"Cinematic Titanic" does the "Mystery Science Theater" thing at the Bushnell

Cinematic Titanic

Thursday, Feb. 2, The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, (860) 987-5900, bushnell.org

 

To everyone wondering what the difference is between "Cinematic Titanic" and "Mystery Science Theater 3000," you may be excited to hear that "Cinematic Titanic" (coming to the Bushnell this week) is almost exactly the same as MST3K.

MST3K was a '90s TV show about a guy and his robot friends, who are forced by a mad scientist to watch old, obscure, really-bad B-movies. To cope, the show's stars, who you see silhouetted at the bottom of the movie screen, crack jokes about the movies' plots, actors, sets and other oddities.

It was an interesting idea, and a little prescient. Today, culture critique is in its heyday; podcasts, tweets, blogs and videos do with "Jersey Shore"and the Octomom what MST3K did with movies like Fugitive Alien and Manos: The Hands of Fate. Shows like"Tosh.0" get all their material from Internet videos and images. Let's not even get started on comments sections and messageboards.

But MST3K was carefully scripted and generally nice-spirited. And once it went off the air, the show's reruns and DVDs continued to be popular, and its founder, Joel Hodgson, created "Cinematic Titanic," a project that closely mirrors MST3K. Several of the original MST3K writers work on "Cinematic Titanic," which does live shows across the U.S., one of its few deviations from the MST3K format.

I talked to Joel Hodgson recently by phone. He says he and his writers have about 14 movies they rotate through, with 600 to 800 riffs per film. (They're not sure yet which movie they'll do in Hartford.) They use iPads, he says, for their scripts. He's not concerned with creating the illusion that the show is improvisational.

"We don't pretend that we're riffing it live," he says. "It would kinda break down if we're acting like we've never seen the movie."

Hodgson's interest in film is pretty average, he says. He's not a crazy movie buff who, in his pursuit of obscure movies, happens across remarkably bad ones. Instead, he works with people who deal in those kinds of movies, finds them online, or he consults various vendors who typically have stuff for them to work with.

And doing live riff treatments doesn't seem to bring out uninvited audience participation. Hodgson says he prefers the live shows to the studio shows, and that, for the most part, the audience members behave ("Our tickets are expensive enough to keep out the riffraff," he says).

He also doesn't get sick of watching the same crappy 14 movies over and over again. He says it's fun to "build a variety show on the back of an old movie. It becomes this kind of third thing."

There are little quirks and lovable bits in these strange, bad movies, and Hodgson says, in watching them over and over again, he notices great things.

"You see people do a really great job in the face of a bad movie. Their talent sort of shines through," he says. "If you're in the scene long enough, you can start to see all kinds of things that are very peculiar, and accidents, and things going wrong. … There's like a little secret world in each scene."

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