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Mystery Science Riff-Raff

Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson brings his cinematic creation to Minneapolis Parkway Theater.
Cinematic Titanic features several former Mystery Science Theater cast members.
Image by Photo courtesy Cinematic Titanic
Cinematic Titanic features several former Mystery Science Theater cast members.

What: Cinematic Titanic

When: 6 p.m., Friday-Saturday

Where: Parkway Theater, 4814 Chicago Ave. S.

Cost: $27.50


When Mystery Science Theater 3000 reached the end of its run in 1999, it seemed unlikely that its creator, Joel Hodgson, would ever find a more perfect outlet for his B-movie mock-a-thon. While the show enjoyed commercial success after his departure following the fourth season, Hodgson kept relatively quiet.

 But in 2007, nearly 15 years after his departure, the famed inventor of âÄúmovie-riffing,âÄù re-emerged with âÄúCinematic TitanicâÄù âÄì a live theater adaptation of the peanut gallery riff-raff that Hodgson spearheaded more than two decades ago. 

âÄúWhat I noticed after the show stopped and we started selling DVDs, sales just kept going up every year,âÄù Hodgson said. âÄúAt a certain point I was going âÄòwow, itâÄôs not slowing down.âÄôâÄù

And with three back-to-back shows scheduled for this weekend, Hodgson and his troupe of movie-riffing crackerjacks are set to embark on a nationwide tour that kicks off Friday at MinneapolisâÄô Parkway Theater.

HodgsonâÄôs latest creation includes all the vital ingredients that helped turn his dorm room project into a Peabody Award-winning masterpiece âÄî hilariously bad filmmaking, former MST3K cast members and a nonstop assault of whip-smart witticisms.

âÄúI think more than anything, people expect to see movies theyâÄôve never seen before. WeâÄôre their companions and tour guides through these movies,âÄù Hodgson said. âÄúItâÄôs really similar and a good âÄòCinematic TitanicâÄô movie would also be a good Mystery Science Theater movie.âÄù

Comprised of five cast members that include Hodgson and fellow MST3K alumni (Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff), âÄúCinematic TitanicâÄù is consistent with HodgsonâÄôs original model save for a few technical changes. For instance, instead of silhouettes positioned before the screen, the performers are seated on both sides of the stage facing the audience. The dynamics of the stage setup allows for more interaction between the performers and also some occasional bursts of spontaneity.

âÄúWeâÄôre not characters. WeâÄôre not Joel trapped in space. That layer is removed,âÄù said former MST3K cast member and Minnesota native Mary Jo Pehl. âÄúWeâÄôre all ourselves. In this situation we get to see each other. Our timing is improved. We can make eye contact with each other, and we can make each other laugh.âÄù

But while the cast might be meeting face-to-face every night when theyâÄôre on tour, the creative partnership between the writers remains long distance during the off-season. Considering that none of âÄúCinematic TitanicâÄôsâÄù cast live near each other, there isnâÄôt a conference room or office space reserved for meetings or practice ribbing. Most of the time theyâÄôre getting business done through the web.

âÄúWeâÄôre not sitting in a writing room. We Skype or we have telephone conferences to work on scripts,âÄù Pehl said. âÄúItâÄôs very painstaking and tedious when you write alone.âÄù

But despite the new challenges, Pehl and Hodgson enjoy the new gig. Pehl, who is best known for her work as Pearl Forrester, explained how her role in âÄúCinematic TitanicâÄù âÄî which is artist funded and owned âÄî allows her to be more actively involved in managing the production.

âÄúI actually get to make fun of the movies. Before I was a writer and didnâÄôt have any relationship with the robots,âÄù Pehl said. âÄúThe hierarchy is different and I have a bigger voice in how we proceed and how we make decisions.âÄù

As for Hodgson, his comedic mind is the same âÄî riffing films is still his stock-in-trade and he has it down to a science. Though, contrary to popular belief, Hodgson insists that the art of riffing isnâÄôt necessarily rooted in snark and derision. He stresses that jokes are the priority; ridicule is optional.

âÄúItâÄôs not going to work if youâÄôre an asshole. People donâÄôt want that,âÄù Hodgson said. âÄúThey donâÄôt want to spend time with someone who is too snarky. People think weâÄôre snarky but weâÄôre really not. A small percentage of it is actually about the quality of the movie âĦ thatâÄôs just one of 30 different approaches to riffing.âÄù

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