Archive for unborn calf skin

The fur problem

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 28, 2008 by dcairns

So, at the Ray Harryhausen In Person event we got to ask questions, and I had fortunately thought one up. I knew the story about KING KONG and the fur problem. Animator Willis H. O’Brien (Obie) made a test reel for the 1933 KONG and was very nervous about the results because he had encountered a problem with the gorilla puppet — Kong’s fur got moved about by Obie’s fingers manipulating the puppet, so that when the film was run, although the figure moved in a lifelike-for-1933 way (everything was jerkier back then — look at Herbert Hoover) the fur shimmered and flickered about, betraying the impression of the animators fingertips. Obie showed the footage to producer Merian C. Cooper, fearing the worst.

But Cooper was delighted — “You even got his fur rippling in the breeze!”

In later films with animated furry creatures, like MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, on which Harryhausen did most of the animation, with Obie as supervisor, the fur does NOT ripple to the same extent. So I asked, “How did you solve the fur problem?” I presumed there WAS an answer…

“Unborn calf skin,” said Ray H. It seems that while Kong was coated with rabbit fur, which is very fine, later apes and other shaggy beasts got unborn calf skin, which is even finer and has a natural tendency to spring back into place, and could be rubberized. Also, Harryhausen would operate the puppets mainly from the back to minimise visible alteration of the fur.

It’s a little grisly, but now we know.

Eating Duras

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2008 by dcairns

Everybody who’s done the long-haul film festival thing will have experienced screenings where they suddenly realise they’re too tired to take in what’s happening on the screen. I got tired just a few days into the E.I.F.F. but now I seem to be floating along on a cloud of cinema, still exhausted (I fell asleep this morning and was nearly late for Jeanne Moreau’s L’ADOLESCENTE) but unable to really feel it.

At the screening of Marguerite Duras’ NATHALIE GRANGER yesterday, I had a different problem. It was noon, and I hadn’t eaten that morning, and suddenly I found myself famished. The film is, on the surface, extremely uneventful, following Lucia Bosé and Jeanne Moreau as they float around Duras’ house in capes, do housework, listen to the news, and talk on the phone (but not so much to each other, face to face). As with many “avant garde” films, one is able to think one’s own thoughts, influenced by the film, rather than being completely wrapped up in an unfolding narrative and thinking only the movie’s thoughts.

This led to an unusual viewing experience for me, since what I was thinking about desperately was food. How I would never go anywhere without a snack again. And how I would like to climb up on the screen like Buster Keaton in SHERLOCK JNR and eat the food on it. That apple is the size of a refrigerator! It’s grey, this being a b&w film, but what the hell. People in b&w movies live on grey food and it doesn’t seem to do them any harm. I guess the skin of the apple would be pretty thick, hard to break through, and the surface curves too gently for a person to bit into it. But I could throw my arms around the apples and smell it and maybe cut a piece off with a knife, if I could find one small enough to lift. Or wait until a longshot appears, and the apples are a more normal size.

A baguette the size of a couch! I could break through the crust and crawl inside, tearing at the soft flesh of the bread and cramming it into my mouth, entering the bread and curling up inside, protected by the brittle carapace of the crust and pillowed by fluffy loaf-matter.

Anyhow, that’s what the film made me think of.

EXCEPT for the sudden burst of — what? comedy? — as a painfully young Gerard Depardieu shambles in, and attempts to sell the ladies a washing machine. The youthful Depardieu is always a startling sight for those who know the beefy lummox of today. That impossibly long, strange face, apparently assembled in armature form out of leg-bones, then covered in a translucent coating of unborn calf skin and decorated with a mop. Yet it speaks! And attempts to sell a Vedetta-Tabard washing machine. The ladies stare coolly at Mr. D., giving nothing back as he sweats and stutters his way through a prolonged, incoherent sales pitch. Finally, utterly defeated, he goes to look at their present washing machine. He staggers back, somehow EVEN MORE defeated. “It’s a Vedetta-Tabard,” he mutters, aghast at the cruelty.