Archive for Ray Harryhausen

Dickie Amuck

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2022 by dcairns

The same night (Saturday, at our online film club — join us?) we ran WITNESS IN THE DARK, we also looked at THE MAN UPSTAIRS, and it was an excellent night. TMU himself is the late Sir Dickie Lord Attenborough, gone berserk in a cheap flat, and beseiged by cops while his fellow lodgers try to decide amongst themselves whether to band together and help him.

It’s a knock-off of LE JOUR SE LEVE or THE LONG NIGHT, but instead of Marcel Carne or Anatole Litvak in charge it has Don Chaffey, distinctly of the B-list but he does all right here. He’s known for his Harryhausens, SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and ONE MILLIONS YEARS BC, two of my favourites, and he was headhunted by Disney which maybe kept him away from more thematically ambitious works, but here he’s on top form, apparently relishing the limitations of shooting in and around a single building. Some great angles skilfully used.

TMU is evidently a much more lavish production than WITNESS IN THE DARK, even if it keeps things small. It has proper production design, giving it a sense both of solidity and social authenticity. Admittedly, the crowd gathered outside is rather tiny, and has to be swelled by the rather noticeable presence of Dickie’s chum Bryan Forbes (at least, I think it’s him. Could be Syd Chaplin). So nobody gets clobbered with a bicycle in the crush, it wouldn’t be credible. Asides from Attenborough, there’s Bernard Lee as the mulish copper who wants to barge in with tear gas, surely precipitating tragedy, and Donald Houston as the sympathetic shrink trying to de-escalate the situation. And there’s Virginia Maskell, Kenneth Griffith, Edward Judd (way down the cast as a secondary constable) and other persons of interest.

The conflict about how to tackle mental health crises when they impact public order is still timely — the police have very little training in this important part of their job (I think they get about a day) and they’re not always inclined to thoughtful or sensitive approaches (you don’t need ANY academic qualifications to join the fuzz in this country). If you were going to design a service purely to deal with mental health crises, it wouldn’t greatly resemble the police.

This all plays out neatly through interpersonal conflict between Lee and Houston. A British film in 1954 wasn’t about to diss the police for corruption or brutality, but suggesting they can be stupid or misguided was still pretty bold. And this kind of conflict is great to make Houston look good, in his duffel coat, and to get the audience agitated, which we were.

The film is less successful in piecing together Attenborough’s character’s backstory — we get very interested by the pills he’s on, by the fact that he’s a government research scientist involved with nuclear physics — but we don’t find out anything that could serve as a commentary on the bomb, militarism, or society. The neighbours organizing to help him seem motivated by the fact that he’s an educated, middle-class chap, not some yob. In the era of the angry young man, Attenborough is a perturbed middle-aged man.

But the tension is raised nicely — there’s almost no music, just the opening titles and some very faint rhythmic sounds during the final countdown to surrender or death. It’s all done with story, performance, lighting and framing (by Gerald Gibbs who shot WHISKY GALORE!), and editing (John Trumper, who cut GET CARTER). A slight overuse of the cucalorus, but those abstract, unmotivated shadows are lovely so I can’t begrudge them.

Shoot the Moon

Posted in FILM with tags , , on September 16, 2022 by dcairns

MUCH too busy to write anything today but here I go anyway, inflicting more Emile Cohl on you.

While Melies sometimes seems quasi-incoherent, that always feels like a deliberate quality. Cohl’s ambitions sometimes cause him to do things that aren’t legible to the viewer, though maybe seeing his films large would help. It’s not just that I’m prone to forgetting what a hope chest is. In FANTASMAGORIE, some of the inventive action and transformations occur too rapidly for even the minimal surreal logic underpinning them to be apparent.

In this one, CLAIR DE LUNE ESPAGNOL (1909), the floating thingy that snags the hero as he attempts suicide is too small to be discerned, but in 35mm on a big screen it’d probably be clear. A shooting star, going horizontal/upwards? The logic underlying an intertitle stating that we’re “dans la lune” when in fact we’re on some kind of balcony with the moon visible in the sky, is opaque to me, but maybe the intertitle is a later imposition or at any rate written by other, sillier hands.

All the interactions between our irate, lunophobic Spaniard and the anthropomorphic satellite are EXTREMELY well done — when he throws a live action axe and hits his target with a hand-drawn one, the continuity of action anticipates Ray Harryhausen’s tricks with spears and lassos.

The use of a telescope cues a POV shot of the injured moon, which seems extremely modern.

It does seem — from the way the Spaniard turns into a rigid dummy (unless he’s very good at maintaining an erect poise while being lifted by head and feet) and slung from the balcony, that we’re meant to be in the heavens, if not on the moon itself. I’m no astronomer but it does seem dangerously ambiguous. “You can’t fly to the moon on a fraction.”

Our bolero-jacketed lover crashes back to earth and makes sweet with his paramour. It’s never been clear what the source of their quarrel was, but being stabbed by a bloke in pajamas has apparently made everything right. If only real life were like that.

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.