Monday, March 16, 2009

Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman - Home Cinema Choice Review

The life and times of Forrest J Ackerman, the original Famous Monster of Filmland

Steve May's picture

While this short biopic is ostensibly about Forrest J Ackerman, the editor of influential Sixties fear mag Famous Monsters of Filmland, it’s also a celebration of fanboy obsession. Forry (as he was affectionately known) was the template of modern fandom, a rabid collector of all aspects of cinematic fantasy and fiction.

This breezy 48 minute documentary features tributes from famous fans, including Ray Bradbury, John Landis and Roger Corman; one notes: ‘Fans are not only collectors, they're historians of their hobby.’ And there was no greater academic than Ackerman.

A trendsetting fanatic, Forry attended the first-ever sci-fi convention in 1939 (dressed as a character from one of his favourite movies Things to come, pictured right) and was the original hoarder of film memorabilia, snapping up items such as the original ape model from Mighty Joe Young and Lon Chaney's teeth from London after Midnight. As John Landis notes, 'back them no one wanted this shit.' No one that is, apart from Forry.

Ackerman first made a name for himself as a literary agent for sci-fi writers, many of whom were to become legends in their field. His clients included L Ron Hubbard and Ed Wood (‘he was just an incompressible drunken voice at the other end of a phone,’ recalls Ackerman of Wood).

He also famously coined the term sci-fi back in 1954. But it was during the Sixties that he was to become a key influence of at least two generations of filmmakers and fans, as the Editor of Jim Warren’s pun-tastic horror magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958 -1982). The magazine made extensive use of Forry’s own collection of photography, and was aimed at kids united by their love of horror.

One mag to rule them all
I count myself as an Acker-fan. As a Brit-kid starved of late night TV channels in an age before video, Famous Monsters was my only real source of info about the genre films I loved. Back then, even the most awful of drive-in shockers seemed exciting and exotic, and I cherished them vicariously through the pages of Forry's mag.

As Ray Harryhausen observes, FM was also the first magazine to make the background boys of exploitation cinema famous. But it wasn’t just the editorial that I loved, it was also all the ads for merchandise at the back of the book, which included cool-looking horror masks and giant posters of the Frankenstein monster. Ackerman himself amassed an astonishing collection of movie memorabilia over the years, which cruelly he had to sell when he needed money later in his life. It’s clear that he felt bitter that none of Hollywood's more famous sons stepped forward to fund a museum dedicated to the history of fantasy cinema, utilizing the 50,000 odd items he had amassed.

There are only a few contributions from Ackerman himself in this film, as he was hardly in the best of health during its production, but his enthusiasm for the cinema he loved remains undiminished.

Extras on the DVD include a silent tour of the 'mini Ackermansion' (basically, what was left after Forrest sold off his main collection and downsized); a blooper reel; and actor Dan (Lost) Roebuck's Hall Of Horrors (a tour of his own Ackerman-inspired SF and fantasy collection).
Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman may not be for everyone, but fans of the ultimate fanboy are well advised to add this to their (doubtless sprawling) collections.

Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, Region 2 DVD, £13, On sale from March 23

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