Archive for King Kong

Dynamation Emotion

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2021 by dcairns

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.

Pastures New

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2021 by dcairns

I’d always read about GRASS (and CHANGO) or at least I’d read MENTIONS — in the various stuff I read about KING KONG as a kid — I would devour anything I could get on the mighty ape, even before I’d managed to see the film one unforgettable afternoon at the late, lamented Odeon, Clark Street. So I had a pretty good grounding in twenties documentary for a seven-year-old, I guess, without having actually seen any twenties documentaries.

Well, I’ve seen a few now, though I’ll probably have to see more for the next class I’m going to teach (NANOOK here we come), and thanks to this year’s HippFest I’ve finally seen GRASS.

Ernest B. Schoedsack & Merian C. Cooper, the KONG guys, follow a nomad tribe in search of grass. It’s what I call an epic! Interesting that all the early docs, once we got over the Lumiere phase, were ethnographic. The selling point was the distant and exotic. And also interesting that, although as Dr. Nacim Pak-Shiraz said in her introduction, the filmmakers clearly patterned their structure on the wagons west narrative of America, the early documentaries don’t seem closely patterned on the tropes of the fiction film. There are no real characters in GRASS. We meet the filmmakers at the start, and the nomad chief gets a few intertitles and medium shots, but the only real close shots are given to puppies and camels and a flyblown baby. Not a Bruce Cabot among them.

So it’s a film of spectacle — which is certainly a big element of Hollywood drama, but usually accompanied by individual struggles. Here there’s a quest, certainly, and we follow the travails of the tribespeople with a degree of suspense. The filmmakers’ attitude, mostly expressed by title cards, is empathetic, and clearly we’re meant to root for them to make it, but there’s no special focus on particularly charismatic examples of nomadry.

The scenery and the hairy escapades are impressive, though, and pianist Mike Nolan did well to conjure a whole lost world with just the 88 keys at his fingertips.

Also yesterday: an entertaining lecture by Dr Trevor Griffiths on Scottish cinema and the 1918-1919 flu epidemic. Incidentally, why did Donald Trump always insist on calling it the 1917 flu epidemic? Because he saw that wretched movie and the date stuck in his brain? But I think something else was going on — he would pause dramatically before saying it, and say it very DELIBERATELY. So I think he knew it was wrong, and he just liked annoying us. Or else it was an exercise in power, like O’Brien’s “How many fingers am I holding up?” in 1984. Trump saying it makes it true. It would be interesting to ask his supporters if they believe there was a great flu epidemic in 1917. Actually, no, it probably wouldn’t be.

GRASS ends with a testimonial —

Dr. Pak-Shiraz wonders how Cooper & Schoedsack communicated with the Baktyari, since it’s unlikely either group spoke the other’s language. I guess an interpreter could be brought in for the above agreement. If only we’d had such a person to translate Trump.

That Chandu That You Do So Well

Posted in FILM, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2021 by dcairns

THE RETURN OF CHANDU. Episode 5.

A small fire has evidently broken out in the Principle Pictures Corporation titling department but I’m sure everything’s under control…

Now read on…

Yes, but WHY is Frank Chandler known in the orient as Chandu? I get why they call him the magician. But if they can pronounce that, then “Chandler” shouldn’t be too much of a mouthful, surely?

The episode begins, thrillingly, with a stock footage long shot of some exotic clime, perhaps gathered by Tay Garnett on his round-the-world cruise, who knows? Then we get a long exposition/romance scene on garden furniture, in which the sibillance of the soundtrack combines with the Hungarian and Spanish accents of stars Bela Lugosi and Maria Alba to render comprehension null. But we can still appreciate the charm of Lugosi playing a nice guy, getting some romantic interest for once. I mean, he’s sympathetic in the same year’s THE BLACK CAT if you can overlook him flaying a man alive, and he has a wife he loves in that one, but she’s plastinated and suspended from the ceiling, so there’s a limited amount of true warmth in their scenes together.

Anyway. Frank Bela Chandler Lugosi Chandu the Magician goes into a trance while staring at, oddly enough, a photograph of Princess Nadji’s forehead (it’s supposed to be her actual head but for some reason a still image has been substituted). This allows him to get a mental image of the evil cultists and learn some semi-audible stuff about the lost continent of Lemuria.

Lemuria doesn’t get enough love, I feel. They’re just as submerged as Atlantic, but far less acclaimed.

Chandu’s astral vision has a certain grandeur, consisting as it does of a glass painting, a stock shot (double-exposed with the forehead photo — a temple atop a temple, as it were), the gate from KING KONG, a sleeping beauty and a stone cat presiding over a cult meeting. This collage of imagery serves as a siren call, luring Maria Montez to Hollywood.

This fresh, if somewhat muffled, information sends Chandu sailing away to settle the hash of these cultists and their jowly leader once and for all, a plan which allows Bela to don a fetching sailor suit. He seems to have more costume changes in this thing than Liz Taylor in CLEOPATRA. But wouldn’t you know it, as soon as he’s gone, a whammy of some form is put upon his love, compelling her to lead her friends into a DEADLY TRAP.

Getting psychic wind of this, Bela promptly turns his yacht around and rushes to the rescue.

The Princess’s whammy causes her to speak in a zombified monotone, but her friends don’t seem to notice, which does not reflect well on the rest of the leading lady’s line readings.

Chandu leads a gang of sailors into a frenzied fistfight with the Ubasti cult’s oiled and stripped-to-the-waist acolytes, and before you can say homoeroticism, the main cultist, cunningly disguised in a pith helmet, has re-re-re-abducted the Princess via the magic circle that gives this episode its name. Is it a portal to Lemuria, or merely, as the title implies, a ring of invisibility? Tune in next time, or don’t.