Fan Film, Fan Films

Gray Areas: I Was A Teenage Movie Maker

Donald F. Glut (pronounced “Gloot”) was a pioneer fan filmmaker, who began making movies in the 1950s, producing a staggering 41 shorts before he got out of college. Now, 50 years later, they’ve all been gathered up as bonus extras on Glut’s new DVD, I Was A Teenage Movie Maker.

The heart of the two-disc set is the incredibly detailed title documentary, which follows his entire amateur odyssey. Not only does it feature copious amounts of clips from the movies, it also includes interviews with film names like Randall Kleister (Grease, The Blue Lagoon), Forrest Ackerman, Bob Burns and many others—as well as Glut’s mom, who’s still alive and miffed that he sold the nice Superman costume she made him in high school.

While the documentary focuses with a laser-beam intensity on his movies, how he created his dangerous fledgling effects (cherry bombs and gasoline) and so on, it also inadvertently documents the great societal changes that occurred over those years. His early grade-school films feature kids running around city streets packed with cars whose fins probably weigh more than a Toyota Prius today. Later on, people’s hair starts growing longer, and the women’s fashions get funkier, at which time Glut moves from straight-laced Catholic Chicago to laid-back Hollywood to attend USC, getting there just in time for the Flower Power movement and the opportunity to briefly rub elbows with the likes of music video pioneer Mike Nesmith (AKA Mike from the Monkees).

Over those years, not only do his movies grow in maturity and skill, but they find him going through phases, just like any auteur—even one who’s mom has to run the camera because he’s not old enough to play with it. In the course of the documentary, Glut goes through his dinosaur phase, followed by a traditional movie monster era (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.), followed by his I Was A Teenage Monster stage, finally superceded by a superhero chapter, created while he butted heads with USC faculty who looked down their noses at popular fare like Superman serials.

The epic documentary, clocking in at over two hours, is clearly a labor of love for Glut, particularly since he self-directed it. The doc shares an amateur quality with many fan films, too, since a cameraman is often visibly reflected in a picture frame behind Glut during his own interview. Although his mom, childhood pals who acted in his flicks, and various friends from his moviemaking past also appear, it’s clearly his show.

That fact has both an up- and downside to it. For instance, Glut is quite the charismatic character, sweeping viewers along, despite the occasional verbal fumble, as he recounts his story. However, that closeness and intimacy can sometimes work against the film. Because it’s so focused on amateur filmmaking and how he overcame lacks of skill, time and budget, the documentary rarely escapes the confines of its very narrow topic.

Nonetheless, the first disc of the DVD set is a nice primer on how home filmmaking entered the mainstream of the 1950s, and the young Glut’s solutions to some perplexing filmmaking problems are often nothing less than brilliant when you consider the materials on hand, the lack of information on moviemaking back then (he re-”invented” stop-motion animation, for instance) and the sheer amount of preparation and care employed on them. I Was A Teenage Movie Maker may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and is likely best viewed over a few nights due to its sheer density, but for those fascinated by the fan films of yesteryear, it’s hard to beat this DVD set.

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