While Harlan Ellison might bite my head off for going off into self-indulgence in writing about whether or not I enjoyed Dreams with Sharp Teeth, I should mention how I came across him and why I had to seek out this documentary, for better or worse. The first was watching the adaptation of his short story, A Boy and His Dog, by LQ Jones from the mid-70s, a warped, outrageous, and yet insanely lucid fantasy satire that was the direct inspiration for Mad Max. It's still unlike few stories out there in terms of matching wit with real decrepit atmosphere fused with the cold-blooded non-ideal of living underground in a false utopia.
The second was reading Harlan Ellison's Watching, a collection of his film criticism from the mid 60s to the early 90s. For anyone looking to become anything of a writer about film or one who just wants to become more knowledgeable of Ellison's sardonic and ferocious pen need to check it out, as it is, in my opinion, on par if not more enjoyable than Pauline Kael. He brings personal experience into the work, as well as some imaginative leaps/flights of fancy (i.e. imagining the nimrods going at the mall to see Rambo: First Blood Part 2 opening weekend), and while it and his film writing get only passing mention here, it is something that should be mentioned at every turn. That, along with I would wager reading just one of his stories, will turn you on to him... or turn you off.
The documentary on Mr. Ellison and his successes, and his own personal anger at life and the world in general most days, is adoratory but not unaware of the man's tendencies to lunge out at people's throats (if only figuratively) any chance he gets. He's alive like few other writers (I'd say Hunter S. Thompson could take him, but that's about all that pops into the mind at first), and like all good writers knows that a legacy is legitimate only by the work left behind. As we see here, it is the work that is incredible, if only for the abundance of it: hundreds of short stories, loads of TV work, 8 Hugo awards, and a Master of Science Fiction award. Oh yeah, and apparently this 5'5 Jewish kid from Ohio was a super Ladie's man in his time, though we only get a hint of that and more-so the lovely, acerbic relationship with his current wife of twenty years, who seems to be the only one who can stand up to him when he goes off the rails.
If the filmmakers may take some choice clips that don't quite dig into all the crevices we might want (i.e. they brush over the fact, though make mention, of his lack of contact with a sister, and his personal life in general with his family), they do provide us an idea of his working relationship, maybe so much so that you wonder who could work with him. He's a professional, to be sure, but he'll also nail a gopher to a door of a publisher or go into a Three Stooges style stunt to give a big-time sock in the nose to someone he has a vendetta against, and never will a fool be treated kindly. What one takes away with in Dreams with Sharp Teeth, ultimately, is that whether or not you'll "like" this guy or even "like" the guys writing, he's alive. He won't be a zombie in the world, though he admits that he's thought once or twice it would be more convenient than waking up every morning angry as hell. You wouldn't want to walk down a dark alley and meet this guy's mind and not be ready to spar. If nothing else, the film does a fantastic job illuminating that and the man's career.