When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
Forry Ackerman
Categories: Getting Personal

On Thursday, Forrest Ackerman passed away. And I had just been thinking of him.

Well, not really of him, but I had an intense flash of Proustian remembrance of his publication Famous Monsters of Filmland while watching a videotape of CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER. In the movie all hell breaks loose, with a monster in the laboratory growing exponentially in size and a madman stalking the house. The scientist’s wife hears a noise downstairs and — doing like all good scientists’ wives do in 1950s horror movies — decides to investigate by walking around the house without a flashlight nor a blunt instrument for protection, while wearing a gossamer nightie. Suddenly, a scarred and mutilated hand shoots out from screen-right; she recoils in horror and screams bloody murder.

That shot of the reaching hand and the screaming woman had been a film still I had seen more than once in Ackerman’s Famous Monsters. As that shot came on my TV screen, I was suddenly seven years old again and devouring that legendary publication hot off the press. Film stills are great Rorschach blots (just ask Cindy Sherman); I believe a lot of my fevered imagination derives from pouring over stills from horror movies (from films I’d never seen) in the pages of Famous Monsters and attempting to build a narrative around each photo.

For a while, Forrest Ackerman was a neighbor: we lived in the same ‘hood in Hollywood — the old part of Hollywood with homes and land previously owned by Harry Houdini, cinema’s prototype sex symbol Theda Bara, and other movie pioneers. But I never knew how to contact him (in pre-Internet days…) to go visit him at the Ackermansion.

My film school buddy Brad Arrington (with whom I ditched a cinematography final to catch a rare screening of John Brahm’s HANGOVER SQUARE with its hallucinatory Bernard Herrmann score — in the days before home video when you had to catch a movie whenever it surfaced) had told me of the Ackermansion treasures, but these artifacts seemed to take second place to the hundreds of reproduced film stills burned in my memory from the pages of his magazine.

I met Ackerman one weekend — the same weekend I met Jean Rogers who was Buster Crabbe’s sidekick in the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s. He was wearing the ring Bela Lugosi had worn as Dracula and allowed me to inspect it up close. What a weekend…

To some, Forry was the coiner of the phrase “sci-fi” and to others he was the literary agent of Ray Bradbury. For me he supplied the fuel for my imagination, and gave me the permission to be an obsessive lover of film.


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