“The one question that I always get is, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’
“Now Aristotle couldn’t answer that question. Aeschylus couldn’t answer that question. But when they ask me that, I say, ‘Schenectady.’
“They look at me, and I say, ‘Yeah, Schenectady. There’s an idea service in Schenectady. I send them 25 bucks a week, and every week like clockwork, they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas.’
“And believe me – believe me on the grave of my mother and father, who were terriffic people – there’s always some schmuck who comes up to me afterward and says, ‘Can I have the address?'”
– Harlan Ellison from the film “Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth”
Ellison has authored a huge collection of more than 75 books. And he has an ego to match. This feature-length documentary film doesn’t soft-pedal Ellison’s image as a self-important, ranting, raving curmudgeon, but it does offer insight as to just how he got that way. A number of fans, friends and fellow writers serve up some of their fave Ellison tales, but even Robin Williams can’t upstage the mighty Ellison – and you know that’s saying something.
In one of my favorite scenes in the film, Ellison shows producer-director Erik Nelson his private writing space. On the shelves surrounding the desk that cradles his Olympia manual typewriter, Ellison has taped several “iconic quotes that mean a lot to me.” Quotes from Michaelangelo (“Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle”), Rimbaud (“Genius is the recovery of childhood at will”) and Eleanor Roosevelt (“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”).
Then he reveals his favorite quotation, which he has Scotch-taped directly onto his typewriter. It’s from the nearly forgotten (and never so well known) ’60s rocker P.J. Proby, and it says simply, “I am an artist and should be exempt from this shit.” And that may explain Ellison better than anything else.
Guitar master Richard Thompson has written and performed the music for the film, as he did for “Grizzly Man,” which Nelson also produced. And among the worthwhile bonus features on the DVD, Ellison offers six readings of his work. And there’s also the intimate 50-minute kitchen table conversation, “Pizza with Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman,” which is exactly what the title says it is – like “My Dinner With Andre” without Andre.
“Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth” airs on the Sundance Channel on Monday, May 25. Docurama Films will release the DVD version on Tuesday, May 26. And Ellison celebrates his 75th birthday on Wednesday, May 27.