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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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"Cinematic Titanic" got big laughs at the Pabst Theater.
"Cinematic Titanic" got big laughs at the Pabst Theater. (Photo: Benjamin Wick)

"Cinematic Titanic" bids farewell with emotional, humorous show

It was a bittersweet night of laughter and celebration as "Cinematic Titanic" delighted a packed house for its second show of the weekend at The Pabst Theater. This was the final show the Mystery Science Theater 3000-infused group will ever play in Milwaukee as its "Farewell Tour" wraps up at the end of this year.

As it has done in years past, the group opened the show with each member having a moment in the spotlight. Non-riffer David "Gruber" Allan returned as the emcee/opening act for the night and his impressive wholehearted commitment to any bit he does was on display again. Mary Jo Pehl was delightful discussing television and employing Trace Beaulieu and J. Elvis Weinstein for a bit where she created the extras in the background of a "West Wing" scene while the main characters did the classic Sorkin walk and talk.

The same trio delivered big laughs after Weinstein talked about his love of Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport and the P.A. system’s dedication to only playing new wave hits of the late '70s and early '80s. Weinstein, an excellent bass player, announced that his next project was a tribute band to the Burbank airport. He gave the audience a taste of this by playing well-known songs by Modern English, Joe Jackson, Talking Heads and more, with each song being interrupted by Beaulieu or Pehl explaining airport rules or boarding instructions.

By far, the best moment of the pre-movie entertainment was Joel Hodgson presenting an excerpt from his brilliant one-man show "Riffing Myself." Hodgson used the screen on-stage to present a series of slides that traced his fascination with ventriloquism. Using childhood photos, pages from dummy catalogs and training materials for those dedicated to the craft, Hodgson mined the material for maximum laughter.

I saw "Riffing Myself" performed in its entirety in January at the Mayne Stage in Chicago and it is a brilliant and insightful reflection of Hodgson’s career and the conscious and unconscious elements of his childhood that came into play during the creation of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Hodgson’s sample of it on Saturday absolutely killed and with the devoted fan base and Hodgson’s admitted love of The Pabst Theater, a future full performance of "Riffing Myself" seems like too much of a no-brainer to not take place sooner than later.

The feature film for the evening was "Danger on Tiki Island." This choice struck me as odd since it is not a new title for the quintuple to tackle. While Friday night’s film "Doll Squad" hasn’t been made available before, "Danger on Tiki Island" had been available on DVD for a few years (to be fair, it is a bit hard to find now) and even is streaming for free on the group’s Hulu page.

Knowing the dedication exemplified by MSTies and in particular, the strong showing they’ve received in Milwaukee over the years, it was disappointing that they’d perform a set nearly identical to what they've already done in public a while back.

However, whether the material was new or old for the audience, it was still funny and deeply appreciated. A wave of melancholy definitely was present as the show concluded. Between "Cinematic Titanic" and Rifftrax (the other major spinoff with MST3K talent), "Cinematic Titanic" always struck me as the true successor to the series.

"Cinematic Titanic" continued to find weird, obscure movies whereas RiffTrax went into making fun of pretty much anything popular, whether it was good or bad (commentaries available for purchase include "Casablanca," "Ocean’s Eleven" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). "Cinematic Titanic" continued the transformative tradition of MST3K, taking something unquestionably bad/unwatchable and greatly enhancing it with humor.

To have "Cinematic Titanic" say goodbye is almost like cutting the extension cord to "Mystery Science Theater 3000." As stated in the interview conducted by Matt Mueller earlier this week, this isn’t a bitter breakup and the group will remain friends and continue to work with one another on unknown future projects.

"Cinematic Titanic" was an unexpected resurrection of key players and talent from a television series with some of the most dedicated fans ever. Saying goodbye to "Cinematic Titanic" is ultimately like parting farewell once more with the series that influenced the lives and tastes of so many fans. It was both emotional and celebratory.

The group received the kind of ovation it deserved, even though the movie was a rerun from the oeuvre. The one thing that is certain is that the tapes will keep circulating.

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