krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
The twentieth anniversary of the premiere of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on a small UHF station in Minnesota is almost upon us. I've admitted before that suggestions that the initial season was very rough and improvised indeed, but also the hard fact that the first three episodes broadcast are lost to the ether, have kept me from watching that part of the show's history that is available. However, through a bit of recent luck I've managed to see a vital piece of the show's history even more primal and formative...

At a convention not that long ago, Joel Hodgson (appearing with the rest of the "Cinematic Titanic" players) showed the pilot, or "proof of concept" as he described it, for Mystery Science Theater. Somebody was in the audience with a video camera, and that footage got online. It actually looks pretty good, with a clear image on the projection screen and a more or less quiet and attentive audience. (Some years before, "host segments" cruelly cut from Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie by the studio were shown at another convention, but I've heard that the sound is almost impossible to make out in the widely available footage.)

One host segment from that pilot had been seen before, and even transcribed, but I was a little surprised to see that it wasn't the absolute first; in that absolute first segment, the standup prop comedian returned home Joel appears alone (with longer hair than he had on the series and in a greenish jumpsuit with several patches on it) in front of a more limited set than the series had on cable (although there were more "found objects" cluttering it than the first cable season had), and introduces himself as "Joel Hodgson," orbiting in a space station "of my own design." The trip into the "Mystery Science Theatre" itself is through a series of "real-world" doors apparently put together with the same "chromakey" effects that put the "riffers" in front of the movie. In watching the bits of "The Green Slime" that appear, I did begin to suspect that they had been cut down for the convention presentation itself to Joel entering and Joel leaving, but from what is there, there don't seem to be many "riffs" improvised at all; I can somehow sympathise with not wanting to pound in that contrast between beginning and flowering. The fragments of movie, though, do seem to be cheesy in the classical fashion, featuring a squat monster rampaging through a space station which eventually blows up.

The real interest to the presentation seems to be its plethora of host segments, and with robots to play against Joel does seem to become a bit less tentative than he was in his very first appearance. (As well, different sets of robots seem to enter the theatre with him each time he returns to it.) Crow doesn't quite look himself and is much less articulated than he later became, but he does talk, unlike "Beeper," who has a first resemblance to Tom Servo but more makes "woo woo!" noises than actually "beeps." Gypsy is shaped like she wound up, but built using different objects, and just moans and bellows... and is also referred to as "he." After a first presentation of the "chiropractic helmet," the plot seems to involve the robots becoming infected by the "vacuum flowers" Joel has on board and spewing either foam or shaving cream; things are cleared up so that Crow can get oddly "metafictive" to close things out.

As Joel Hodgson explained in the opening, the idea for the show went from a "last man alive" broadcasting into the void to someone just "stuck on a satellite," but can in these first glimpses be seen to have evolved from the hosts who would make elaborate introductions to horror movies and the like on local stations, only carrying the hosts into the movies themselves. As the fact of this beginning's recent presentation itself may help prove, the idea's gone a long way.

July 2017

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