“I’ve been responsible for destroying New York, San Francisco, and Washington....”
Next week, this destructive man will come to Boulder.
The man is Ray Harryhausen, and the quote, from a documentary called The Harryhausen Chronicles, refers to his long and illustrious career in special effects.
Inspired at age of 13 by the special effects work of Willis O’Brien in King Kong, Harryhausen became the king of stop-motion animation. His work includes Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.
He is coming to Boulder as part of the Haunted Carnival, Boulder’s first cooperative film festival of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Five Boulder film series the International Film Series, the Boulder Public Library Film Series, the Outdoor Cinema, the Chautauqua Film Series and the Boulder Theater will join forces to scare, amaze and inspire audiences.
On Friday, July 10, Harryhausen will attend the BPL showing of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. After the movie, he will take questions from the audience.
IFS will show a 35mm print of It Came from Beneath the Sea (in which Harryhausen’s giant octopus destroys San Francisco) on Saturday and Sunday, July 11 and 12.
On Sunday, July 12, Harryhausen will attend the IFS screening of Jason and the Argonauts, after which he will take questions from the audience
All of these films are available on video and LaserDisc, but according to Harryhausen, that’s no substitute for film projected onto a giant movie screen.
“Films when I grew up were unique. Now people are so jaded they have entertainment from films at home, in the bars, everywhere. You have to see them on the big screen. For the people who see King Kong for the first time on a little box, it’s not the same picture that you see on a big, 30Ä foot, 40Ä foot screen.”
But if you can come to only one Haunted Carnival event, you may want to skip the big-screen showings to attend the IFS forum at 7:00 on July 11, called “Beauty of the Beast.” Harryhausen will present a demo reel of some of his work, and he will bring some of the wire-frame models he used in making his films.
“I’ll bring probably Medusa [from Clash of the Titans] and maybe a flying saucer [from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers], a figurehead from Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and possibly a skeleton [from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts].”
The swordfighting skeletons Harryhausen animated have become something of a trademark for him. “They’re my best friends of course,” he said. Asked if there was any danger in transporting the skeleton model he said no, there isn’t, because “he has his own little coffin.”
Skeletons coming to life and attacking men with swords may seem like the stuff of nightmares, but Harryhausen’s films are not horrific.
“Ray is very quick to point out that he has never made a horror picture. He doesn’t want to disgust people, he wants to awe them and inspire them,” said Brock McDaniel, a Boulder filmmaker and a huge fan of Harryhausen’s.
Harryhausen confirms this: “We’ve never made a horror film. What we tried to do is to make fantasy films, storybook ideas that you used to only read about.”
At first, the subjects of Harryhausen’s films were dinosaurs and alien creatures, but later, he began to make movies based on Greek mythology and the Arabian Nights. And though there are some frightening characters, the movies themselves are more fantastic than horrifying.
Harryhausen’s last film, a heroic tale based on Greek myths, was Clash of the Titans, released 17 years ago. After taking three years to complete that project, he retired.
“I got tired of being in a dark room making one film while everybody else goes and makes three.” There were also other reasons for his retirement. “People seem to want something of the future rather than the past. Elements of an explosion every five minutes didn’t appeal to me like Greek mythology.”
So does Harryhausen still go to the movies?
“Seldom. I find movies today are far too violent and far too oversexed. They dwell on the negative values of life rather than the positive. That’s not my cup of tea.”
“I certainly don’t approve of anti-heroes. I think the hero should wear the white hat and the villain should wear the black hat. Maybe that’s oldÄfashioned, but I think it’s very harmful to make the villain a semiÄhero. I think it creates a problem in our society and everybody’s afraid to say it because there’s so much money involved.”
If the content of movies has changed from Harryhausen’s heyday, so too has the look and sound of them. When a fantasy movie gets made today it is much more likely to use animatronic puppets and computer-generated graphics than stop-motion photography.
Harryhausen acknowledges the advances made by computer graphics, but he doesn’t see them as a perfect substitute for stop motion.