Monday, September 1, 2008

And then I met Joel, and his old MST band

It was 20 years ago one day, Joel Hodgson worked for KTMA,
Riffed on cheesy movies with some style, and it gave us all a lot of smiles,
So let us introduce to you, the ones you know for all these years,
Joel Hodgson's Cinematic Titanic Band!!!

Of course, they were also knows as Mystery Science Theater 3000, Pre-Mike Nelson period. Now, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Forrester/Crow), TV's Frank Coniff and Josh "J. Elvis" Weinstein (Dr. Ehrhardt/Servo 1.0) reunited for Super-Con in San Jose. They've come back for the successor to their legacy, Cinematic Titanic, where bad movies are also riffed, just a bit differently

The guys were at the show on both days, so I'll divide their wisdom in two days, starting with Saturday, the 17th. It all took place at the "South Hall" of the San Jose Convention Center, which is really a big tent in the back. The attendance wasn't as big as as expected, In fact, it's barely more than the comic book shows at the Scottish Rite Center. Still, it's a rare chance a lot more people should have taken, heat or no heat.

First off, Josh said creating Cinematic Titanic (or CT) is different because they all live in different states. Using technology, they're able to pile their jokes together and create a script. It's working, though: they will have another release in June, and two more this summer. One of them will be the Wasp Woman, which was riffed by a guy named Josh Way, who will be a writer for Incognito Cinema Warriors soon. In fact, his handiwork is all over YouTube.

Joel said that developing MST worked because no network suits came down to Best Brains in Minneapolis to meddle. Being their own boss with CT works out, in this case.
There were other assorted questions, like how to make their own Servo and Crow (kits are available at eBay), does Lou Reed ask for royalties because the Satellite of Love is named after one of his songs (no, but don't tell Lou), and about Cartoon Dump, Frank's comedy show on bad cartoons.
As for how MST came to be, Joel said he just wanted to be a movie horror host (like Mr. Lobo, who were there). He just did it differently, serving as a "companion" to the viewer. He did admit influences to a movie called Silent Running and the Omega Man (more on that later).

They also talked how they were able to add a lot of jokes about Minnesota (and later Wisconsin) in the show. Joel says the show, in a way is a Rorschach test, reacting to the cheesiest of movies.
So, how is riffing on CT movies different from using bots? Frank says they all get "assigned" jokes, and it's a bit easier with five people riffing away. Josh says they watch a movie as much as they can, slowly work in the jokes in the movie before taping. It's tricky stuff.

Josh was the first to leave the show after the Comedy Channel season, saying it wasn't as fun as he had hoped, but now he's glad to be back. Joel and Trace didn't exactly say why they left, but Frank admitted he wanted to leave so he could be Lord of the Dance.
They also talked about how they found Oozing Skull through Mark Heller and Al Adamson. As for whether they've heard from actors whose movies have been riffed, such as Robby Benson, Richard Kiel and even (woo-hoo) Kim Cattrall, the guys said that they got some compliments from these and other actors. By the way, Kiel (alias Eegah and a Human Duplicator) was also there, but I don't know if he talked to Joel.

They also hoped to riff on "Charro!" with Elvis Presley, but couldn't get the rights.
They also said that the second CT release will reveal more about the premise (which has to be something like preserving the act of movie riffing for more civilizations). As for the little comedy bits interrupting the movie, Joel said that was done to show the viewer who's who in the CT-verse. They do plan to change the arrangement of the riffers, which Trace saying he could be lying down.
They talked more about the KTMA days, and how the Gamera series helped them develop the show and their style. They also tried to remember the Gamera song.

So, how does it fell that their handiwork is being preserved through YouTube and semi-legal DVD's? Trace said it's like a disease, but Josh said they did the show without thinking this would be for posterity...until they found out they had fans--lots of them. One of them, Trace said, sent a box of toenails.
But if they could riff on a movie now, which one? Joel suggested Van Helsing while Josh said Life is Beautiful (!).
After 20 years, could we say the SOL crew is a true icon? Josh said it is, while Joel said that Frank thought history has been kind to MST. Joel said that the show wasn't as promoted as it could have been but the fans keep it alive. Trace said he didn't see himself as an icon, but wanted to be a logo. Frank settled for being a font.

Joel said he still has his red jumpsuit from the old days, and even wears it sometimes. He suspects that he may be needed once society collapses. He may wear a hard hat while doing so.
The Sunday session was more informal, mainly because the crowd was smaller. It shouldn't have been, because these guys are icons, the first real reason basic cable is worth paying for...aside from CNN and ESPN, of course. I guess people were either unaware they were here, or more people cared about the NBA playoffs than I thought.

Well, I was glad to see them again, and get my Episode Guide book and VHS copy of Amazing Colossal Man autographed. This session started with the gang talking about the early days, especially Josh, He was fresh out of high school when he started working for the show at KTMA, willing to be all the robots if he wanted. He talked about how Servo orginally sounded a little like Pee Wee Herman before he got his deeper voice. Joel said that he was influenced not only by horror TV hosts, but by Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Servo would be Kukla, Ollie would be Gypsy and Fletcher Rabbit would be Crow.

Frank broke into song twice, first with Cole Porter, then singing the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, in honor of Minneapolis.
I decided to jump in by asking what would have happened if they never went national. After they were puzzled why I was wearing a jumpsuit, they admitted they would have gone on to other things. Josh said the show in KTMA was a slap-dash affair. They did this on half-a-shoestring budget, and only a little bit of studio time.

In fact, there was a question about whether their CT show is in competition to what Michael J. Nelson and Kevin Murphy (and Bill Corbett) are all doing with Rifftrax. Frank said that Mike's project is classic because they provide the riffing, and the customer just has to rent the DVD-to-be-riffed. With CT, they still have to find studio space. The attitude of the CT gang is they like what Rifftrax is doing. They've kept in touch with Mike and Kevin, which is why some people are hoping that something will be done to commemorate the 20th anniversary in November 2008, or next year since that would mark 20 years on national TV. There will be a DVD set that includes the Comic-Con panel.

The panel was interrupted twice by announcements of what panel was next, and that Jorge Garcia (Hurley from Lost) was available for autographs. Trace did say riffing on CT is different because he's doing it as himself, rather than using Crow as his "filter".

Joel was asked about how MST may be influencing modern horror hosts, and whether they should be funny, too. Joel said that when he created the show, he toyed about being an Omega man-type character watching bad movies, but then switched to the idea of a guy in space with two bots. He also talked about the Sklar Twins, and how their ESPN show, Cheap Seats, is the sports version of MST...and how riffing on anything has become more common on TV.

Then there was talk about how MST ended on Comedy Central. I pointed out how they kind of explained what happened to Josh's character, Dr. Ehrhardt, in "Earth vs. the Spider". Frank also talked about how they tried to riff on a movie called "Child Bride", but they couldn't because it was "too evil". Joel mentioned it's sometimes tough to riff on bad movies, even "Manos".
Anyway, the point is, they brought the band back together, ready to riff on bad movies.

No comments: