Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I first encountered Harlan Ellison when my older brother Pork Heaven handed me a battered copy of Dangerous Visions. I was 14 or thereabouts, and remember reading Kurt Vonnegut's "The Big Space Fuck" first, for obvious reasons, though that was far from the filthiest story included in the massive tome. So my first taste of Ellison was as editor, rather than writer (tho technically I suppose I'd seen some Ellison-derivatives on Star Trek and The Outer Limits earlier than that).
Then in 8th grade Ms. Cherundalo had us read "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Tick-Tock Man." Shortly thereafter I read Shatterday and some other collections, and then I began to read his regular columns in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. The articles were acerbic, self-righteous, and full of indignation and vengeance. Everything was a vendetta, a crusade, and how I pitied the targets of Ellison's wrath. And yet at the same time he managed to be self-deprecating and compassionate when he wasn't punching people, cussing them out, or mailing them dead gophers.
All of this comes through in the wonderful documentary "Dreams With Sharp Teeth." Mostly the director just lets Ellison talk, which is marvelously entertaining. He's like a character out of Stanley Elkin or Philip Roth with his insane and beautiful rants. The film teams him up with worshippers Robin Williams and Neil Gaiman who also tell stories about Ellison and discuss their admiration. You get to tour his wonderful house and to see him watch old films of his family for the first time. It's great, and even if you haven't a clue about Harlan Ellison or his work you'll likely enjoy meeting him here.
UPDATE: I received a kindly email informing me that Dreams With Sharp Teeth is available as an iTunes download as well. Nice.