This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Harlan Ellison has as much right to be described as a science fiction (or ‘speculative fiction’, if you’re one of those horrible people who insist on Trekkies being called Trekkers) luminary as anyone else who has ever walked the face of the planet. Listing his awards, achievements and cannon of work would doubtless fill up column inches that I’m going to struggle to otherwise fill, but would be a lengthy exercise in redundancy. Dreams With Sharp Teeth is a documentary look less at his long career, and more at the attitudes that drive him.
And boy, what an attitude. Eschewing the stereotype of authors as mawkish folks peeping over the end of a typewriter, Harlan’s simple refusal to take even the merest hint of shit from anyone leads to a character that’s upset just as any people as it has delighted. With as much of Ellison’s story coming from his friends, these including contemporaries such as Neil Gaiman who command about as much respect, as it does from his own mouth.
Now, this is a highly enjoyable look at a highly colourful character. It is not, however, a warts ‘n’ all exposé of his personality and actions. While the filmmakers could not possibly hope to skirt around the man’s legendary temper and, well, rantings, they have contrived to present them in as cuddly, fun-filled and lovable fashion as a seventy two year old man crossing a road calling everyone a motherfucker as is possible. Most of the time, when Ellison breaks the Vitriol Cannon out of storage and unloads on someone I an agree with him. Every now and again I don’t, and at that point it does become very obvious to me why so many would think of him as a complete asshole.
If Harlan has no respect for someone, he’s not afraid to show it. His argument seems to be based on simple comparative achievements with whomsoever he’s picking a fight with, and more often than not, yes, Harlan is the better man, or at least better placed to have his answers taken notice of. It does seem as though the words “Don’t you know who I am?” are often striving to leave his lips, and it’s exactly that sort of behaviour than makes him so controversial.
That’s what makes Harlan Ellison Harlan Ellison, so complaining about it is probably a self-defeating proposition. If you like the man and his works, this is a deeply funny and heartfelt retrospective nee character study. If you don’t like the man, well, even then it’s still pretty damn funny although probably not to the point of changing anyone’s mind who’s previous formed an opinion of the bloke.
As a film based entirely on the eloquence of it’s subject, there’s really no way that this could go wrong, and indeed it doesn’t. Dreams With Sharp Teeth is as entertaining a biography as I have seen, and watching Ellison clamber onto his soapbox and dispense pints of foamy, frothing anger on, well, damn near the entire world is simply a joy to behold. Highly recommended, especially if you are a colossal geek.