I picked up John Brosnan’s book on special effects, Movie Magic, which seems to have been staring at me from various shelves for all my life, after finding it in a charity shop. Obviously, a book on VFX written before the advent of digital cinema wasn’t going to be selling at top prices.

It’s a fun, breezy read, though. Not too technical. The best stuff is the interview with jobbing films craftsmen. Brosnan’s prose is more serviceable than immortal (though still superior to that of Mike Evans in The Making of Raging Bull, another recent cheapo purchase, where potentially fascinating material is rendered practically unreadable) but when he hands the page over to doughty practitioners like Les Bowie, things get mordantly amusing:

‘We were working with these two American effects men on that picture [IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS] and they had […] all sorts of fancy gadgets, including these special mortars that were used to fire clumps of arrows through the air. These, along with their other equipment, had been flown out from Hollywood at great expense. One day one of these men told me to go and practice firing arrows out of this mortar. So I did, I carried one of these gadgets away from where we were based, set it up, put some arrows in it, fired it . . . and the arrows went about ten feet before dropping to the ground. I was rather upset about this because it meant I was going to have to tell the other fellow his gadget wasn’t working any more. In desperation I just grabbed a handful of arrows and flung them in the air . . . and they just flew and flew. After a few more tries I even worked out a way of throwing them so that they separated in mid-air and like a swarm of arrows would if they’d been fired by several bows. Anyway I went back and confessed to this bloke that his mortar wasn’t working, so he came back and checked it out and said it was working perfectly. “But it only propels them about ten feet,” I said, “do you know that you can throw them much further by hand?” And I demonstrated to him how far I could throw them. He was shocked. “For God’s sake,” he said, “don’t do that on the day of filming!” But when the day came an assistant and I were hidden in the woods, throwing the arrows out by hand. All that equipment shipped out at such a high cost and yet no one had tried just throwing the things!’

There’s more about this kind of UK-US rivalry and bickering on Disney locations in props man Eddie Fowlie’s account of making THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON in his memoir David Lean’s Dedicated Maniac: Memoirs of a Film Specialist, though Fowlie inexplicably omits to make any reference to being sent home early after seemingly injuring one of his opponents in a knife fight conducted over the affections of Janet Munro.

6 Responses to “Quiver”

  1. Woohoo!

    And I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to see The Irishman. All those untold millions spent turning old guys into middle-aged guys…

  2. On the DVD of “In Search of the Castaways”, wires supporting rope-climbing comic natives are clearly visible (but supposedly not so in film prints). It’s one of those Disneys where the artificiality is part of the charm: Extravagant mattes and models, lush soundstage sets, a world that clearly doesn’t exist. Harryhausen fantasies had a stronger dose of that same appealing artificiality, with real locations but impossible inhabitants. Perhaps the modern climax was the Muppet movies, where Kermit and company persuaded you to pretend to suspend disbelief.

  3. The new War of the Worlds restoration gives us the pin-sharpness of digital but without all the unfortunate wires that were suddenly revealed by the DVD — an acceptable cheat, I feel.

  4. Randy Cook Says:

    I must say that those wires were ALWAYS there…first time I saw it, in a 16mm print in 1966, I tried to justify those wires—surely they’re SUPPOSED to be there, there are so many of them. There was a contemporaneous behind the scenes LIFE or LOOK spread, which fascinated me as a 3 year old & I could see the wires even then. Glad to see ’em eliminated, personally.

  5. Hmm, but this info makes it a more dubious choice, even if it’s an incontentestable improvement. It’s distorting film history! I would accept a disc that offered a wires and wireless option… Or maybe the wires were there in this version and I just didn’t notice because I was too caught up in it?

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