Dreams With Sharp Teeth Movie Review

Let's take a ride in the Wayback Machine to the 1970s, a fantasy time where people wore moods rings, collected pet rocks, and paid out 62 cents a gallon at the OPEC-regulated gas pumps. It was also a time when there were only 12 TV channels but always something on. There were plenty of talk shows on public television and local stations featuring interviews lasting longer than five minutes. And back then people read books, a conclusion drawn from the glut of authors that appeared on those talk shows. From S. J. Perelman to Norman Mailer and everybody in between, writers were talk show regulars (John Kenneth Galbraith got as much airtime in 1978 as Richard Simmons does today). But there was one particular talk show positioned at the proper hour to greet drunken and debauched college students staggering to bed after the booze ran out -- the late night/early morning Tom Snyder talkfest The Tomorrow Show, which frequently featured writers pontificating for an entire hour through Snyder's cigarette smoke. One of Snyder's favorite crank writers was science fiction (excuse me, "speculative fiction") writer Harlan Ellison, whose jeremiads on the show succeeded in sobering up many a college bum, particularly when Ellison sucker-punched the psyche with head-banging aphorisms like, "I think revenge is a very good thing for everybody."

This particular clip and many more from The Tomorrow Show figure prominently in Erik Nelson's Dreams with Sharp Teeth, an ebullient and celebratory bouquet to Ellison, the Last Angry Author. Ellison's writing output since he began writing for pay in 1955 makes the output of, say, Agatha Christie, look like peanuts -- 75 books and 1,700 stories, screenplays, teleplays, essays, and still counting (a clip from The Today Show features Ellison in a store window with a typewriter, banging out a story from scratch in under five hours). With such a massive, high-quality literary yield, Ellison rightly deserves the adulation of Nelson.

Ellison figures prominently in the film himself, in choker close-ups with Ellison inveighing against the crimes and misdemeanors of modern life. Ellison is a man who doesn't suffer fools gladly, attributing his rage to his punching bag childhood of being one of the few Jewish kids in Ohio ("When you've been made an outsider, you are always angry"). Ellison's eyes dart around like jabs or sink their gaze into the camera lens, as he spouts out his hilariously on-the-money bon mots with the viewers as seekers of wisdom and truth gazing upon the aged prophet of doom. Ellison's cranky outrage makes for some pithy monologues of angst, including a tale of Ellison screaming at an ABC executive on the set of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea causing the executive to break his pelvis and a broadside about the idiocy of a contestant on The Weakest Link who answers a question about the identity of the actor in Lawrence of Arabia with the initials "O.S." as "Naomi Campbell." And Nelson doesn't beat around the bush. You know how this movie's going to go when the first thing you hear out of Ellison's mouth is "Just shoot the fucking thing so I can get on with my life." In Dreams with Sharp Teeth, Ellison comes across as a raving, gospel-spewing lunatic in the Paddy Chayevsky manner who's got you by the balls for 96 minutes.

Nelson layers Ellison's musing with friends, writers, and Robin Williams (who calls Ellison "a combination of Borscht Belt and Berkeley"). Ellison reads extracts from a number of his stories in front of nutty backgrounds as important biographical benchmarks fold into the mix. While including clips of Ellison's life achievement awards, Nelson also doesn't avert his eyes from Ellison's failures (excremental The Oscar is given prominent display).

The exhilarating Dreams with Sharp Teeth is that rare documentary profile -- it not only makes you want to rush out and reread Ellison but, if you are a writer yourself, makes you feel good again about putting words together in a sentence.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : , Randall Boyd

Starring : Harlan Ellison, , , Stu Levin


Dreams With Sharp Teeth Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: NR, 2008


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