I recently received a review copy of The AckerMonster Chronicles!, a documentary on the life of Forrest J. Ackerman. What else is there to learn that hasn’t been said already about this man who made a career out of being a fan of the fantastic, as well as being a literary agent and an influence on thousands if not millions of fantastic fans and filmmakers? As it turns out, new things can be added, and are through this film.
JaSunni Productions, the production team behind Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, are responsible for this venture as well. The film of necessity includes much of the material already familiar to fans of Ackerman, including his basic life story and much of the trivia associated with it. This documentary also includes commentary by many of those who knew him well, such as Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, Dan O’Bannon, John Landis, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, David J. Skal, and Marc Scott Zicree.
The Internet Movie Database page for this film provides the following description:
Nudism. Esperanto. “King Kong.” Sci-Fi. What do all of these things have in common?
Simple: Forrest J Ackerman.
Glad you asked… Forrest J Ackerman was an agent, a notorious, serial bit player, and an honorary lesbian.
Known the world over as “Uncle Forry”, “EEEE”, “4SJ”, “Dr. Acula,” and numerous other pseudonyms (a few none too kind), Mr. Ackerman was perhaps best known as the original editor of “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine, the creator of “Vampirella,” and all-around mega-fan.
So what! Well you should know that the things you love and people you admire most thought of Forry as a treasure trove of knowledge and enthusiasm: Whether horror, science fiction, fantasy, or just generally being naked, he was there, did it, saw it done, or turned away from it…
As an agent, his clients were a who’s who of genre delights: Charles Beaumont, A. E. Van Vogt, William F. Nolan, Curt Siodmak, L. Ron Hubbard. His friends span the chasm of the Twentieth Century and beyond, be they slobbering sci-fi neophytes, or the likes of Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, George Pal, or John Landis.
Forry was embedded in the culture of film, fantasy and science fiction. A self-made fan, he was an institution and fixture living in various incarnations of his own personal museum, the AckerMansion in Hollyweird, Karloffornia for almost a century. Like Dracula, the Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster, he became an icon of fright and fun for countless devotees of terror and s-f.
Whether The “Martian Chronicles,” “Sinbad,” “Logan’s Run,” or “Amazon Women on the Moon,” the hearts and minds that fed these visions all owed a debt to an unflagging dedication and unwavering belief in the goodness of people and the value of their dreams. The human form of this was Forrest J Ackerman.
“Is there more?”
Yes! Follow me this way, don’t mind that coffin: the occupant has been gone for years. We have to be quick, though, as the torch is running low on fuel, and the secret entrance under the crypt is a lot farther than it seems…
Some of the new material, at least to this reviewer, was Ackerman’s exploration of nudism and lesbianism. Yes, you read that right. The documentary goes into some length exploring these topics, and how Ackerman was asked to write about nudism which has involved certain science fiction writers. We also learn that the King of Fantastic Fans was given the title “Honorary Lesbian” by a group of lesbian science fiction fans with whom he developed a relationship. But while these aspects of Ackerman’s life may provide for an interesting fleshing out (pun intended) of his activities, in this reviewer’s opinion the film spends too much time focusing on these aspects which diverts from attention that could have been given to what Ackerman was better known for. In addition, at points it almost seems gratuitous, such as the discussion of Ackerman securing nude photos of pinup girls before going into the Army in World War II so as to be better perceived by his fellow service men. During this discussion numerous photos of nude women pop up on screen, and while this may titillate the viewer it does little to help visually with the documentary’s narrative.
Other elements also detract from the film, such as the background images used behind Ackerman. A digital process was used to project differing backgrounds, and these showed no sense of uniformity that would have helped with the challenges a documentary filmmaker faces with a “talking heads” production in terms of consistency in visual appearance. The end result is a visual piece that is at times distracting from the story about Ackerman that the filmmakers want us to hear and enjoy.
But despite these shortcomings, this film is enjoyable, and any fan of Ackerman should pick up a copy for their library. The AckerMonster Chronicles! can be purchased at the JaSunni Productions website.