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Harlan Ellison's Watching (1992)

Harlan Ellison's Watching (1992)

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4.17 of 5 Votes: 3
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0887331475 (ISBN13: 9780887331473)

About book Harlan Ellison's Watching (1992)

If you admire Harlan Ellison because he dares utter all the criticisms of what is stupid and mindless in our popular culture that you, yourself, would utter if you were not so timid or polite, you will like this book.If you liked the biopic "Dreams With Sharp Teeth," you'll like this book. Ellison was the same prickly guy in the 70s and the 80s that he is today.If you thought the 1970s "Star Wars" trilogy was the tritest of trite plots lamely supported by then-state-of-the-art special effects, but have always been afraid to admit it, you'll like this book.If you think Steven Spielberg has had more misses than hits, you'll love this book.The book is a collection of many of Ellison's movie reviews (or really, movie criticism in the best sense of the word) over the years, mostly reviews of SF and fantasy flicks. One caution - the reviews can be repetitive, even monotonous. Ellison wrote them rather sporadically, and many of the reviews were published two or three months after the previous review. A reader reading them as they were originally published would surely have found the same criticisms leveled at Spielberg and his protégés far less monotonous than one who reads three of them consecutively in an evening.Ellison does hold some unaccountable opinions. On the strength of his praise of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," my husband and I, who had not seen it in decades, rented it, and even went to the trouble of projecting it on our 5-foot screen - and I thought it was rather stupid and tedious. Why Ellison, who in other reviews takes Spielberg and his ilk to task for using cartoon violence conventions in live action films, and for asking us to suspend our disbelief without giving us any reason to do so, found anything praiseworthy in "Raiders" is a mystery.Repetition and puzzlement aside, the book is worth dipping into, if not necessarily reading cover-to-cover. Not only is Ellison's language crisp (nowhere crisper than when his pen is dipped in poison), but he writes the kind of movie criticism that is becoming a lost art, the kind that asks that a movie be both entertaining AND have redeeming qualities as a work of art. Moreover, Ellison points out that viewers will rise to the expectations Hollywood has of them - if you provide them with schlock, they'll eat it up, but if you give them a truly entertaining movie that demands something of them, too, they may in fact surprise you with their enthusiasm for it.

Harlan Ellison is a bitter old crumudgeon, but that's why I love his writing. His poison pen is somehow full of charm and wit. He has a uniquely direct style, conversationally straight to the reader. And he is very convincing, he truly writes from his heart - in what he believes and what he believes important. This book is a collection of essays about cinema, particularly science fiction cinema, republished from a few different magazines. As writer (professional liar, he argues in a later essay) who has had a great deal of experience in movies and television - a lot of it amazing, check IMDB and be surprised - he shares some great insights into the absurdities and difficulties that writers face in the movie industry. This book begins with some typical movie reviews but gradually (d)evolves in to a kind of episodic, foaming rant on the miserable state of (mostly 80's) cinema. The final essays are post modern-ly self-reflexive as he shifts away completely from film reviews (totally ignoring an earlier promise to dedicate a section to Cronenberg) and takes on the numerous dissenting readers who unwisely chose to write to the editors of the magazines. These wickedly funny diatribes directed toward Star Wars, Star Trek, Stephen King (movies), Robocop, Gremlins, science fiction "fans", agitated readers and anyone who has an "opinion" (as opposed to an "informed opinion") is pure delight to read. Which is not to say he does not find ample words to praise movies, actors, cinematography, and other works he truly does like. And somehow, even though he detested Evil Dead 2, I couldn't help but agree with him - usually.

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Harlan Ellison Thinking in the moviesIn the 1970’s Harlan Ellison published “The Glass Teat” a compilation of his articles he published in the L.A. Free Press. The articles were a critical assessment of television of the period and they became instant classics. “The Glass Teat” became part of the curriculum at numerous colleges and their media departments. In “Watching” Ellison takes his critical and rhetorical skills to the movies.“Watching” covers a much broader span of time than “The Glass Teat” from the early 60’s until the late 80’s. In his articles, Ellison goes from straight movie reviewing to more behind the scenes and critical assessments of movies tackling subjects such as the “auteur” method of filmmaking, colorization, the so called homage and to the more subliminal messages behind the movies. Unless you’re a rabid Ellison fan, his opinions on movies are never predictable and they may surprise or shock you but the reasoning behind his informed opinion is sound.In writing his articles, Ellison’s passion for the subject would get the better of him and he’d take off on digressions that would make even the best critical essayist jealous. Ellison is always the first to admit to the digressions and tries to control them, but even against his own will Ellison’s reviews can stretch across two or even three articles because of his digressions. However, in the hands of Ellison those digressions are always interesting and thought provoking. I can’t think of any other writer who can do this.It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of reading anything of Harlan Ellison’s and in reading “Watching” rediscovered that Harlan Ellison is a sheer pleasure to read! “Watching” captures Ellison’s sense of humor and occasionally you’ll find yourself laughing out loud at some points, agreeing with others, wondering at some, and disagreeing with him, but Ellison is always interesting and thought provoking. One note when reading “Watching”, or anything by Ellison for that matter, you better sharpen up your vocabulary, you're going to need it.After reading “Watching” you’ll realize that when the lights go down and the movie comes on Harlan Ellison is thinking about the movie, and by reading “Watching” it’ll make you a better watcher of movies.
—Jim Cherry

Disclaimer: I only read his essays about Lynch's Dune.Written during the period Ellison was the in house reviewer for Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, his deity like status within SF gave him free reign. Much like the D.F.Wallace essays about a Lynch film I reviewed recently, the author's killer wit and occasional genius are on display, but he also was in desperate need of an editor. Through self-aggrandizing diarrhea we can extract that Ellison thought highly of Dune, forgiving its operatic bulging due to the nature of the subject matter (writing the screenplay for which Ellison turned down years earlier). Only he and Newsweek's David Ansen gave the film anything close to positive marks. Ellison's out: it's long and complicated and subtle so naturally everyone who loved Star Wars would hate Dune.He also gives a great conspiracy theory as to why the film failed, and hilarious anecdotes about the studio buffoonery that took place just before the film's release. I don't want to ruin the fun, so you'll have to investigate for yourself.

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