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.