"MST3K" spinoff "Cinematic Titanic" sets sail on its final voyage
When I was a child, my sister and I would always sit in front of the TV and watch "Mystery Science Theatre 3000." In fact, one episode dedicated to "The Giant Spider Invasion" is half the reason why I'm afraid of spiders ("Jumanji" is the other half). The happy memories of hilarious riff-tastic dreck like "I Accuse My Parents" and "Manos: The Hands of Fate," however, far outweigh the spider-ridden nightmares.
"MST3K" was cancelled back in 1999. However, many of the show's old cast members – including Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu (Crow, Dr. Forrester), Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester), J. Elvis Weinstein (Tom Servo, Dr. Erhardt) and Frank Conniff (TV's Frank) – have kept its spirit, as well as the terrible old movies it skewered, alive with "Cinematic Titanic," which is coming to The Pabst Theater Friday and Saturday night.
Sadly, this weekend's visit will be the live tour's last, as "Cinematic Titanic" is calling it quits at the end of the year. OnMilwaukee caught up with Weinstein, Pehl and Beaulieu to talk about why they're calling it a wrap, their "MST3K" days and the most memorably mock-worthy movies in their long, cinematic travels.
OnMilwaukee.com: When did you guys come together for "Cinematic Titanic"?
J. Elvis Weinstein: We got together at the end of 2007, and the first thing we did was we shot a DVD and then proceeded that same week to do a live show for the employees at Industrial Light & Magic. So we kind of started our studio and live careers the same week.
OMC: What's your favorite movie that you've riffed on?
Mary Jo Pehl: I had a blast with "Space Mutiny." That was second nature to me. I just loved doing that one. I'm sure there are others, but that's the first one that comes to mind.
JEW: Of the "Cinematic Titanic" ones, I like "East Meets Watts" a lot. It's sort of a kung fu blaxploitation – or kungsploitation as I like to call it – movie just because it was a world we hadn't veered in any other show.
Trace Beaulieu: I think one of my favorites out of the "Cinematic Titanic" catalog – and it's controversial – is "The Wasp Woman." I like the music in "Wasp Woman" I think the best. I can just kind of sit back and listen to that and not pay attention to the movie.
MJP: I always liked "Wasp Woman." I really like doing "The Alien Factor" too.
OMC: I like saying you like the music in "Wasp Woman." It's kind of like saying you like the tablecloths at a bad restaurant.
TB: I do like tablecloths at bad restaurants! I have quite a scrapbook going of swatches.
MJP: He does! I've seen it!
JEW: You should see his page on Pinterest.
OMC: You guys have two movies that you're bringing to Milwaukee, "The Doll Squad" and "Danger on Tiki Island." What's particularly fun about those two movies?
JEW: Well, they both bring a slightly different brand of terribleness to the table. "Doll Squad" is the newer of the two. It was filmed in the '70s, and it's sort of a female Delta Force, stop a guy from world domination kind of movie. It's kind of fun from beginning to end in the sense that the tone of it never settles in on whether it's winking or whether it's super violent. It never gets super violent. It never gets super sexy. It never gets super funny.
TB: It's the least exploitative exploitation movie I think I've ever seen.
MJP: Then "Danger on Tiki Island" is fun because it's got a really, really bad monster, which I always like in any of the movies we do.
JEW: Yeah, "Danger on Tiki Island" comes from a big generation of Filipino monster movies, and it really is sort of the classic scared villagers on an island with a really bad rubber latex monster.
OMC: Was there ever a thought about doing newer movies for "Cinematic Titanic," or was it always going to be old retro movies?
JEW: We never talked about doing new movies. We really did want to continue the spirit of the movies we used on "Mystery Science Theatre 3000." And then on a more practical level, it was never in consideration because we could never afford it because we're a self-financed company.
OMC: They don't really make crappy movies the way they used to.
TB: Oh, they can.
MJP: I'm sure they're being done, but I also think there's a wave or trend of deliberately making bad movies. The ones that we like to do are not self-conscious. They're very sincere, whereas these movies like "Sharknado" are coming out with that intent, and that takes the fun away. But I know there are movies out there, sincerely made bad.
JEW: To me, "Sharknado" is a really cynical attempt to get people to riff on movies on Twitter.
One thing is that modern movies are now edited much differently. One of the things that works for us is that so many of these older movies are just filled with air. There's space between dialogue, and there are pieces in the movie that are just kind of there to stretch the running time of the movie.
The infrastructure of B-movies is different than it was in the '50s, '60s and '70s, too. There isn't that drive-in circuit or grindhouse circuit of theatres anymore where these movies would go and have their very short runs that made just enough to recoup their investment and then go away forever. Now, things are made and then exist forever on DVD and Netflix.
OMC: Is there any chance you guys would bring this back to TV like "Mystery Science Theatre 3000"? Or do you think TV could do a show like "MST3K" anymore?
JEW: It would probably take a situation like we had when the show went national, which was we had a new network starting out, and we had a show that could fill two hours of their time for incredibly little money by TV standards. It was sort of a confluence of events that got us on TV in the first place. Now, we're old and demographically challenged.
OMC: Did you guys take anything home with you from the "MST3K" set when it was all done?
JEW: I took home a quarter-century worth of resentment with me, but that's a whole other story. (laughs)
TB: That's priceless, though. You can't put a dollar value on that.
MJP: I didn't take a lot of stuff because I don't like having a lot of stuff around, but I took a great prop that Patrick Brantseg once made for a sketch where Crow is talking about the history of the Civil War or something like that. He made this beautiful map that was just the right size for my lifestyle. That's the only I have, I think. The rest of it, I think, got sold on eBay.
TB: Nothing was that precious to me. I've got some parts that I brought with me into it that I took with me when I left. There's nothing in my home that is "MST3K" that I can look at and go, "Ahhh … those days."
JEW: I have a porcelain Servo collectable figurine that Trace gave me.
TB: That's just to focus the bitterness on. (laughs) I got a Crow too of the same vintage, but it's in a box in the garage because I don't need to look at that too much.
OMC: Now this is going to be the last time you're going to be going on tour as the full group. Was that a hard decision to make?
JEW: It wasn't terribly hard. I think life sort of pointed the way for us. When we started this, I think three or maybe four out of five of us lived in one city. Now, we've scattered into five people in five cities. Each of us have our own creative projects, so it becomes harder and harder to keep the group as a vital and growing thing. I think we just felt like we've done the work we set out to do, and rather than have it become a chore and something that isn't going to keep growing, I think we decided we'd rather end it when it's still vital.
TB: It's easier to assemble the Avengers for a gig than it is to get us together.
OMC: Do you think you'll continue the DVDs at all, or is this the last time you're going to be doing "Cinematic Titanic" period?
JEW: I think we're going to put "Cinematic Titanic" to bed at the end of this year. That doesn't preclude us from working together again, doing another project or working in other combinations. There's no acrimony. It's just reality that's making us make this decision. But we're all people who like to make things and do projects, so there's nothing that's going to stop us from doing something in the future, but who knows what that is.
The author DOES realize that Josh ("J Elvis") Weinstein is Jewish, right?
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