Friday, May 31, 2013

Françoise Blanchard (1954-2013)

Very sorry to learn of the death, on May 29, of French actress Françoise Blanchard at the much too young age of 58. She was best known for playing the title role in Jean Rollin's THE LIVING DEAD GIRL; it is one of the most moving performances to be found in his work. She also appeared in Rollin's THE SIDEWALKS OF BANGKOK and LA NUIT DES HORLOGES (her last movie), Jess Franco's GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS and she also played the role of Melissa (originated by Diana Lorys in THE AWFUL DR ORLOF) in  Franco's REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER. Among her many dubbing credits is Olive Oyl in the French dub of Robert Altman's POPEYE. No cause of death has yet been reported.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Beware the "EROTIPHILE" Process!

Last night I finished a mammoth side job: scripting and recording audio commentaries for three forthcoming Jess Franco titles for Redemption/Kino Lorber Blu-ray and DVD: THE AWFUL DR ORLOF (1962), NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (1970) and A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1971, for which I commented on the original director's cut entitled CHRISTINA, PRINCESS OF EROTICISM). While preparing my commentary for ORLOF, I dug out my pressbook for the original theatrical release, which was the bottom half of Sigma III Corporation's double bill with Riccardo Freda's THE HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK.

The pressbook is a riot; it freely throws around the word "necrophilia" (the subject of the Freda film) as if confident that maybe only one in a thousand people in those days would know what it meant. In fact, it presents the transcript of a radio spot tape whose 30 second spot begins:

ANNOUNCER 1: NECROPHILIA - N.E.C.R.O.P.H.I.L.I.A. Look it up in your dictionary. Horrible!
ANNOUNCER 2: (Gleeful in contrast to Number 1): And then go see THE HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK!

The pressbook also offers the promotional card shown above as a free giveaway item for kiddie matinees. One thing you need to know is that the exposed fleshy parts of the cartoon girl's body have been covered in some kind of pink felt; it feels good when you touch it.

In case you can't read the text, here's what the card says:

The girl's figure on this card has been treated with the "EROTIPHILE" process.
You will find it pleasurable to stroke it gently with your fingertips.
However, prolonged stroking may be dangerous. You might become obsessed with the same desires that overcame Dr Hichcock as he caressed his victims! Were that to occur, not even Dr Orlof could help you.

These things were sold in units of 1000 for only $24 and, boy, do I wish they were still available. What stocking stuffers they'd make.

Another thing I noticed about this pressbook is that it lists the director of THE AWFUL DR ORLOF as Jess Franco. This may not seem strange, but consider: On the original Spanish release prints, the director was credited as Jesús Franco. On French and English export prints, he was credited as Jess Frank -- which is how Franco was billed onscreen until he began working for producer Harry Alan Towers circa 1967. Franco is not mentioned by name on any of Sigma III's double bill posters, so it doesn't appear there. The pressbook dates from 1964, so -- as far as I can tell -- it may well be the earliest appearance of the name Franco would later adopt and by which he would become best-known.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Arm of God: Peter Cushing (1913-1994)

In acknowledgement of tomorrow's 100th anniversary of Peter Cushing's birth, I have decided to join my friend Pierre Fournier's Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon by reprinting here -- for the first time anywhere -- the following essay, originally written for the November 1994 issue of FILM COMMENT.  

