RAY HARRYHAUSEN: MASTER OF CINEMA MAGIC
Why is there a special place in my heart for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad? For one thing, there’s the film’s music, brimming with energy and wit that beguiled this young moviegoer from the opening credits. Years later, I would learn the composer’s name, and Bernard Herrmann was ultimately one of my favorites in the soundtrack field.
BERNARD HERRMANN Playlist on Spotify
But another obsession materializes mere minutes into Sinbad, with the entrance of the giant Cyclops, a unique monstrosity with a humanoid torso, satyr-like goat’s legs, one eye and, above that, a solitary horn. There was no way this malevolent creature could be played by a man in a suit.
The Cyclops was one of a host of mythological creatures, dinosaurs, and aliens sculpted by Ray Harryhausen and given virtual life through stop-motion animation over a 40-year career. He animated most of his “giant” creatures on a tabletop. Since film runs 24 frames per second, the animator must be patient and exact, and if the sculpture is combined with live action (such as Sinbad’s men), it’s even more complex.
Harryhausen’s personal touchstone was the original King Kong (1933), which he saw at 13 and which set him on his course. By 1949 he was working with his hero, Kong creator Willis O’Brien, on another giant-ape movie, Mighty Joe Young. For many years, these kinds of fantasy movies were few and far between…at least, until we reach the generations he influenced.
He retired after Clash of the Titans in 1981, shortly before the digital revolution supplanted his artisanal approach, but Harryhausen still had much to teach the field about personality and nuance in the fantasy arena. In the many years before his passing in 2013 he enjoyed the admiration and adulation of the many directors, animators, and visual effects professionals he inspired.
He had resided in London since the early 60s, so visits to the US became measured. At the Rafael, he clocked more visits than any other guest. While it’s tempting to attribute that fact to the quality of the theater, the reality is that he always had important stops in the Bay Area, including Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Tippett Studio.
Ray Harryhausen greets fans at the Smith Rafael Film Center – 20 Feb. 2008 | Photo © Jeff Martz
Richard Peterson, Arnold Kunart, Ray Harryhausen, Dennis Muren, Craig Barron, and Phil Tippett – 20 Feb. 2008 | Photo © Jeff Martz
Ray Harryhausen at the Smith Rafael Film Center – 2000 | Photo © Brian Lehman
On June 29, the Rafael will celebrate Ray Harryhausen’s 100th birthday with a special online gathering of friends and students of his work to share their insights and reminiscences. All of them are Academy Award® winners in the areas of visual and special effects: Craig Barron, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Phil Tippett.
CLICK HERE to register for the Livestream conversation
There are highlights to enjoy in all of Ray Harryhausen’s films, but there are some titles we can especially recommend. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) has a spectacular action climax concerning Washington, D.C. monuments. 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) features one of Harryhausen’s most memorable creatures, the Ymir, who hatches from an egg brought back from Venus and grows to unmanageable size. There’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), of course. And Jason and the Argonauts (1963) contains some of Harryhausen’s most advanced work, including a climactic battle with seven sword-wielding skeletons. Clash of the Titans (1981), his final feature film release, has several moments, including a spectacularly eerie encounter with Medusa.
– Richard Peterson, Smith Rafael Film Center Director of Programming
WATCH SOME HARRYHAUSEN CLASSICS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ONLINE: