Archive for Clash of the Titans

The Top Ten Sexy Ray Harryhausen Monsters

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2010 by dcairns

The author contemplates his task.

This was a hard list to make! But a necessary one. So much competition! The anatomical perfection of the skeleton army from THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD… the muscular sheen of Minoton from SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER… not to mention the dazzling intellect and warm personal manner of the Grand Lunar in FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. Finally, the only characters who could be definitely excluded from the running were the giant squirrel in THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER and Bubo the aluminium owl.

10) It, from IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA.

Tentacles… tentacles are sexy, right?

9) Cyclops from THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD

Maybe the one guy I’d go queer for. Spectacular upper body definition. As for the lower body… well, it’s a look, I suppose. Just imagine he’s wearing cowboy chaps.

8) Serpent Woman from THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD

Slinky. I love a woman with vertebrae instead of femurs. Picture the possibilities! Even if her face does put one in mind of Corporal Klinger from TV’s M*A*S*H. That’s why veils were invented.

7) Talos from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS

The Greeks have a word for it,  and the word is “ah-woo-wa-woo-wa-wowa!”

6) Homonicus from THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD

There’s a clue in the name.

5) Figurehead from THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD

A woman with perpetually hard nipples. Because they’re made of wood. Splinters aside, that still seems more organic than silicone.

4) Kali from THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD

Six arms to hold you! Body of Jacqueline Bisset! Legs of Janeane Garofalo! Arms of Jacqueline Bisset AND Janeane Garofalo!

3) Troglodyte from SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER

Kinda cute, if you like Iggy Pop.

2) Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS

Maybe CLASH OF THE TITANS was Ray’s male menopause movie? We get an unconvincing body double nude scene for Judy Bowker, Theseus’s mom breast-feeding him, and then this. All this nudity was a new thing for Harryhausen movies, and seems sort of unsuited to the kid audience… Still, Medusa may be lethal and reptilian, but damn she’s pert.

1) Mighty Joe Young from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG

Ah, ya big ape! Who among is can resist the might and musk of the giant gorilla? And since his “gorillahood” is pretty tiny, proportionate to the rest of his physique, you can be confident he won’t be too “boku”. At the end of the day, it’s his winning personality that counts.

Honorary mention: Kate Calendar’s skeleton from FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. Full-frontal x-ray nudity! Who wouldn’t want to jump on those bones?

You’ll note that I avoid speculating on which of the stop-motion figurines would make the best sex-toy (the Kraken, obviously — just add batteries and he’s a reptilian rampant rabbit), and I refuse to suggest titles for porno versions (JASON AND THE ORGYNAUTS, 20 MILLION MALES TO EARTH, IT CAME BENEATH THE SEA, that’s the kind of thing you just won’t find here). Still, I feel I’ve plumbed some kind of new low here. Tomorrow I attempt to claw back some kind of respect and innocence as I write up the incredible evening we had in London at the celebration of Mr. H’s 90th birthday.

Puny Humans

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2008 by dcairns

Danger Island

It’s a real problem, the human characters in giant monster movies. They’re nearly always boring. KING KONG is the exception, as with so many things — in all three versions of KK, the humans are a bit more interesting than they absolutely need to be. The less-is-more economy and pace of the first film make it the winner, of course. Quasi-sequel MIGHTY JOE YOUNG also does OK — Robert Armstrong is even more ebullient and explosive than he is in KK. A shame he never played anything Shakespearian on screen. What do you think: Lear? Macbeth?

The ’70s KONG has Jeff Bridges as a sort of more passionate and committed version of the Dude from THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and Jessica Lange playing the character who’s most like herself (slightly dippy blonde actress). The Jackson version has lots of “characterisation”, but doesn’t really understand the basic principle of characterisation through action, which is a bit of a shame since it’s an action film. For example, Adrien Brody is a writer. Yet, once the drama starts (an hour in) he acts exactly like Indiana Jones. I accept that we might need him to be slightly more physical than, say, Truman Capote, but what’s the point of all that set-up if you’re just going to forget it once the running and jumping starts?

