Cinematic Titanic bids farewell with two-night stint at Pabst Theater
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There comes a point in every successful group’s career when all the members of the band accept that they’re going to be playing the same songs night after night for the rest of their lives. It’s a freeing feeling, and it lets the band loosen up and have fun with playing those songs. Cinematic Titanic, which is inextricably linked to Mystery Science Theater 3000, is drawing to a close. The final tour stopped by the Pabst Theater over the weekend for a two-night stand, for what could easily be called a hometown crowd. Though the crew is scattered across the country these days (one of the reasons the ship is pulling into port), most of the gang hails from in and around Wisconsin and Minnesota. The members lavished praise on both the Pabst Theater and the local crowd. Where else could a couple of guys who built their own Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo replicas be pestered for pictures like celebrities?
Each show featured a first half that took on something of a variety show feel. Perennial opener Gruber got in some hilarious pre-show interpretive dance moves using some millennial pop songs as fodder. A “Dramatic Titanic” riff featuring Gruber, Mary Jo Pehl, and Trace Beaulieu appealed to the theater kids in the crowd. J. Elvis Weinstein returned with his bass and a fun concept as a cover band continually interrupted by banal airport announcements. Frank Conniff returned with a stand up set that criticized our current governor but ran into much less resistance this time around. Hodgson ended the opening set with a slideshow featuring excerpts from his Riffing Myself one-man show. Between the obscure references to local Wisconsin TV characters and a heaping helping of nightmare fuel in the form of pictures from vintage ventriloquist dummy catalogs, it was an interesting look at the headspace from which Mystery Science Theater 3000 and, later, Cinematic Titanic sprang.
Both films were worthy of the savaging in store from the expert crew, and each started out with a short history lesson from Joel about where these crimes against cinema came from. Friday night featured The Doll Squad, a poor excuse for a T&A exploitation film that may have put the seed of Charlie’s Angels into the liver-spotted head of Aaron Spelling. It featured the hallmarks of awfulness: actresses hired because of how they filled out a bikini over how they read lines; ten-cent special effects; and a bad guy played by Michael Ansari, who redeemed himself late in life by being the voice of Mr. Freeze in the Batman animated series. Danger On Tiki Island rolled on Saturday night, with a confused plot involving an oversexed character played by an actress calling herself Beverly Hills, an island madman served by a household full of little people, and a monster that looked like it was made out of the remnants of a fire at a Halloween Express.
After both shows, the riffers signed autographs and chatted with fans, making sure to stay until both lines had cleared out. It’s likely that the masters will return to riffing some time in the future, but for now, they can ride off into the sunset with their heads held high and a trail of bad celluloid lying in their wake.