WHEN PETER CUSHING, O.B.E., died at a Canterbury hospice in the early morning hours of August 11, 1994, devotées of the fantastic cinema experienced an unprecedented loss. The great figureheads of horror—Chaney, Karloff, Lugosi, Price—were a sympathetic lot, but their careers are remembered as campaigns of villainy. Cushing, on the other hand, was unique in that he will be remembered as horror's first truly heroic actor. Whether creating life as Baron Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and its five sequels, or destroying the Undead as Dr. Van Helsing in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and four of its sequels, Cushing—more vividly than any other actor—seemed to inhabit the sliver of space between the fingers of Michelangelo's God and Adam; at his best, he was like the Arm of God, channeling a greater spiritual current into the genre's battles of Good vs. Evil than they had ever known before, or probably ever will again.
 DRACULA, 1958
             Born May 26, 1913, in Kenley, Surrey ("between the towns of Ham and Sandwich," as he was fond of noting), Peter Wilton Cushing became enamored at an early age with movies, particularly the American westerns of Tom Mix. At 25, he decided to become an actor, and jumping past British regional theater, sailed to Hollywood on a one-way ticket. He was not unlucky: his first job was acting opposite Louis Heyward in THE MAN WITH THE IRON MASK (1939)—feeding Hayward the dialogue of his twin brother and later being matted out of the split-screen shots by Hayward himself. The tyro was so well-liked by the cast and crew that he was given a line and a brief sword-fighting scene as the Royal Messenger. Hayward and wife Ida Lupino befriended Cushing offscreen, giving him free room and board and introducing him to company as their "son." Their camaraderie enabled the struggling actor to land two more plumb assignments in Hollywood's most golden year: bit parts opposite Laurel & Hardy in A CHUMP AT OXFORD and Carole Lombard in VIGIL IN THE NIGHT (released 1940). Eighth-billed in the latter film, Cushing was soon accepting work in features and shorts that failed to bill him at all. Homesick, broke and concerned for his country's fate in the face of war, Cushing bade his Hollywood friends farewell and worked his way home—pausing in Canada to labor in a motion picture art department, painting swastikas for Michael Powell's THE 49th PARALLEL.
            Back in England, Cushing was declined for active wartime service and resumed acting in the Entertainment National Service Association, where he met Helen Beck, a willful blonde actress whom he married in 1943. Experience on the stage strengthened Cushing's acting skills, bringing him to the attention of Laurence Olivier, who cast him as Osric in his 1947 film production of HAMLET. Expecting this coup to result in an avalanche of film offers, Cushing was gravely disappointed: he didn't make another film until six years later, when he won a small role in John Huston's MOULIN ROUGE (1952). Even that opportunity did not arise until Helen, sensing a growing despair in her inactive husband, wrote letters to several British production companies to inform them that Peter Cushing was available for hire. Though unknown to the general public, Helen was correct in sensing that his work was familiar to industry insiders, and the ploy resulted in several serious offers.
NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR, broadcast December 12, 1954
             Between 1951 and 1956, Peter Cushing was the centerpiece of 23 dramas broadcast live by the BBC on Saturday nights (with a Thursday night repeat performance—also live). He became Britain's first television star, winning the industry's "Best Actor" award for three consecutive years and, far dearer, the eponym "Mr. Television." He capped his reign with a legendary performance as Winston Smith in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (1956), which survives on kinescope only in its Thursday night edition. Cushing once criticized this repeat performance as an exhausted, mechanical walk-through of the original Saturday broadcast, but, shown last year on BBC as part of a tribute to producer Rudolph Cartier, it remains the definitive dramatization of Orwell's dystopian novel—an achingly human, yet terrifying exploration of nostalgia in an age yet to come.
            During the early 1950s, Cushing distinguished himself in a number of small film roles—most notably, as Deborah Kerr's cuckolded husband in THE END OF THE AFFAIR (1954)—but he was beloved in England for appearing in remakes of foreign theatrical hits, customized to suit the British viewing public. Thus, when Hammer Film Productions decided to jump-start the comatose horror market with the first color remake of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, Cushing was their first choice for the title role. Directed with surgical candor and fairy tale grace by Terence Fisher, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was greeted with flaring tempers by the same critics who later suggested that Powell's PEEPING TOM be swept down the nearest sewer. As time has shown, they were seeing neither film for what it was—but rather shrilly lamenting a presumed decline from the upper crust origins of Cushing and Powell.
            As played by Cushing, Baron Frankenstein was the genre's first authentic anti-hero. Meticulously developed over the course of a half-dozen films (all but one directed by Fisher)—THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958), THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964; directed by Freddie Francis), FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967), FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974)—he is also its most fully-delineated character. The Baron, like many other Cushing characters, is a man whose mind is aflame with the vision of a better world. His determination has nothing to do with restoring life to the dead—he conquers that one easily enough—but as the films progress, he becomes quixotically concerned with rescuing from oblivion the values of humankind that are stolen from us every day by age, death and disease: talent, experience, genius. Toward the achievement of that end, the Baron is blindly dedicated, candidly misanthropic and ultimately ruthless. His unpredictability, progressive scientific intelligence, and unwillingness to suffer fools gladly make him a close cousin of Sherlock Holmes, another role that Cushing played with great success in films (1959's THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and 1984's THE MASKS OF DEATH) and on British series television.
