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

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Cinematic Titanic at the Keswick – 12/30/2011

Like the faithful going to places of worship on Sundays, we fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 flocked to a performance of its latest incarnation in Glenside, Pennsylvania just as 2011 came to a close. The live riffing shows are a nostalgic tonic for many of us who are still mourning the passing of MST3K over a decade ago. Some may cry out, “Get over it,” but I remind those that many people are still bemoaning the break-up of the Beatles, and that happened over 40 years ago!

Cinematic Titanic continues the MST tradition of having the cojones of showing really, really bad movies in public, then sitting in front of the audience — who pay for the privilege of seeing really, really bad movies in public — and riffing the hell out of it. For those not familiar with the idea, think of it as you watching a bad film with — as one critic once put it — a roomful of drunken frat boys. In this case, you are in a room with one thousand or so other people (not all of them sober) and a select few (five, actually) designated to shout out outrageous, side-splitting comments at the screen. Those five — Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, Trace Beaulieu, Mary Jo Pehl, and Frank Conniff — are recognized as either founding members or original cast members of MST.

This show at the Keswick was a double feature: the Titanic premiere of The Astral Factor and Titanic oldie Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks. Both deserve their place in bad cheesy moviedom. Factor may or may not have been a made-for-tv-movie which may or may not have been made in 1976 and shelved (if IMDB is correct) until 1985. Frankenstein is just another foreign, mediocre dubbed 1973 entry of the Frankenstein cinema legend.

Ah, but the evening is not all about movies. Each cast member gets a chance to show off their particular talents. Titanic MC, Dave (Gruber) Allen, started the evening with his interpretation of Dan Fogelberg’s Another Auld Lang Syne, with an assist from J. Elvis Weinstein. Native New Yorker Frank Conniff had a variety of comments on the roundness of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which begs the question: if Christie’s profile is high enough to get the attention of an LA based stand-up comedian, then my God how calculated are his actions beyond the state of New Jersey? Conniff also did an imaginative comic exercise in writing letters to his younger self (the alcoholic Frank) and response back from that younger self to today’s Frank.

Trace Beaulieu — Crow T. Robot and Dr. Clayton Forrester on MST — graciously gave us in the audience a moment to shout out our favorite MST lines just to get it out of our system. A short warning to us that riffing should be left to the (paid) professionals led to his reading of a selection from his book Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children. Mary Jo Pehl continued the book tour portion of the show with reading chapter titles — not selections, not essays, just chapter headings — from her book Employee of the Month.

Joel Hodgson and J. Elvis Weinstein didn’t have books to sell or readings. Weinstein — resembling a rumpled version of another Elvis (Costello) — ably accompanied several of his colleagues on bass guitar. Hodgson had a few words about the first film on the program and tried to explain why it exists at all. No matter, it obviously exists now for our unbridled amusement.

Astral Factor, about an escaped psycho who has developed his ESP (remember that concept, boys and girls?) to the point of making himself invisible so he can snuff out has-been Hollywood starlets, would probably never have seen the light of day if not for one of its stars, Stefanie Powers. Her rise to television stardom in Hart to Hart may explain why the film has an official release date of 1985; indeed, her image is featured prominently on the video release packaging, even though she was not the main character in the film. That honor belongs to Robert Foxworth (who?), who plays the detective tracking down the psycho. Somehow, Hollywood has been forgiving enough to allow Foxworth to work steady to this day. The other big name in the film is Swedish beauty Elke Sommer, playing a spoiled, alcoholic film has-been prone to tantrums as she becomes a prisoner inside her beachside Southern California mansion.

Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, a cliché ridden plate of horror stereotypes, is ripe for riffing, and the paid professionals did not disappoint. Of course, there were a few clunkers, but all the better as the Titanic gang improvised various ways to get back into the audience’s good graces. Conniff uses the most blatant excuse (“Oh come on! It’s late!”) when one of his lines didn’t get the desired guffaw. Or sometime they’ll riff on each other, e.g., Pehl’s declaration about a female character: “She’s putting out the pink welcome mat”. Many in the audience “oohed” (not booed), and Hodgson felt compelled to add the line, “Weeknights with Mary Jo!”

My only complaint is not with any of the performance, but the scheduling of a 15 minute intermission. Maybe 15 minutes is long enough for the performers to regroup, but not long enough for a theater full of people to take their place in Disneyworld-amusement-ride-length waiting lines to use the 1928 era facilities which can only accommodate five people at a time. (I assume the women’s room is similarly arranged.) I had just enough time to relieve myself, grab a quick bite of pizza in the lobby (scalding the roof of my mouth in the process), and get back to my seat just as the second feature began. Performances either need longer intermissions, or the Keswick needs to install more toilets, which isn’t likely given the theater's placement on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Otherwise, an enjoyable evening was had by many. I only hope the Titanics don’t take another two years to come around again.

(Thank you for reading. It’s now time to say, “Push the button, Frank!”)


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