Similarly, Jamie Bell is established as a kid who’s never fired a gun in his life, yet soon he’s shooting insects off Adrien Brody’s privates with the skill of a veritable Lee Harvey Oswald (ah, if only L.H.O. had confined his marksmanship to shooting insects off Adrien Brody’s privates, how different the political scene might be today).

(I remember seeing the DJ-musician Moby introduce a GODZILLA movie on TV, with the words, “As kids, we were very keen on monster movies, because the alternative seemed to be movies without monsters, and who would want that?”)

I love Ray Harryhausen’s work (he’s coming to the Edinburgh Film Festival — we’ve bought our tickets), but few of his films manage to create endearing human characters to compare to the little rubber guys. The great Lionel Jeffries in THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is one (and that film is probably the best film qua filmof Harryhausen’s oevre) and Raquel Welch certainly makes her presence felt in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. but I’m not sure that’s anything to do with characterisation. I think she’s there to make the dinosaurs look more life-like by comparison. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS is jam-packed with fascinating thesps, from Nigel Green to Niall McGinnis, and they’re always welcome, but they don’t make much impact as human beings, since their dialogue is a bit stiff and their scenes feel like between-monster padding. Harryhausen’s last opus, CLASH OF THE TITANS, populates Olympus with an improbable throng of thesps (Olivier & Andress! Maggie Smith and Pat Roach!) but they have little of the snazziness James Woods brings to the role of Hades in the Disney HERCULES — the high-water mark of Greek god impersonation in Hollywood cinema.

In a lot of monster attack films, like WAR OF THE WORLDS, the heroes, being unable to do meaningful battle with an enemy so much bigger than themselves, are reduced to running around helplessly and speculating about what might be going on. Spielberg’s version actually gets around this for most of its running time by putting the protagonist and his family in a lot of very dangerous situations, but he comes a cropper on the ending, in which the Earth is saved no thanks to Tom Cruise.

Actually, if we accept JAWS as a monster movie, which I suggest we have to, Spielberg and his writers deserve a bit of credit for serving up engaging, if 2D, characters who actually occupy far more screen time than the sea beast. Of course, his three leading men are very watchable anyway.

I’m going to throw in a mention of TREMORS as well, since that has enjoyable, affable lead characters also. Why is this so hard as soon as a monster rears its head? I suppose these films typically didn’t attract the best actors, as much of the budget went on special effects. And the directors were usually ex-designers, photographers and special effects men themselves, rather than “actors’ directors”. And the writers? Science fiction is full of authors whose ability to deal with wild ideas outstrips their ability to deal with human conversation, so that could be part of it. KRONOS has some decent ideas, but flat characterisation. Imagine a giant monster movie written by Harold Pinter. That would be GREAT. Giant lizard feet could trample Buckingham Palace during the pauses.

THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, A.K.A. BEHEMOTH, A.K.A. BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER, which we watched recently, suffers the same problems of boring scientists and passive protagonists. The film is the work of art director Eugene Lourie, who turned director and gave the world this thing and also GORGO, a man-in-a-suit monster movie much loved for its plot twist of the even larger mummy monster coming to rescue the baby. It’s the DUMBO of kaiju films. Oh, and he did Harryhausen’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, “suggested by” Ray Bradbury’s great pulp-poetry story The Fog Horn, which my mum told me about when I was little, sparking my imagination wonderfully (thanks mum!) and THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK, which to my regret I haven’t seen.

The monster in BEHEMOTH is another of those radioactive dinosaurs, whose sinister emanations have the effect of turning bystanders into drawings of skeletons. Nasty stuff, that radiation.

