MacDonald and Johnston’s film. They succeeded in interviewing him and even filming his 90th birthday, held at a Los Angeles eatery called House of Pies.
The world’s foremost authority on science fiction was not above delving into fiction when talking about himself, they admitted. One example was a story he liked to tell of an H.G. Wells book that supposedly was mailed to him during World War II, but which went down with a ship that was sunk by a German submarine. The book eventually rose to the surface, and he finally received it.
Later, however, Ackerman revealed that the story wasn’t true. Nor could it have been, as the book wasn’t published until five years after the war ended.
“There was a lot of crap around that you’re not really sure about,” said Johnston. “Like Clark, for God’s sake,” he added, referring to the middle name sometimes ascribed to Ackerman.
So why did Ackerman use the middle initial J, which was never followed by a period?
“I always got the impression that he did it ’cause that looked cooler or something,” Johnston said.
Ackerman died Dec. 4, proving that Johnston had been right to turn his film biography into a rush job. The movie—which already had been seen on Canadian TV and at a 2008 film festival in Huntington Beach, Calif.—was screened at a tribute gathering held March 8 at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre. Also on the bill was The Time Travelers, a 1964 film in which Ackerman made a brief appearance.
The older flick is again on the schedule for this weekend’s Drexel film festival, following the third public showing of Famous Monster. “We booked Time Travelers specifically because it has a cameo appearance by Forrest Ackerman in it,” said Drexel owner Jeff Frank, “We thought the audience would get a real kick out of seeing it.”
The Other Paper
Thursday, March 26, 2009
itsonitsoff.com DVD REVIEW!
"Famous Monster is a fun and informative bit of merchandise that should be of interest to even the most casual sci-fi or horror geek."
DVD Review: Famous Monster
Posted on 17 March, 2009 by Jonathan Melville
I like to think of myself as a pretty clued up fan of the sci-fi genre, wearing my geek colours on my sleeve as I watch the latest BSG or plan a visit to a screening of a classic Kubrick.
Watching Famous Monster, a documentary about the world’s most famous sci-fi fan (he even coined the term sci-fi!) Forrest J Ackerman, who died last December, I felt suitably humbled: my geek chic pales in comparison to this guy.
Born in 1916, Ackerman was a Los Angeles based writer who, among his many accomplishments, founded the science fiction genre, edited the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, was potentially the world’s greatest collector of sci-fi and horror memorabilia and was once present during a talk by HG Welles.
During filming in 2007, the makers of Famous Monster found a clearly frail Forry living in his Acker-mini-mansion (a much pared-down version of his once infamous shrine to film merchandise known as the Ackermansion) with much of his enthusiasm for the world of science fiction still intact.
Famous fans such as John Landis and Ray Harryhausen give their thoughts on the man while photos and clips of the Ackermonster in action keep things moving. Soundbites from both Ackerman and the talking heads give a decent overview of his life, though the brevity of the film at 48mins and the lack of some meatier interviewees - Spielberg and Lucas are mentioned but never seen - does mean it lacks a bit of punch.
As an introduction to a man who lived for his passion and happily passed on the torch to the younger fans, Famous Monster is a fun and informative bit of merchandise that should be of interest to even the most casual sci-fi or horror geek.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Other than mispelling my name, That's MacDonald, Joe! (Not like the infamous restaurant chain) Joe's recounting of the tribute is wonderful! Thanks Joe!
Note: Our trailer did not make the tribute section but we had over 400 souls watching the full documentary later in the evening, along-side Ib Melchior's, The Time Travellers! What a wonderful day. As Joe will tell you, Forry made it all happen. Regarding our Ackerman afterlife visitation, read our posting here! Ackerman 000 Forry Speaks From the Grave!
Joe Moe: Horrorwood Babbles On: The Forrest J Ackerman Tribute
It was a Blood-Red-letter day for fandom as pros and fans alike gathered to bid a reluctant “Forry-well” to the late great genre-icon Forrest J Ackerman! Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theatre served as a temple for the filled-to-capacity ritual sponsored by the American Cinematheque, Profiles in History auction house and the Ackerman estate.
Guests began waiting on line at around 1:00PM for the scheduled 3:00PM reception. By 2:30 over 200 bodies had congregated at the doors of the theater. Inside, staff was scrambling. Pieces of Forry’s collection were being displayed (A first edition of Dracula signed by Bram Stoker and almost everyone who ever played the famous Vampire on screen, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula cape and Forry’s fave prop: the “Robotrix” from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). Caterers worked until the last minute putting finishing touches on the expansive Sci-Fi themed buffet. A huge globe of cauliflower punctuated a long table; kumquats ringed satellites of smaller melon-planets. A futuristic silver fountain streamed crimson punch. When the doors opened at 3:00PM, the line already extended up the few hundred feet of theater courtyard and down Hollywood Boulevard…
I suspect you’ll be hearing a lot of accounts like these from a lot of people for a long time to come. Many folks shared the experience of laughter, tears, loss and camaraderie on this remarkable day. I wish everyone in fandom could have been there. Many on-hand deemed it; THE BEST TRIBUTE EVER! Here’s my little peek behind the making-of the tribute.
Tragically, this triumphant story must begin with the loss of our beloved Uncle Forry Ackerman. Our ol’ guy reached the end of his 92-year run on this planet and he knew he was soon to make a final journey with Prince Sirki. One of the reasons I was so close to Forry is that I’d always talked straight with him and honored his wishes -- to the letter. He had lived a long life without anyone “managing” him. I wasn’t going to mess with that formula because his life was drawing to a close. Forry practically delighted in reminding me that he was an atheist and would die one. But he also promised that if he woke up in heaven, he would gladly take time out from his reunion with his wife Wendayne and conversations with Boris and Bela to send us a sign from “beyond.” In return, I promised not to hold a funeral service of any kind. Immediately I began nudging him to let me at least hold a memorial. Forry reacted as Frankenstein’s monster to fire, “Argh-grrrrr!” arms flailing! His silver spaceship-fin of hair stood at attention. OK, OK! No memorial! How about a “tribute?" Forry, gave me a begrudging shrug and finally a yes!
A devastating blow for our community. I was luckier than most. I could temper my grief with purpose. I had one more job to do for Forry: A tribute. Kevin Burns (many editions of A&E "Biography", "The Girls Next Door"), Forry’s longtime friend and executor of his estate, was supportive and trusting of me to throw a good party. John Landis (Schlock, An American Werewolf in London, Innocent Blood) called and suggested we hold the event at the Egyptian Theatre as he’d participated in other memorials (his word, not mine) there. Soon after, the Cinematheque agreed and we set our date: Sunday March 8th, 2009.
At that point, writer Dan Madigan (See No Evil) joined me and my close friend and director Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs, Driftwood) to spearhead the tribute. Tim is a talented director and his enthusiasm in fandom is notorious and infectious. Dan was busy with family and study but was there to back us up as we went forward. Most importantly, they both loved Forry. We reached out immediately to Forry-friends who might want to speak at the tribute. Tim got quick responses from John Landis, Rick Baker (6-time makeup Oscar winner) and Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil's Backbone, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth). I heard back from Verne Langdon (Famous Monsters magazine regular, and Don Post Studios partner,
We were excited but a little nervous. John Landis had taken a keen interest in the event and was (in his good-hearted but blustery custom) riding us - "What do you have planned? Who’s invited? What the fuck is going on?!" Everyone insisted this event be worthy of the memory of Dr. Ackula. Tim and I decided it should be an event populated by speakers who were not only celebrities but also old-time Forry friends and fans alike. We didn’t want to be overly ambitious in trying to create a performance, per se. Just a well-paced, multi-media tribute with heart-felt testimonials, video clips and maybe some music. Having planned and carried out countless Forry birthday bashes, I was confident that this event would take care of itself if we didn’t over work it. Landis was skeptical. I sent out a few hundred invitations and by the week of the tribute had received over 300 RSVP’s. The invite was available on Forry’s FaceBook page (not his friend yet? What are you waiting for?) and I’d gotten a good response from that posting as well.
By the weekend of the tribute, we’d assembled all of the media: Paul David’s (Timothy Leary's Dead, "Roswell") clip from The Sci-Fi Boys. A cameo reel originally assembled by Charles Henson for Ron Adam’s Monster Bash in PA, and a trailer for Famous Monster, a Canadian Documentary about Forry that had been made by Michael McDonald and Ian Johnston of Roadhouse Films. Finally, I had arranged a secret surprise intended to be shown at the end of the tribute. Sadly, at this point, Verne Langdon and James Warren dropped out of our line-up. Both Verne and Jim had sent me lovely e-mails explaining that they’d already said their good-byes to Forry and that they felt they’d given him a great tribute when they appeared together at Comic-Con in 2008. They respectfully decided they weren’t up to saying good-bye again. I understood, but they really deserved to be there to feel all the love fandom holds for them. On the bright side, we’d previously begged good pal and brilliant editor Jovanka Vuckovic (Rue Morgue Magazine) to speak and she agreed to lend her voice to the festivities.
On the day of the event, the Cinematheque staff was in full force, House manager Barry made everything run smoothly. All of our guests were confirmed. The lead-up to the tribute was a blur as all the set-up was hastily completed and eager friends and fans filed into the theater. Dan Madigan wrangled the lobby quite impressively while Tim Sullivan and I watched the clock and made sure all of our speakers were present. We’d managed to get everyone inside and the 600-seat house was filled to capacity. Familiar faces dotted the crowd: Ann Robinson (War of the Worlds), Ron Chaney, Carla Laemmle (Phantom of the Opera, Dracula), Angus Scrimm (Phantasm), Dan Roebuck (The Devil's Rejects, Rob Zombie's Halloween), Johnny Legend (2001 Maniacs), Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), Ogre (Skinny Puppy, Repo: The Genetic Opera), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Spooky Dan Walker, Ryan Rotten (Shock Till You Drop), Kerry O’Quinn (Starlog, Fangoria), Feo Amante, Brinke Stevens (Transylvania Twist, Hell Night) Ryan Fleming (2001 Maniacs), Dave Parker (The Hills Run Red), David J. Skal (The Monster Show, Dark Carnival), Joe Pilato (Day of the Dead), Mike Mendez (The Grave Dancers) and many more. The legendary American filmmaker, writer and artist Kenneth Anger (Fireworks, Scorpio Rising, Hollywood Babylon) showed up in Kabuki makeup. Forry had had a falling out with Ken in recent years. Some friends were worried that he might make a scene, but I was happy he was there. Ken is an eccentric genius and he and Forry shared many more fond memories than acrimonious ones. He was a gentleman through the entire tribute.
The lights dimmed and Tim Sullivan took the podium.
Tim Sullivan: "Known to the world as one of the greatest living authors of our time for such science fiction classics as Fahrenheit 451 and the Martian Chronicles, to Forry our first speaker was simply known as “Best Friend”. Since their early childhood, Forry nurtured this gentleman’s career, forming a pattern of mentoring and cheerleading that has spanned generations. Ladies and gentleman, Ray Bradbury."
The audience stood, applauding wildly when Ray rolled up to the podium in his wheelchair. Ray spoke of Forry’s responsibility for his career. How when Ray was poor, selling newspapers on the street, Forry would pay for him to attend Sci-Fi events. As he’s said many times, “if there was no Forry there would be no Ray Bradbury.” The audience was reverent and somber as they listened to this icon lament the loss of his dear pal. Finally, Ray said, “Today I give you permission to be sad. I’m very sad.” and broke down in tears as he was taken back to his spot in the audience. We all held our breath through this, the first emotional speed bump we’d encountered at the tribute.
TS: "What can you say about John Landis that he won’t tell you himself? Ladies and gentlemen, John Landis!"
John Landis is one of Forry’s closest friends. Like family. He read a letter that Mick Garris ("Masters of Horror", The Stand) had received from Stephen King (The Shining, IT) which simply stated, “Tell em’ I love that man.” Next he read a letter from Ray Harryhausen (The Valley of Gwangi, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) expressing how inspirational and supportive Forry had always been from the beginning of his friendship with he and Bradbury through mutual love of the movie King Kong, until the last days. Next, John talked about Forry’s presence in his own life as a budding filmmaker and his cameos in his own films over time. John cracked some Scientology jokes (Forry was L. Ron Hubbard's first agent).
TS: "A regular contributor to Starlog, Fangoria and nearly every genre publication in the country, not to mention the author of Keep Watching the Skies, our next speaker is a longtime friend of the Ackermonster, a fellow Hawaiian shirt aficionado, and one of the foremost authorities on the beginnings of the genre which Forry coined, Sci-Fi. Bill Warren."
Warren talked mostly about the early days of Sci-Fi. He started by asking for a show of hands to determine how many in the audience knew of Forry prior to his Famous Monster days? Very few hands went up. George Clayton Johnson ("The Twilight Zone", Logan's Run) was one. Bill talked about Forry’s early days in Sci-Fi and how he made others take the genre seriously. When Bill mentioned that, “Forry was more important to me than my own Father” he choked back tears whispering, “I can’t talk anymore” and quickly left the stage. All of us felt for him -- and with him.
TS: "Like many of our guests here tonight, our next speaker went from fan to filmmaker responsible for several feature films and award winning documentaries, including The Sci Fi Boys, the Saturn Award winning tribute to the original bat pack, FJA, Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen. Paul Davids."
Before showing a scene from his Forry documentary The Sci-Fi Boys, director Paul Davids spoke about the influence Forry had on monster-making kids who grew up to be monster-making pros. He then screened a clip of Forry eulogizing George Pal at Pal’s graveside. This was the first media clip of Forry and it was a little shocking to see him as the frail man he’d become toward the end of his life. Still, it was a comfort to see him and hear his reassuring voice once more.
TS: "An oft-time Forry collaborator on such coffee table volumes as WORLD’S OF TOMORROW and countless articles, our next guest is a prolific force in genre writing. His speculative novel, MOON OF ICE was a Prometheus Award winner. He can also be seen chewing up scenery right beside Forry in VAMPIRE HUNTER’S CLUB. Here he is, Brad Linaweaver."
Brad Linaweaver talked about his collaborations with Forry. Proudest among them was the hardcover coffee table book: Worlds of Tomorrow: Amazing Science Fiction Art which Brad held up for the whole audience to see. In a show of how even pros turn into little kids at the mention of Forrest Ackerman, Brad proudly displayed Forry’s autograph in his copy of their book. Brad also spoke of Forry’s willingness to participate in ANY genre project, big or small.
TS: "Our next speaker became a fan of monster films as a TV-addicted, insomnia-racked child in Toronto. She began writing for the Canadian horror mag Rue Morgue and was soon asked to take over as editor-in-chief, thus fulfilling the same function as FJA with Famous Monsters where she follows in his footsteps to this day. Jovanka Vuckovic."
Jovanka took the stage, fire-colored hair cascading, to represent the women of horror as well as the new generation of monster kid. She actually coined the term “Monster Grandkid” on the spot! She had traveled from Toronto with a large contingency of her crew. She compared Forry’s collection of monster paintings on his walls to her collection of monster tattoos that graced her arms. She knew how much her Halloween issue of Rue Morgue (with Forry’s Gogos portrait on the cover) had meant to him. She gave a terrific speech punctuated with deep emotion.
TS: "Forry claimed to have made 112 cameos in his lifetime. Here’s a montage of Forry performances created for Ron Adam’s MONSTER BASH convention by Charles Henson in 2008."
The reel was a bit of comic relief as the image of a healthy and happy Forry mugged and emoted through a montage of his performances; The Time Travelers, Aftermath, Innocent Blood, The Howling, Vampirella, interspersed with some candid videos of Forry looking every bit his charming, vibrant self. The soundtrack was the song “Bad Boy” as performed by the group Sha Na Na. On a side note, I’m proud to say that Forry made his last formal cameo in my own feature film Red Velvet.
TS: "As a monster- struck teenager, our next guest submitted an article to FM which Forry published in issue 18 entitled “Dante’s Inferno”, a list of Must NOT See horror flicks. Since then, he has made a career making Must SEE horror flicks including Small Soldiers, Gremlins and The Howling, the latter featuring Uncle Forry himself. Ladies and gentleman, Joe Dante."
Joe Dante contributed one of the most impactful speeches of the afternoon. Amidst personal anecdotes of how thrilling it was to see his first writings in print within the pages of Famous Monsters magazine, Joe made the statement that the loss of Forry was, “a final nail in the coffin of our childhood.” That proclamation resonated with everyone in the theater. Some were put off by its blunt severity and some felt it perfectly articulated their feelings. Nobody could deny it was a profound observation.
TS: "One of the legion of kids who grew up reading Famous Monsters, and ended up making famous monsters of their own, six time Oscar winner and one of Forry’s proudest creations, Rick Baker Monster Maker."
Another graduate of the University of Famous Monsters, Rick Baker spoke of Forry’s inspiration and guidance in his career. Rick wanted to be a medical doctor until he realized it was a makeup artist who actually made movie monsters! Rick was his usual humble and sincere self as he talked about Forry’s support of his work in the pages of FM. Forry’s magazine introduced Rick to the idea that monster making could actually be a job! Rick came to visit Forry in his final days. It was a relief to know that Rick had a chance to say good-bye and that Forry was able to tell him, once again, how incredibly proud he was of Rick’s accomplishments.
TS: "Such a super-fan that he had to open a second home to accommodate his comic book and memorabilia collection, with films such as The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and the upcoming Hobbit he’ll have to open up a third home to accommodate all his awards. One of Forry’s most beloved monster kids, director Guillermo Del Toro."
Maestro Del Toro was his usual authentic, warm and funny self. He’d flown in from New Zealand where he was working on The Hobbit. He came straight from the airport to the tribute. He told the audience about his lonely childhood and how much Famous Monsters magazine had helped him get through it. He actually learned to speak English by reading FM (and MAD Magazine)! A young Guillermo wrote to Forry begging him to adopt him! While he’d asked to be moved earlier in the line-up because he had to leave early, he ended up staying to the very end and meeting and greeting some extremely grateful fans.
TS: "A Forry friend and confidant for more than two decades, the executor of his estate, our next speaker is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker and documentarian as well as the foremost collector of Munsters memorabilia in the world. He can also do an impression of nearly anybody and make you feel like you’re in the room with them. Ladies and gentlemen, Kevin Burns."
Kevin Burns is a terrific friend of Forry’s. He’s one of those quiet folks who seemed to appear in Forry’s life when he needed him most. Kevin talked about his friendship with Forry and explained to the crowd how he was administering Forry’s estate. He made it clear that he’d sat down with Forry and asked exactly what he wanted. I am happy to tell you that Kevin is not only fulfilling Forry’s wishes but he’s doing it with incredible grace and with an eye toward Forry’s legacy. Kevin then did a terrific impression of Forry’s answering machine: “By recording, this is Forry Ackerman. What can I do for you?” It brought the house down.
TS: Our next guest has the distinction of being considered “best pal“ by Forry himself. Friends and fans consider him a miracle worker who kept Uncle Ack happy and healthy over the last two decades. If not for the diligence of this fellow, we would have been holding this tribute many years earlier. But he’s more than just a glorified Ygor. He is an accomplished artist, writer, filmmaker and studio vocalist. Forry simply called him “a son among nephews!” Welcome Joe Moe.
That’s me! I made it to the stage, joined by a string trio (Heather Lockie: Viola, Denny Moynihan: Uke and Marc Doten: Stand-up base). I called some of Forry’s Monster kids up, including Forry-makeup protégé 18-year-old Casey Wong. I explained that I was going to sing a song that I sang with Forry though life and that I sang to Forry on the sad day I laid him in his grave. I asked the audience to help me. I told them that I believed if we sang our hearts out, Forry might send us one last message from beyond. Then I launched into a rendition of Al Jolson’s Sonny Boy with lyrics changed to “Forry Boy!” Casey flipped cue cards for the sing-along. Kevin Burns channeled the voice of Forry ...
When there are gray skies…
(Kevin: “what don’t you mind in the least?”)
I don’t mind the gray skies…
(Kevin: “what do I do to them?”)
You make them blue…
(Kevin: “what’s my name?”)
I looked out at the crowd and there were smiles and some tears. People sang out and laughed when the cue cards got mixed up. I hadn’t really rehearsed, believing that no matter what happened, the musicians would follow their charts and everything would work out the way it should - for Forry! I just wanted to represent the magical nature of a conversation with Forry; the thing I’d miss most. I felt he was there with me. I wanted to keep it light because I knew what was coming next.
The song ended and the entire audience rose to their feet. I couldn’t think of it as a standing ovation for me. It was for Forry. We’d all laughed and cried that afternoon and now we were acknowledging each other as family. We were proud to be part of Forry’s legacy. We all settled back down and I confessed that I thought Forry had heard us and might send us one last message. I knew he would. I’d taped it at his request just days before he left us. The house lights went down slowly to blackness. A shimmer lit the screen as a fuzzy image faded in and out of view ...
Applause, much sobbing throughout the theater and then lights came up and the event was over. The audience rose as one and slowly made for the exits. There were hugs all around. Pics were snapped with celebs and more stories were exchanged. Tim Sullivan got the appreciation he deserved as friends and fans approached him to tell him what a great job he’d done. Dan Madigan beamed! Landis pulled me out of a crowd (uh-oh) to let me know, “OK, I thought you were gonna fuck it up for sure ... but it was good! Really good!” (Yay!)
We’d given our favorite Uncle a stylish send-off. I’d fulfilled my last promise to Forry. My last official task on his behalf. I was so grateful to everyone who came together to make the day perfect. Strange. Now I’m a civilian. Merely a volunteer in the Ackermonster brigade. But it’s with full voice and eternal conviction that I’ll stand on any mountain peak and yell, at the top of my lungs;
“FORREST J ACKERMAN SHALL NOT DIE!”
I'm in NO way superstitious, but Forry appeared to me in a dream last night.
He was the Forry of nearly 20 years ago. Older, but still energetic and mischievous. He had his hands behind his back as if to play his notorious "pick a hand" game. Instead he leaned forward, raised his eyebrow and said, "Say, pal. Been to any good Hollywood tributes lately?" I laughed, "Did you like it, Ack?" He shrugged, "Fair" -- and then he beamed, "The best I ever saw. The 9th Wonder of the world!" As I began to wake up, I realized that dream-Forry called the tribute the ninth wonder of the world because he figured after the seven ancient wonders of the world, King Kong was considered the eighth! Our tribute would have to settle for ninth place.
Wow! My brain channeled Forry! So, without having to believe in ghosts, I know he's still around.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Director: Michael MacDonald
Writer: Ian Johnston
Producers: Michael MacDonald, Holly Hedd
Cast: Forry Ackerman, Ray Harryhausen, John Landis
Year of release: 2007
Reviewed from: screener
Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman (to use the full title) is a 48-minute look at the life and work of ‘Mr Sci-Fi’ himself, produced a couple of years before his death in 2009. It features most of the expected talking heads, some rare photos, lots of clips from trailers and PD classics and some newly shot interview footage with Forry himself who looks very weak and frail but clearly still had all his faculties.
Forry had a stock of anecdotes and well-worn gags which he trotted out in interview after interview, column after column, especially in the last decade or two of his life, so it would be very easy for this to turn into a singalongaforry as anyone with even a passing knowledge of the man mouths the stories word for word. It is to the credit of director Michael MacDonald and writer Ian Johnston (who share a curious ‘created by’ credit) that Famous Monster manages to largely avoid this, without leaving any obvious gaps in the story. There is the occasional “little boy, take me home” or “I am your reader, make me laugh” but they provide texture, not tedium, to the story.
Most of the interviewees need no introduction. They are, in order of appearance: Ray Harryhausen, John Landis, Ray Bradbury, Roger Corman, film exhibitor/historian Reg Hartt, Twilight Zone/Star Trek scripter George Clayton Johnson, actress Bobbie Bresee (Evil Spawn etc), actor Dan Roebuck (Matlock, Halloween remake etc), Rue Morgue editrix Jovanka Vuckovic, Joe Dante, David J Schow, director Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs etc), Del Howison (owner of LA collectibles store Dark Delicacies), Ib Melchior, Fred Olen Ray and Scott Spiegel.
There are also clips of Ackerman’s cameo roles in Ray’s Scalps and Melchior’s The Time Travellers as well as some archive footage shot inside the original Ackermansion. Forry sits in an armchair in the mini-Ackermansion that he moved into in his later years and is also seen at his favourite restaurant, House of Pies.
Forry looks very small and old in this film - he was 89/90 when it was produced - and his movements are small and slow. But he looks content, thankful for his (amazing) lot in life and comfortable in the knowledge that he is surrounded by friends who will care for him until Prince Sirki finally comes a-knocking. “He’ll probably outlast us all,” says Sullivan, which of course turned out not be true. “When he finally goes, he’s going to go happy,” ventures Dante, which thankfully did prove prophetic.
Although it was produced and broadcast on American and Canadian TV while Ackerman was still alive, the first DVD release of the documentary was this UK disc which hit stores a couple of months after his passing. There is a curious but, I suppose, unavoidable inconsistency in that some of the interviewees talk about Ackerman in the past tense but we can work out that they are talking about Forry as he was when he was still active; he was still with us when these people spoke.
Johnston’s script (narrated by Terry Pulliam) largely avoids any attempt to ape Forry’s punning style and acknowledges the controversy over the reincarnation of Famous Monsters without dwelling unduly on the matter or naming the other party involved. Johnston is also credited with ‘research’ and ‘interviews’ while MacDonald (who had previously interviewed Forry for his 2005 documentary Visions from the Edge: The Art of Science Fiction) shares camera credit with (brother?) Fred MacDonald and editing with James Patriquin. Warren Robert, sometime guitarist with rockers Avacost, provided the score.
Famous Monster strikes just the right balance so that it will appeal to both those who know little about Forrest J Ackerman and those who are completely familiar with the man and his legacy. Although there is, naturally, no reference to his passing, this serves as a generous, affectionate (but not cloying or hagiographic) tribute to a man who, directly or indirectly, touched the lives of millions of people around the world.
The DVD from Spirit Entertainment includes nearly two hours of extras plus a commentary by Johnston and MacDonald which starts fairly blandly but picks up later on. There is a three-minute ‘Blooper Reel’ which has out-takes from the interviews with Landis, Schow, Dante, Roebuck and Corman. Landis observes that there is no irony in Dan Aykroyd’s belief in UFOs, ghosts and conspiracy theories and that the actor really is “insane”. Corman can’t recall which of his films Forry cameoed in but, when told the details of one such appearance, then repeat sthem for the camera as if the information was plucked from the air. (Film journo secret: this sort of thing happens all the time.)
‘More Forry Memories’ is 27 minutes of additional interview footage, 17 minutes of which is Ackerman himself although this includes a rather pointless sequence in a car during which Forry barely says a word and a House of Pies sequence of Forry singing three songs, which is the sort of indulgence one extends to people of that age (and Forry always loved to sing to people) but is of little actual interest. The remaining ten minutes includes additional interview material with Dante, Bradbury, Roebuck, Sullivan, Spiegel and Landis.
On the commentary track, Johnston and MacDonald explain that they visited a convention where Forry was scheduled to appear but he didn’t show up. Since they were there anyway they grabbed three interviews with other guests but these have been omitted from the main documentary for two obvious reasons. One is sound quality - all three interviews were done on the fly in a noisy dealer’s hall - and the other is that none of the interviewees have anything to say about Ackerman except what a lovely man. Carla Laemmle (niece of the Universal Studios boss, now well into her 90s) is one of the ladies in question and the other two are Grace Lee Whitney (Star Trek’s Yeoman Rand) and Hammer/Bond hottie Caroline Munro. The fourth deleted interview is with a young, aspiring make-up effects artist, Casey Wong, who is seen in his studio and in Forry’s home. This whole ‘Deleted Interviews’ segment runs 22 minutes.
