Saturday, April 11, 2009

That Man is Creepy! Forry Would've Loved Him!

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 Thornton promoting his band The Boxmasters, for which he plays drums. Sounds like a simple enough promo gig.

But apparently, morning interviews ain’t Thornton’s bag. For right from the get go, Billy Bob seemed surly and uncommunicative. He took issue with interviewer Jian Ghameshi mentioning he was an Oscar-winning actor and screenwriter, and decided to basically tank the whole interview.

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.

I think Thornton was just kidding, but there is some truth to that statement. I had heard from Forry’s former caregiver Joe Moe that Thornton was a Forry freak who was expected, for awhile, to show up at the Ackerman tribute last month in Hollywood.

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 Elm Street fame, so who knows? But Forry as a musical influence? Well, Forry did love to sing. At the House of Pies mostly. And mostly Al Jolson. Though one of my fave memories is watching him sing “Swanee” accompanied on piano by actor William Schallert at the ’93 FM con in Arlington.

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

Billy Bob would rather talk about Forrest J Ackerman

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 UK UK

B7 Media (our main distributor)

I wonder if Billy Bob Thornton has ordered his yet?

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Irish World reviews Famous Monster DVD

This just in from The Irish World, who reviews Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman

Famous Monster

'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

Famous Monster

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

8/10 for Famous Monster says TOTAL SCI-FI

A recent Total SCI-FI Review for Famous Monster. All too short, but sweet.


Posted on Friday 03 April 2009
Famous Monster: Forrest J. <span class=

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

Video Vista Reviews Famous Monster

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

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Andrew Darlington

Video Vista

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 Forrest J Ackerman 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….