The only human element in the film is Jack MacGowran, an actor incapable of being uninteresting for a second or of underplaying for a frame. Here he’s on good form, having not yet succumbed to the bottle altogether. By the time of Peter Brook’s glum and fusty KING LEAR, MacGowran, though still somehow able to remember his lines, was quite unable to remember what they meant. Some how he still compels attention in that film and in THE EXORCIST (that “cursed movie” which supposedly claimed his life), but he’s much better when he actually knows what he’s doing. It’s such a relief when he ambles into BEHEMOTH halfway through — an eccentric showstopper, a smirking onrush of tics and mannerisms — and such a shame when he and his helicopter are subsumed by a hungry saurian just minutes later. It’s arguable that MacGowran’s thespian rampage is far more damaging to the film than the monster is to London — he makes everything seem so dull by comparison.

The behemoth is played by a glove puppet for most of the film, turning into an animated Willis H. O’Brien creation in the last ten minutes. Too little too late, though all the rampaging provides the usual fun (only kids and monsters actually rampage. Native people go on the rampage, which seems to be subtly different). And we do get a few underwater shots, which for some reason is rare in these movies.

But apart from MacGowran and the above examples, human characters in monster films still seem like an endangered species.

I guess there’s always the Peanut Sisters from GODZILLA VERSUS MOTHRA. Their characterisation consisted of (a) the fact that they were very small, and (b) the fact that they were called the Peanut Sisters. Oh, and I think they sang a song.

That’s more than can be said for Tom Cruise.

Melvin and Medusa

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Painting, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2008 by dcairns

Madame Medusa 

One fun thing about this joint — from MY point of view anyhow — is that I can see in my Blog Stats exactly what kind of web searches people use to find the site. Yes, I am looking into your dark hearts as you navigate the murky waters of the web and come into dock in my cyber-harbour.

As a result, I have become aware that two of the personages I’ve mentioned in passing have attracted quite a lot of notice. They are ’60s British character star Murray Melvin, and Greek mythological character Medusa.

the sexorcist

The Woman in Green

So, whopping great whore that I am, I thought I’d prepare a special blog posting about Murray Melvin and Medusa. Oh, and I’ll throw in this random mention of ST TRINIAN’S head girl Gemma Arterton too, since so many of you seem to find her so damn interesting.*

What's she got that's so special?

Medusa was head girl of the Gorgons. She had snakes for hair.

Murray Melvin has hair for hair. He starred in A TASTE OF HONEY and pops up in Ken Russell’s epic film maudit THE DEVILS, and Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON (the litmus test film that hardcore Kubrickians admire most, and that nobody else likes all that much).

Medusa had a petrifying gaze.

Murray Melvin is a petrifying gay.

Actually, I have no private information about Mr. Melvin’s sexuality at all, so I take that back. He was cast as gay in A TASTE OF HONEY and it kind of stuck. He played highly repressed characters in THE DEVILS and BARRY LYNDON, and is a sort of Poster Boy for British Sexual Ambivalence (B.S.A.). I find it interesting (and definitely regrettable) that British cinema has made so little use of him since the swinging ‘sixties and ‘seventies. My theory is that Melvin’s camp quality is out of fashion in a world that either wishes to ignore homosexuality, or is eager to present images of gay men that don’t fit the camp stereotype. But some gay men ARE camp, if you want to use that word, and Melvin is an excellent actor, so where’s the problem?

It reminds me of the way Hollywood discovered racial sensitivity in the ‘forties and slowly phased out most most of the actors who’d made a living playing “comedy negroes” and servants. Replacing them with…virtually nothing. There’s an argument that flawed representation is better than NO representation.

The possibility also arises that M.M. was acting camp in films because the roles demanded it, and could just as easily play Dead Butch. It would be slightly surprising to me, but it’s still possible. In which case his recent disuse by our national cinema is even sillier.

Don't look at his eyes!

The last time I saw M.M. at the cinema was way back in Scots director Bill Douglas’ COMRADES, which also featured Barbara Windsor and Robert Stephens, who likewise should have been in far more movies.

Walpamur Petrifying Liquid

When Harry Hamlin Perseus lopped off Medusa’s serpentine head, her stare maintained its terrible power after death. Still going strong in his seventies, Murray Melvin likewise maintains his momentous powers of dramaturgical dazzlement.

*”Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” ~ Johnny Rotten.