Dynamation Emotion

Yesterday was spent, much of it, at the Scottish Museum of Modern Art, strolling through the extensive Ray Harryhausen, Titan of Animation exhibition. Which was basically heaven. Of course I’m going to criticise it a but because I’m an ingrate, but —

The silhouettes are animated. A really nice effect.

I’d seen a few of Harryhausen’s models in the flesh (or fur and steel and latex) at various times. Once, at the late, lamented Lumiere Cinema at the Scottish National Museum, there was the magical moment when he produced a skeleton, complete with miniature travel coffin, and within an instant every child in the auditorium teleported down to the edge of the stage to get closer to it, each perhaps imagining that Ray would hand over the precious figurine for them to play with, or perhaps make a very short movie with.

And Berlin’s fantastic film museum had several of the creatures on display (we don’t call them monsters).

But this was much more extensive and just better. The addition of drawings and home movies elevated it.

I really wanted to see the planned WAR OF THE WORLDS. The tiny bit of test footage is mouth-watering. I suppose we’d have to trade it off — George Pal’s beautifully-mounted version couldn’t exist in the same version as Ray’s — but we’d have tripods and tentacled Martians and, I submit, it would be worth it.

The exhibition features several specially-made bits of animation which show sketches coming to life, and so on, and this is nice, but it really needed more video. I think galleries generally are not very good at dealing with film. I remember a Saul Bass exhibition in London which presented pan-and-scanned versions of all the widescreen title sequences, on tiny little screens.

Today, pan-and-scan is happily dead, but we have the opposite problem. So here’s a clip from KING KONG in 16:9 (and of course it’s the Empire State sequence, the most vertical thing in the film). That wasn’t a very promising start.

The Harryhausen films are much better presented, WHEN they’re presented. There just wasn’t enough — it was up to me, every room would have a screen showing reasonably long clips of each of the creatures represented by drawings or armatures or full figures in that room. Because when you see the Medusa, it’s absolutely wonderful but you want to see her MOVE too.

The solution, of course, was to dash home and watch one of the movies, which we did.

Maybe the Gallery had a philosophical question it never quite resolved about this exhibition. As a sketch artist, Harryhausen wasn’t good enough to merit a show in anybody’s national gallery, even though his drawings are delightful. But the sketches were a means to an end, and they were absolutely good enough to get him there. The puppets or figures or whatever you want to call them are marvelous, but they’re not intended to be consumed the same way as stationary statues. Again, they’re a means to an end.

Mighty Joe and friend.

The end, of course, is the film. And the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art doesn’t really do film. What the exhibition doesn’t QUITE do fully — even though it helpfully explains and illustrates stop motion animation and rear screen projection and glass paintings — is show the sequences alongside the ephemera (we get Ray’s copy of his chum Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and revealing behind-the-scenes photos, and so on) and the drawings and the models so that the REAL art — the art of animation, literally imbuing with life, is foremost in the spectator’s mind.

But this is high-flown quibbling. The exhibition is a carnival of wonders and we were very, very lucky to get to see it.

6 Responses to “Dynamation Emotion”

  1. Amsterdam Eye did a magnificent job with Jan Svankmajer a couple of years ago, but they were spoilt for choice because he didn’t just make films but also produced a ton of sculptures, collages etc that were worth seeing in their own right. But I remember sitting around and (re)watching many of the shorts being shown on loops around the place. https://www.eyefilm.nl/en/programme/jan-svankmajer/79050

  2. I would LOVE to see a Svankmajer show. I hope there’s a permanent one in Prague…

    It may be that the gallery minimised the video content on purpose because of the pandemic — need to keep people moving through the gallery.

  3. A defining scary moment, even though I first saw it on B&W television: Talos first turning his head to look down at the two Greeks, with that screeching metal noise. Perhaps it’s just as well my young self didn’t see that on a big screen.

  4. Yes, Talos and the Cyclops were both key “hide behind the sofa” moments for me.

    I remember being alone in the living room with the TV on when the cyclops appeared, and I knew I couldn’t handle this guy, but I was scared to approach the TV to change the channel because he was on it.

    A few minutes later I was changing the channel back to get another look at him.

    Not sure how old I was… maybe 28?

  5. The show “Coupling” had a guy, pressed by his mate to offer opinions on designer pillows, go into a rant about the uselessness of same. A sofa is complete as is, scientifically designed to provide comfortable seating and a place to hide from Dalaks.

  6. And the author of Coupling went on to become showrunner of Doctor Who.

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