30 April 2007

Ellison Wonderland

Harlan Ellison has long been one of my favorite authors--he might just be my absolute favorite. Just don't call him a science-fiction writer (though he's gladly accepted many Hugo and Nebula awards), or he'll knock your block off...as he reportedly did to one of Frank Sinatra's mouthy bodyguards back in the swingin' 60s (confirmed in Gay Talese's famous "Esquire" expose "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold") when he was one of Hollywood's rising angry-young-wunderkinds who before the age of 30 had already written a bad movie (the camp classic "The Oscar" with Stephen Boyd), some of television's classic "speculative fiction" teleplays ("The Outer Limits", "Star Trek", "Alfred Hitchcock"), and was campaigning to write for "The Flying Nun" because in his words, he wanted to "nail" Sally Field...

Not to mention an impressive number of short stories (literally in the hundreds), novellas, and novels that redefined "science fiction" (indulge me just this once, Harlan) as a legitimate literary vehicle for something other than spaceships and rayguns. This is the man who conceived and edited the "Dangerous Visions" anthologies--absolutely essential reading that still shocks today with its collective audacity, imagination, and blissful shunning of any middle-brow notion of "taboo", and likely your only chance to experience rare tales from such giants as Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Robert Bloch, William S. Burroughs, and Kurt Vonnegut under a single cover.

I could go on for paragraphs about the brilliance of Ellison's "Repent Harlequin Said The Tick Tock Man", "Croatoan", "Shatterday", "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream", "A Boy And His Dog", just in case some of you only know him as the guy who wrote the "Star Trek" episode with Joan Collins in it, or as the creator of the schlocky Canadian s.f. series "The Starlost" (which really isn't quite as bad as you remember it)...

But instead, I'll alert you to a new documentary that's due later this year (it was just screened a few days back for the Writers Guild in LA) which could serve as an ideal introduction to his unique persona and creative voice, and confirmation to the devoted that Ellison is, indeed, alive and hoping to make up for more than a decade of inactivity, due largely to health problems (he's now past 70, after all) and a lengthy lawsuit with AOL.

"Dreams With Sharp Teeth", from writer/director Erik Nelson, is part straight biography, with a bit of Spalding Gray thrown in, as much of the film is devoted to Ellison performing his own works (in the 70s, he'd pioneered the "audio book" with a series of successful spoken word albums) amidst comments from friends, family, and peers.

In the meantime, we're all still waiting for the long-promised third "Dangerous Visions" anthology (35 years late, although Ellison assures us it's on-the-way), and for ABC to run their "Masters Of Science Fiction" series, which stars John Hurt and Brian Dennehy in an adaptation of Ellison's "The Discarded" (Stephen Hawking will serve in the Rod Serling role in the miniseries...).

Here's the doc's official site and trailer.