Tuesday, 13 November 2012

AUDIO: Ray Harryhausen; Special Effects Titan Q&A at Gate Picturehouse

Born in the 80s? Then Christmas time, if anything like mine, was spent in front of the television, with He-Man and Moss Man figures cast aside to duel by themselves as I was enveloped in my world within that box of pixels and fluorescence.

Christmas has always been a time of favoured repetition, a day or two to relax and indulge, rarely changing from the last, doubtlessly changing much to the next. The Brussel sprouts and spring greens bubbled away as my mother conjured up a magical festive feast, sisters carried out their ritual of squabbling over their stocking filler triumphs in the background and Dad, having cleverly bored us to yawns by putting on The Great Escape, would be left in his grown-up haven of wrapping-paper strewn solitude in the living room downstairs.

Banned from the gloom of Eastenders, selectively in advance, mum would have scoured the bumper Radio Times edition for films in a bid to keep her offspring distracted. For me, it was easy pickings. Bearing in mind that my bed time stories consisted of elaborate Greek mythologies and the wonderfully grim Brothers Grimm tales that had been enjoyed many moons ago when she was new to the world also, it is my mum that I have to thank for my love of the sinister sword-wielding Skeletons and high-adventure in far off exotic lands. For every year, my ritual, without fail, was watching a Ray Harryhausen epic (or two); a damsel in distress, a hero with a cause, mighty monsters out to terrorise all who dare awaken them from their Christmas slumber. Star Wars had been on earlier, Indiana Jones would be on tomorrow, but Christmas Day, was all about Ray; proud monarch of the creature-feature.

The name 'Harryhausen' however didn't enter my vocabulary until much later. His monsters however, sorry, 'creatures' (as Harryhausen terms them), so tactile, so ground-breakingly convincing to a child’s eyes, entered my thoughts, drawings, dreams (and occasionally nightmares) immediately. Those terrifying galvanised creeks as colossal statue Talos clambers with steely cold-hearted destruction in his sandaled-steps towards Jason's Argonauts, as his Achilles heel is gouged, seeping out pink-amber molten menace. To this day, whenever I see a clip or still of mighty incubus, the Kraken, my stomach bolts tight in fear, as pure and real as the first time I witnessed a flash of the scaled tail, whipping through deep-blue saltwater darkness - and that vocal triad of horror, 'RELEASE THE KRAKEN!' summoning imminent death to the ethereal Andromeda in Clash Of The Titans. Just recounting this is a little therapeutic, as I may have just realised the root of my fear of the sea.

To name a quotient more of films that may regress you further, such as Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, The Valley of Gwangi, One Million Years B.C., Mysterious Island, The Animal World, It Came From Beneath The Sea - all I implore you to get a copy of and watch film animation history immediately. For these films all have one thing in particular in common; the imagination, craftsmanship and plain perseverance of Ray Harryhausen. Now, although never billed as a 'Ray Harryhausen film' at the time of theatrical release, over time, Ray's contribution to what we see on our film screens has been recognised. For Ray essentially single-handedly evolved stop-motion animation, on a budget, with only a couple of peers as inspiration. His home-made models took on his life with every little blink, swipe and gnash, engaging the viewer from what research Ray could afford. He had a family, but his work, or more his extended family, were cooked, warmed to life in his homestead oven. His daughter Vanessa regaled an anecdote of how their dinners used to always taste of Latex as Ray had been baking his latest creature to ripeness in time to strike a pose on set in his home-studio.

On 9th November 2012 the Gate Picturehouse at Notting Hill Gate, London, put on the first public theatrical screening of a new documentary made all about the inventor of 'Dynamation'; Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan. It was also my birthday and I could not think of a more charming way to spend my evening, than in the company of a childhood muse.

The film itself is a very impressive roll-call of Hollywood film directors, producers and animators paying homage to Ray. Also addressing the near bare-faced duplication of various scenes and creations from Ray's portfolio in modern day cinema, it was a fascinating watch, both heart-warming and informative. Particularly touching, The Martian Chronicles author Ray Bradbury makes one of his last appearances on screen, talking of their fun together as young bucks on the emerging golden Hollywood scene. From Jurassic Park to Avatar, it's evidently clear by the end of this film that Ray Harryhausen's work is in some part to be credited for their existence, be it the advance in stop-motion animation techniques and technology, to the sheer domino effect that wondrous inspiration has on other creatives.

The Q&A panel after the screening featured the films Director & Writer Gilles Penso, its Producer Alexandre Poncet and Co-producer Tony Dalton, plus Actress Caroline Munro, Director John Landis (the booming American voice you hear a lot), Animator Nick Park (who was a guest in the audience then called on stage to partake last minute) and Ray Harryhausen himself. Bearing in mind Ray is 92 (and a half, as he laughingly pointed out) at the time of recording, he is still very much full of vim and insisted to walk to and from the stage, in his own time. What a man.

I recorded the panel for your enjoyment below. It is by no means a professional recording, but hope you can make out the voices enough to not miss out entirely what was an exceptionally fantastic night for me.

What's more, if Ray's work stirs up many more memories for you too, follow and enjoy The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation and fantastic Facebook feed - set up to keep restoring all of his incredible models, artwork and films. Living memories...a very important cause for any film fan.

NB: This recording and photos must not be used anywhere without my permission or credit.

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan Q&A panel, from left to right:
Producer Alexandre Poncet, Actress Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), Author Tony Dalton, Director Gilles Penso, Director John Landis (Thriller, The Blues Brothers), Animator Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit), Ray Harryhausen (Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts).

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titans Trailer:

Clash of the Titans (1981), 'Release the Kraken':

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger Trailer (1977):

It Came From Beneath The Sea Trailer:
Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
Geek Girl, Updated at: 17:43