DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH(director/writer: Erik Nelson; cinematographer: Wes Dorman; editor: Randall M. Boyd; music: Richard Thompson; cast: Harlan Ellison, Robin Williams, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, Josh Olsen; Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Erik Nelson; Creative Differences Productions and the Kilimanjaro Corporation; 2008)
“Snappy documentary on prolific writer Harlan Ellison.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Erik Nelson directs and writes this snappy documentary on prolific writer Harlan Ellison (more than 2,000 published stories). It takes form as as a conversation with the writer, spanning the now celebrated 72-year-old writer’s career. Nelson has worked on this film for 25 years, which began when he was a student and videotaped Ellison for a PBS documentary in 1981.
It tells of growing up in the anti-Semitic rural town of Painesville, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, where the impish lad was constantly bullied because he was a loudmouth, a runt and a Jew. He overcame the beatings by being so smart. Always knowing he wanted to write, he did it professionally when moving to NYC in 1955 and, after army service in 1959, he moved to LA in 1962.
The cranky Ellison is given the stage to vent and he offers a rant against the dumbness of humanity, religion, Republicans, fanboys with uninformed hostile opinions, editors and America’s anti-intellectualism. He tells of his miserable childhood experiences with his peers, takes us on a tour of his unusual LA house that’s nicknamed The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars, reads excerpts from some of his books (“‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” “Spider Kiss” and “Dangerous Visions”), tells fascinating stories, and introduces us to friends such as Robin Williams and the writers Dan Simmons, Neil Gaiman and Josh Olson.
If you want to know why he’s so influential a fiction, short-story and SF writer, you’d would have to read his books for yourself as this doc offers no critique of the author or insight into his writing. It also points out that Ellison is respected for his highly praised TV episodes in the 1960s for “The Outer Limits”–“Demon With a Glass Hand” and for “Star Trek”–“The City on the Edge of Forever”; however there was also his terrible screenplay for the 1966 bomb “The Oscar.”
This film just lets the author be himself as a colorful personality, a mook, a confrontational old coot, and as an intellectual who loves writing, his lifestyle, arguing and his wife Susan (who happens to be his fifth one). “Dreams” leaves us somewhat sated even if we’re not quite full–perhaps, like when we leave the dinner table with an appetite for a little more.
REVIEWED ON 1/24/2010 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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