A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Bad Movie Hangover: A Night with "Cinematic Titanic"

The evening started with a bang, or actually, film footage of a nuclear bomb detonating and mushrooming into the atmosphere. A voice from one side of the theater shouted, “Sarah Palin’s first day in office!” And we all laughed from that moment on and all through the mini movie marathon presented by the original cast and crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, now - 20 years later - they operate under the name Cinematic Titanic.

Briefly, MST3K and its current incarnation presents a small group of film fans watching a film and slinging the most brutal — but hilariously funny — verbal arrows ever slung at a movie screen. A live audience watches the movie and them sitting on either side of the screen. You really have to be up on your cinema history to get many of their jokes.

However, it’s not just any film that is deserving of the Titans treatment. You’ll never find Casablanca or Citizen Kane unspooling in front of them. True to the old MST tradition, Cinematic Titanic goes after the worst, cheapest, and cheesiest movies ever made. For example, at our New Year’s Eve marathon, we saw The War of the Insects, a Japanese produced sci-fi flick without any of the giant lizards so common to Japanese sci-fi at the time (pity); and Samson and the Seven Miracles of the World, which was actually an Italian produced epic showcasing former Tarzan Gordon Scott as a muscular hero taking on the Khans in China. (There was also a third film, Legacy of Blood, but we left before it began owing to a bad head cold I have.)

Do these sound bad? Good, because they were very, very bad. However, as Titan J. Elvis Weinstein observed, “It’s nothing that 500 jokes won’t cure.”

Weinstein was one the of three original cast members on MST3K; series creator Joel Hodgson and comedy writer Trace Beaulieu completed the trio. Hodgson’s idea was partly interactive, and yet a joke on the interactive media that was promised to us when the internet debuted a few decades ago. In an MST documentary interview produced years ago by Comedy Central, Hodgson noted several Warner Brothers cartoons that inspired him. The cartoons shattered the imaginary “fourth wall” between artist and audience when it showed the silhouette of the movie audience for a few jokes. Hodgson based an entire comedy series on this premise which lasted for ten years on cable television.

Those were good years, the 1990’s. MST3K thrived and accumulated a devoted cult following. The economy was great, children played all day in the sun, and bad movies were mercilessly skewered. That ended with the show's cancellation in 1999, and with that came the Dark Ages. The Bush Administration was in power, the economy foundered, no opposing point of view was tolerated, and bad movies were released unencumbered by rhetorical ribbing. Now the Dark Ages are over and Cinematic Titanic is ready to take us forward again into the wonderful world of cure-alls for bad movie hangovers.

The current Titan line-up is completed and complimented immensely by former MST writers/cast members Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl. Their commentary, along with Hodgson, Beaulieu, and Weinstein is fresh, relevant and many times irreverent. True, once in a great while a gag can be recycled — the opening shot at Sarah Palin originally targeted Dan Quayle at a live MST show in Minneapolis years ago — but this only proves that good gags are timeless.

The live shows are as wonderful and unique as all live shows can be. Scripted lines can be flubbed, improvised and roundly called on by other cast members. Some jokes fall with a thud, but those too are redeemed by a cast member's ad-lib to the audience. All in all, the entire cast had fun with the script and themselves to the delight of the sold-out house.

Unlike MST, the Cinematic Titanic films are not available for television, but can be ordered directly from their website ( There are seven episodes produced so far, and more to come in the future. In the meantime, watch for Cinematic Titanic to come to a venue near you soon.

(Thank you for reading! Please remember to turn down your lights where applicable.)


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