It's hard to believe that two decades ago, if you had deliberately rented a movie with the sole intention of laughing at it, people would have thought you were nuts. Enter Mystery Science Theater 3000, a TV show about a guy forced to watch bad movies while living in space with snarky robots. Though the show went off the air in '99, it helped pave the way for an era of major bad-movie riffage. After a brief break, the cast of MST3000 is back with Cinematic Titanic, a live show (also sold on DVD) where the crew continue to make fun of films that time forgot. Joel Hodgson took a moment to chat with City Pages about his latest project.
CP: Mystery Science Theater 3000 had such an elaborate setup and storyline; was there a reason you kept things more sparse with Cinematic Titanic?
JH: With Mystery Science Theater, we took a whole year to figure things out. We did 22 shows locally at KTMA when we started, and back then we didn't really know what we were doing. But by the time we were done we had figured out movie riffing. This year, we're kind of doing the same thing: We're redeveloping it and figuring it out as we go. The big thing was getting back into it like we used to. It turns out that we can [laughs]. We're still working on filling out things conceptually, though.
CP: Of course, several decades ago riffing on bad films wasn't as common. Do you think people just "get it" now more than in the past?
JH: Yeah, I think that's right. We had to be a lot more formal back then. The idea of silhouettes on a screen—we didn't know if people would go for it. Nowadays, you don't have to be as formal. With Cinematic Titanic we also have a live element, which is something we didn't pursue with MST3K. Instead we had puppets and costumes and stuff—not to say there won't be puppets down the road. But this time we're really interested in the idea of doing a movie-riffing concert, and I wanted to design it in a way that works live.
CP: Is it possible for a movie to be so bad that it's actually good?
JH: Oh, absolutely. Every movie has moments. I kind of started this whole thing because I love those kinds of movies; they have their own magic because they show you how movies are made. They have holes that make you go, "Oh, it's not a perfect illusion." But the people who made those movies were really clever filmmakers, it's not like they're failures. I think that's part of the fun of it: We collaborate with the movie to make a different kind of entertainment with it. We don't want people to stop making bad movies. And I don't think that's ever going to happen. It is, thankfully, a byproduct of the industry.
Cinematic Titanic screens Blood of the Vampires tonight, a dubbed period piece set in 1800s Mexico, filmed in the Philippines.
Sat., Oct. 25, 7 p.m., 2008