Posts Tagged ‘harlan ellison’


Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth (a Review)

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III    in On Authors

“Just shoot the fucking thing, so I can go back to my life,” Harlan Ellison says, opening Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth, a 2008 documentary about the irascible, prolific writer.

Though controversial, Harlan Ellison is a legendary science fiction writer. As a recognized Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, he belongs to an elite group of (currently) twenty-five that includes the likes of Heinlein, Asimov, and Bradbury. He’s amassed a pile of other trophies, too, including eight and a half Nebula awards and three Hugo awards (source: wiki).

First things first. I absolutely recommend the documentary to anyone with interest in biographies, writers, or speculative fiction. Appropriate to the man himself, it’s brutally honest and even more brutally funny.

Ellison’s doubled-edged reputation is that of a masterful, but abrasive and confrontational, writer. One of his own book jackets describes him as “possibly the most contentious person on Earth.” As an example, he relates in the film that while being asked a stupid question by a fan beside him at a urinal, he turned and peed on the fan’s foot as he answered.

In a 1976 interview with Ellison, he defends the value of being vengeful: “I think revenge is a very terrific, good thing for everybody.” He said so honestly, it appeared to me, but with underlying humor. The topic came up after he explains how he responded to a writing professor that told him he had no talent. Harlan sent him voluminous evidence of his later success for many years, a copy of every single thing he got published.

Two things struck me most: his difficult youth, and his feelings about his own personality.

He recounts his childhood, as a diminutive Jewish boy who grew up in a “very anti-Semitic town” in Ohio. He was beaten up “every day” by groups of bullies. He says, “When you’ve been made an outsider, you are always angry. You respond to it in a lot of different ways. A lot of people get surly, a lot of people get mean, some people turn into serial killers. I got so smart that I could just kill ‘em with logic, or their own mouths.”

Ellison watched his father die suddenly at the age of 14. He becomes emotional while looking at the only surviving video of his father, and it’s plain that however angry and ornery a man he may or may not have been without the traumas of his childhood, the painful events of his youth are sufficient to explain his nature.

His most interesting comment, for me, was when talking about his personality:

“… Yeah, everything makes me angry. And they say, well you should be a little mellow, get a little mellow. And I say, oh really? Gee, I had never thought of that. Get a little mellow. Woo! What an epiphany. Like I enjoy this? Do you think I enjoy getting up angry every morning, going to bed angrier every night to go through the day with the veins standing out, the bolts unscrewing in my neck. Jesus Christ, I would give anything to be as mellow and cool as most people. I’d be one of those slaves [laughing], the walking dead, but it would be a relief. Give me six months as a walking dead, and I’ll never say anything angry again.”

We have a man, who whether through nature or nurture (well, it’s always some of both, isn’t it?) is exactly what he is. To me, that’s someone hilariously candid, passionate, and determined far more than most to live his life “exactly” as he wishes to. He admits that lifestyle comes with a price, mentioning Hunter S. Thompson, who spoke of knowing “the dead-end loneliness of a person who makes his own rules.”

Whether or not that price is worth it is something Harlan Ellison’s story left me thinking about.


Below are two videos. The first is an epic rant from Harlan Ellison about wanting to be paid for a long film interview if Warner Brothers includes it on a DVD (“I should do a freebie for Warner Brothers? What is Warner Brothers, out with an eye patch and a tin cup out on the street?”), and the other is a trailer for the documentary.

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