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The Screening Room

 

What a week! First Spielberg, now Harryhausen!

The American Cinematheque and Arnold Kunert held a tribute to the visual effects icon, Ray Harryhausen. This included a book signing at the Every Picture Tells A Story bookstore, and a screening with live commentary at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, CA on February 17, 2008. The book signing filled the quaint bookstore almost to capacity, and sold out the Aero located across the street. Lines snaked down Montana Avenue and around the corner. The winter chill of Santa Monica wouldn't stop die hard fans of Harryhausen.

Fans were given two opportunities to see Harryhausen in-person. One was at Every Picture Tells A Story, in which fans asked him to sign posters, books, and figurines. Two was across the street at the Aero Theatre, where fans got a chance to watch "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958) with a live commentary with Harryhausen, Kunert, Phil Tippett, Randy Cook, actress Kathryn Grant (who played Princess Parisia), and biographer Steven Smith. The show was a lot of fun and very interactive for the audience. People were allowed to shout out questions to the panel. One lady even asked for the projectionist to turn up the dialogue on the movie. She was politely "booed" by the audience. Harryhausen was charming in answering questions during the film presentation.

Harryhausen didn't invent stop-motion animation, but he certainly refined it and made it his own. For many years, visual effects were relegated to B-movies and seen by many as simple diversions, rather than artistic achievement. Harryhausen, among many visual effects artists of the 1950s and 1960s, carried on with their craft and created some of the most memorable images in cinematic history. Harryhausen, with his keen eye on detail and personality in his amazing creatures, set a high standard for visual effects. His creatures weren't merely animated to look like a neat effect. They lived and breathed, hurt and cried out in pain. Some of the visual effects today, although extraordinary in their believability and technical prowess, lack the charm of Harryhausen's creations.

One of my favorite Harryhausen creations is that of the skeleton warriors in "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963). Those skeletons scared me as a kid, yet totally fascinated me, too! It was noted during the live commentary that Harryhausen's skeletons had that "Harryhausen frown." His skeletons usually had a mean scowl on their boney faces, and down right looked creepy and cool. I guess I wasn't the only one who thought Harryhausen's skinless warriors were a bit frightening.

"I don't know why everybody's afraid of skeletons," paraphrasing Harryhausen that evening. "Everybody's got one!"

Numerous visual effects artists of today cite Harryhausen as a huge influence, if not the influence on their career direction. "Monsters Inc." (2001) has a playful reference to Ray. Phil Tippett and Dennis Muren (who was supposed to be on-hand had to bow out due to the flu) are among Harryhausen's elite disciples.

It was a delight to see Harryhausen, who in his eighties, still works his animation magic.

 

Every Picture Tells A Story is a quaint book and artwork store on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, CA

This picture doesn't show the many additional fans behind the lens waiting to see Mr. Harryhausen (center)

Ray Harryhausen signs posters and books for fans

The master of incredible stop-motion animation and visual effects signs his name

Harryhausen greets a fan with "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" star Kathryn Grant sitting beside him

The line for the Harryhausen show stretched around the block and down the street

The sign says it all

The Aero auditorium gets packed -- The arrow is pointing to legendary stop-motion animator Phil Tippett

Grant played the beautiful Princess Parisia in "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad"

Harryhausen greets a receptive audience (Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven Smith and Kathryn Grant look on)


Special thanks to Kim Lavery, Gene Kozicki and Arnold Kunert
Photos 2008 Bill Kallay. All rights reserved.

 
 
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