Wednesday, May 8, 2013

RIP Ray Harryhausen

Yesterday, May 7th 2013, the passing of Ray Harryhausen was announced. A few words are appropriate. This site is dedicated to just one of Ray's many, influential works. Actually 'influential' seems an inadequate word to me. Among  many admirers and more than a few detractors, Ray's work has become a kind of touchstone. I don't think I've past a day in my adult life where I don't think of some puppet pose, a patch of scaly skin, or stoney canyon, through a Harryhausen filter.  So engrained in my psyche are the images he created that even something as simple as  a grove of trees and tumbled down rock wall, evoke some 'Harryhausen' moment. When I was eight years old I saw "One Million Years B.C." and I was obsessed for days with the Allosaurus  and it's fluid, serpentine tail. It's ferocity, almost tangible in it's 'crazy eye'd' stare. Debates fill web pages about the efficacy of stop-motion vs. CG. There are those who, justifiably, cannot abide by  the 'strobbing' effect that is a by-product of stop-motion animation. And then there are those who look past that minor artifact and see 'Life'. There is something fantastic being offered. Something that walks out in the full light of day, with scales and muscles and satyr legs and engages in intimate combat with the little rear-screen projected protagonists. That was the kind of stuff to buy Monster mags for. To stay home 'sick' from school if "Mysterious Island" was on T.V. For thousands of young minds that inspiration led to an "I want to do that!" awakening that has spawned a vast industry. The technology that we now worship, has given Ray's, mostly well meaning, critics everything they wanted: The end of strobbing, endless motion blur, constantly moving cameras. Gone are the oft criticized, 'stagy left to right' locked down compositions. The cliche`d arm cocked stance. The grainy rear screen hot-spot in the background. Creatures now flex and bulge with wriggling skin. There are no boundaries keeping them from moving anywhere in the frame. Seven skeletons are nothing, now you can have thousands. There is no arguing that technology has given 'Life' to fantastic creatures in ways that Ray could never have dreamed of, let alone achieved with a rubber puppet and small projection screen. But there is something else that has to be admitted. Technology has obscured the artist. The product of the contemporary visual effects studio is certainly polished. That is now a given. But where do we go from here? The animated creature is mired in a world of 'sameness'. When I see a creature in a movie now I know exactly what to expect. I know the camera will move wildly in and out of the action. It will blur the image into a impressionistic collage of streaks and colors. The camera will shake with every step and obligatory roar, (just a side note: ever notice the camera shaking when a real elephant walks through a shot? I'm just saying...). Lovers of all things CG can pat themselves on the back and revel in glory of having 'pushed the envelope', I take nothing from you. But I will always extol the virtues of the 'artist' who leaves an indelible stamp on his work. I will always love the work of Ray Harryhausen because, among other things, his work reveals his person.

requiescat in pace Ray Harryhausen

No comments:

Post a Comment