A seven-minute tour of the Mini-Ackermansion is really just long, unedited takes of establishing footage but it gives us a chance to view what remained of Forry’s collection after the great sell-off. On the other hand, ‘Dan Roebuck’s Hall of Horror’ (called ‘Dan Roebuck’s Living(??) Room’ on-screen) is a guided tour around the extensive collection of this likeable actor who turns out to be a massive, massive monster kid. Roebuck, whose many credits include episodes of Lost, Six Feet Under, Freakylinks, The West Wing, Lois and Clark and Star Trek TNG, explains that, unlike Forry, he has very few original items (a couple of Planet of the Apes costumes notwithstanding) but he has vast amounts of toys, action figures, books and other merchandise plus a number of lifesize waxworks, some bought from out-of-business museums and some specially commissioned. Finally there is a gallery of 37 photos of Forry or from his collection, some of which are seen briefly in the main feature.
One day someone may write a definitive biography of Forrest J Ackerman (whose middle name, I learned from this film, was actually Clark). I certainly won’t, but somebody might. It will be a difficult job, even at a remove of several years, because Forry was human and could, I have no doubt, be as cantankerous as any old man. But he is so loved, and is likely to remain so, that objectivity will be difficult and may well end up being condemned - which is one reason why I wouldn’t touch such a job with a barge pole, thank you very much.
In the meantime, this sympathetic, informative, well-crafted documentary serves as a fine record of a person whose historical importance and cultural influence were out of all proportion to his actual level of public awareness.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Writer - Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman
March 18, 2009
NBC-Universal Declares Sci-Fi Fans Not Human
Ackerman To Rise From Grave In Protest
Where’s Dr. Ackula when you need him?
Oh right. He’s gone to the great Ackermansion in the sky, leaving behind a legion of fans and a grave plate that reads “Sci-fi Is My High”.
Too bad. We could have used him this week to defend the word he created (or at least popularized) more than 55 years ago.
The Sci-Fi Channel – owned by NBC-Universal, who used to know a thing or two about creatures that go bump and buzz in the night – has decided to ditch the word sci-fi and replace it with the more “cool” brand of “SyFy”.
According to the president of Syfy…..oh god, I can’t even type it…Dave Howe, the name change is aimed at “building a broader, more open, accessible, reliable and human-friendly brand…”
Wait a second. Did he just call all his current viewers “non-human”? God damn. I think he did. Wow…
Well, we know what he’s saying, don’t we? He just decided he’s too popular to hang out with the nerds and basement geeks. He wants to hang with the cool kids. Cool kids who don’t usually go for aliens and monsters.
Women. Guys with jobs. Normal folks.
And all this after The Sci-Fi Channel recorded its largest audience ever last year – built on all those very geeks he’s dumping.
Don’t you think it’s a bit wrong-headed to abandon your core audience in favor of a viewership who can be fooled into watching by the sight of a shiny new logo?
Needless to say, the world of always-indignant sci-fi fans has risen up in derision of this cynical money grab. Oh beware the power of the geeky internet blog. My fave comment so far? “I want to punch NBC-Universal in the face”.
Not that sci-fi has had a particularly free ride. Back in 1953, Forrest J (no dot) Ackerman claimed to have coined the word while riding in a car, playing on the current popularity of the word “hi-fi”.
Some in the science fiction world at the time felt the shortened word trivialized the genre. Harlan Ellison said it sounded like “crickets fucking”. But the word lived on.
Don’t see “SyFy” catching on however.
I mean, depending on how you pronounce, it sounds a bit like air escaping. Or like an abbreviation for syphilis.
Maybe that’s the crowd that NBC-Universal is targeting – the flatulent syphilis girl who is drawn to sight of shiny things. Hey – you got her number? There’s a Stargate Atlantis marathon tonight.