Ellison’s prose incisors are weapons that shred his adversaries, giving voice to his vociferous condemnation of stupidity and vapid fandom: a shrill cry from a man with a mouth who must scream. Erik Nelson’s documentary gives us a rare insight into Harlan Ellison’s wonderland though he doesn’t pretend to understand what makes the Ticktockman tick: Nelson remains virtually invisible and lets Ellison run the show. This is not fanboy adoration where Nelson bends over at the altar of Ellison, offering his orifice for deific recognition.
There are a few eloquent friends and peers such as Neil Gaiman, Robin Williams and Dan Simmons who share their stories and dangerous visions, but basically Ellison talks about himself and his life. We see brief clips of past interviews from the Today Show and Tom Snyder, and see the angry young man has not disappeared from the visage of the elderly grandmaster: he is still fueled by pugnacity, a wraith of wrathfulness. But there are tender moments when Ellison’s shtick dissolves and the real man emerges unguarded, an intelligent and remarkable man who is as human as you and me…only more so. But it’s his words that count, literally, millions of them through the years and awards that are to become his legacy.
This documentary should convince you to pick up copies of not only his fiction but also his non-fiction and essay collections, which are too numerous to name here. After the feature is over, let Harlan read a few stories to you in his own idiom, then watch the dialogue between him and Neil Gaiman while they eat pizza, making you a silent partner in their friendly interaction. Buy the books, read the books, Harlan is not a number, his life is his own: you might learn something from him. But if you can’t figure it out, I’ll give you the answer: Naomi Campbell.
FINAL GRADE: (B+)