MSTing Links: Cinematic Titanic episode 8, ‘East Meets Watts’

With its eighth release, Cinematic Titanic switched from recording in studios to using live recordings for its home video releases. There were some trade-offs. On the negative side, it meant no more Shadowrama effect, with the riffers’ silhouettes visible on screen. Instead, Joel, Trace, Josh, Frank and Mary Jo’s faces are all visible on the side of the screen (with the disc utilizing anamorphic widescreen for the first time).

It also means there’s no more backstory for why the Cinematic Titanic crew was riffing films. Why were they riffing movies and putting them into a nanotated tube? The world may never know. I’m not finding the interview at the moment, but I remember reading Joel saying that Cinematic Titanic went with live shows because at that point they were spread across several states, and also Joel saying he was “outvoted.” Joel has talked about the importance of movie riffing having a story, but that story was cut off with the end of the studio releases. Around the time of this release, Josh said studio releases would return at some point. They never did.

I’d say everything else falls into the plus category. The riffers get to have more back and forth live, they make some off-the-cuff jokes and they screw up a few times, which is also fun to see. Plus, the live crowd clearly energizes the group and their performance style. They’re not performing to a green wall anymore, but an excited group of fans giving instant feedback.

Release date: Dec. 16, 2009.

The show starts off with Joel telling a story about the origins of MST3K and then bringing out the cast of Cinematic Titanic one at a time.

The film, “East Meets Watts,” was originally released in 1974 as “Dynamite Brothers.” It’s a combination blaxploitation/kung fu flick from Al Adamson, who directed the experiment in the first Cinematic Titanic release, “The Oozing Skull,” as well as “Carnival Magic” from the newest season of MST3K. Rifftrax needs to cover an Adamson film so everyone can take a swing at him.

We’ve got no movie breaks: Another change from the studio releases is there are no mid-movie breaks. It makes sense that these wouldn’t happen in a live show. So unless I’m forgetting something from a later release, it’s time to retire this feature.

Obscure reference: Frank talks about a character wanting to see Mort Sahl at the Hungry I. Sahl is considered by many to be one of the first “modern” comedians (and he’s still alive at 90!) and the Hungry I was a famous comedy club in San Francisco, where “East Meets Watts” takes place. So maybe these are less obscure if you’re older than me. But I am almost 40, so nearly dead.

Favorite line: At 16 minutes in comes probably the best moment in Cinematic Titanic’s history. A cop throws out the N-word and the entire cast does a spit take. It’s so perfectly timed and executed. It’s fun to rewatch and see the Titans as they naturalistically take sips of water leading up to it, as live performers often do. Then, WHAM, so much water. It wouldn’t have worked in the Shadowrama format. In fact, they tried it in “Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks” (a dry run, if you will), and it just wasn’t the same.

MST3K references: Joel says “Hey Trace, watch out for snakes,” a reference to “Eegah!,” and a long-running MST3K gag. Trace follows up later with “Hey Joel, rock climbing,” a reference to “Lost Continent.” Frank responded to that line with “Hey Trace, pandering.” When Frank later says “Time for go to bed,” a reference to Tor Johnson in “The Unearthly,” Trace says “Who’s pandering now, Frank?” I don’t think any of this would have worked in a studio release.

And this doesn’t really count, but the gun into pants followed by a “Bang!” riff almost feels like a call forward to the repeated “BANG!” riffs in “Cry Wilderness.” I’m counting it!

Bonus feature: The DVD includes trailers for the first seven Cinematic Titanic releases.

Other riffing connections: I already mentioned director Al Adamson having directed the first Cinematic Titanic release, “The Oozing Skull,” AKA “Brain of Blood,” as well as “Carnival Magic.”

I’m kind of shocked James Hong doesn’t show up in any other MST3K or Rifftrax releases. The dude has been in everything.

Actress Margo Hope was also in “The Oozing Skull.”

Actor Erik Cord was the stunt coordinator on “Wonder Women,” riffed by Rifftrax.

Producer Samuel M. Sherman also produced “The Oozing Skull.”

Cinematographer R. Michael Stringer also worked as a rescue diver on the Ben Affleck “Daredevil,” riffed by Rifftrax.

Production manager Irv Saunders acted in “The Oozing Skull.”

Assistant camera man Michael Ferris also worked on “Spider-Man 3” (riffed by Rifftrax) as a camera operator. He was also a camera operator on “Die Hard,” which I helped write a riff script for with Riff Raff Theater. Everyone should check that out.

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