Monday, March 14, 2011

A Few Words on Cinematic Titanic

I was back in Phoenix this weekend to join the family (mother, mother's husband, sister, sister-in-law, sister's mother-in-law) for one of the most delightful stage experiences I've had in a long time: Cinematic Titanic Live.

What is Cinematic Titanic? Well, it's one of two continuations of the brilliant cable series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (the other is Mike Nelson's Rifftrax). Cinematic Titanic takes five members of the MST3K cast -- creator Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl -- and has them "riff" on bad movies. On their non-live DVDs, the group perform in silhouette, much as Joel and the 'bots did on MST3K. I've been a fan of MST3K since before I was a pre-teen and I continue to be a fan of its offspring projects, but especially Cinematic Titanic.

Let me say this: seeing this group on DVD is nothing compared to seeing them live. It's not just that the immediacy of the performance allowed for on-the-fly riffs both topical (re: the Wisconsin union labor crisis) and localized (re: a bunch of stuff, but most memorably John McCain). It's that good ol' fashioned live show energy, the great feedback of give and take. At one point, and my memory is fuzzy so I might get this wrong, a character in the movie (Rattlers, if anyone is interested) said something like, "There are better ways to die" and Weinstein riffed "Sure! Just ask David Carradine." There was a smattering of uncomfortable laughter and he shot back "Uh, Michael Hutchence, then?" The line firmly recrossed, the audience was back with him and the riffing could go on.

The previous paragraph demonstrates something painfully true: live comedy retold is almost always retold badly. Even with an eidetic memory (which I'm nowhere close to having) and a beat-by-beat breakdown, I would fail to pass along what a great time I had.

I can say that there were moments of failure, mostly in the pre-riffing warmup acts. Conniff's standup was painfully unfunny and labored and Hodgson's very welcome performance of the KTMA-era MST3K theme song was marred a bit when he forgot some of the lyrics (but then again, I should give the guy a break: that version of the song is over 20 years old). I will say this, though, J. Elvis Weinstein's Elvis Costello impersonation while performing "Watching the Detectives" was uncanny and warmup act Dave (Gruber) Allen was hilarious.

The movie itself was appropriately awful; I can say this in full confidence because I'd actually seen it without benefit of comedic accompaniment. If Cinematic Titanic releases a DVD of their Rattlers performance any time soon, I'd recommend picking it up. It's a film just bad enough to make for good riffing fodder, but not so bad that it's dead boring.

Mostly this post is to direct people, out of a sheer sense of community service, to the Cinematic Titanic website to either find a show coming to their area or to buy a DVD. This is a project that the folks involved are doing simply for the love of the game and it deserves as much support as possible.


annie_J said...

Do the Cinematic Titanic DVDs still read the same as the old MST3K? Good to hear that they're doing DVDs though, Rifftrax is a bit unattractive in that you have to download it..

Nate Yapp said...

If you're asking if they work like regular DVDs, yes they do. If you're asking if they play quite the same, well there's no host segments, but it's the same great commentary stylin'.

The live DVDs are a bit weird, because you can hear the crowd a bit and you mostly just wish you were there. It doesn't play as well in the living room.