            After THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Cushing and co-star Christopher Lee were promptly cast in another, more exciting remake—HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)—which many fans still hold to be the definitive filming of Bram Stoker's perpetually filmed novel. Here, Cushing confronted Lee's Dracula in his other signature role of Dr. Van Helsing, wielding the cross without the condescension of Edward Van Sloan, or the bombast of countless other interpreters, but with a formidable religious conviction. When we consider the outstanding actors (including Olivier and Anthony Hopkins) who found no more to the character than a broad ethnic lampoon, Cushing's resolute, athletic, well-armed soldier of Christ becomes all the more remarkable. Van Helsing's greatest moment occurs at the film's finale—an idea suggested by Cushing himself—when, seemingly cornered by Dracula, he bounds onto a banquet table, races to a window and rips the curtains down, engulfing the vampire in a blast of morning sunlight. For once the genre had managed to create a hero as dashing and unpredictable as his adversary.
DRACULA A.D. 1972, 1973
            Cushing and Lee became the Karloff and Lugosi of the postwar era, making a score of scary films together, including Hammer's oneiric remake of THE MUMMY (1959), the gripping Freddie Francis film THE SKULL (1965) and NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT (1972), the only film made under the banner of Lee's short-lived Charlemagne Productions. Their final collaboration was the joint narration of FLESH AND BLOOD: THE HAMMER HERITAGE OF HORROR, a video documentary about their old stomping grounds, which aired by the BBC on two consecutive Saturday nights—bookending the week that Cushing died of cancer—allowing the actor's career to end where his fame had begun.
            When Cushing's wife died of emphysema in 1971, his screen persona—always metaphysical—darkened and became inseparable from his mourning. No more heroes; he was drawn to playing widowers, antique dealers, men with dead children, old soldiers and booksellers, men with ancient codes of chivalry, amputees. He kept the pain close to the surface: as the pathetic widower Arthur Grimsdyke in TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972), he speaks to a photograph he addresses as "Helen," and in THE GHOUL (1974), he used an actual photo of his late wife as a prop, reportedly suffering a breakdown while filming a tearful soliloquy about his (fictional) wife's suicide.
            After years of tragic self-indulgence, Cushing was enticed by George Lucas to play the empirically evil Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS (1977). He would follow it with a dozen other movies, but Tarkin is the last top-flight Peter Cushing performance—every bit as cold and imperious as the Baron on a disagreeable day. For all its ALEXANDER NEVSKY Storm Troopers, the most purely Eisensteinian moment in STAR WARS is the final shot of Tarkin, just before the Death Star explodes: Cushing's pensive, avian features caught in arch, expressionistic profile as he listens for the Big Bang.
 STAR WARS, 1977
            After Peter Cushing, the elementary definitions of Good and Evil—which had dominated the fantastic cinema since its inception—were no longer acceptable. Working from a basic Christian belief that God made everyone, and that Satan tempts us through our weaknesses, he took the genre's sense of character on a quantum leap toward a new complexity, forcing the spiritual war that takes place within us all onto higher ground—namely, the silver screen.
            Perhaps for these reasons, while recently screening Steven Spielberg's SCHINDLER'S LIST, I found myself wondering what Cushing—in his prime—might have done with Liam Neeson's role. At first, I found the daydream perverse, but as Spielberg's masterpiece unfurled its deeply felt concerns with the issues of Good and Evil, and their respective mysteries, I understood that it was fully compatible with the prevailing concerns of Cushing's own oeuvre. Indeed, as Neeson displayed the facets of his memorable character—a cigarette, a fashtidious German accent, the romantic yet baleful gaze of a soul trapped in twilight—I realized that Cushing had indeed been that person onscreen many times before.
            As that film says in its own way, a man who makes a difference is never gone.

Text (c) 1994, 2013 by Tim Lucas

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Return of Biffle & Shooster: IT'S A FRAME-UP

I had the excellent good fortune this evening to be part of a private audience for Michael Schlesinger's directorial debut IT'S A FRAME-UP, which I believe has so far been screened only at Cinefest in Syracuse. Honestly, the last thing I expected from Michael was an art film. BUT IT'S AN ART FILM! You might think I'm saying this because it's set in a gallery and it has a Mona Lisa joke... and I sort of am, because a funny movie makes me want to crack jokes of my own. But, more than that, it's an art film because it's a pitch-perfect, impeccably studied recreation of the classic two-reel comedy style, featuring a no-longer-fictional pair of knuckleheads named Biffle & Shooster. An opening card, like something you'd find stuck on the front of a Raymond Rohauer acquisition, sets the stage for this "derivative" vaudeville act from an alternative past.

I've always known two basic things about comedy: 1) that the Three Stooges were great artists, and 2) that SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and the exodus of its cast members to the big screen basically killed screen comedy back in the 1970s. Aside from Larry Blamire's surrealist soundings of the funnybone (and some of their veterans -- and at least one of their props -- are found here, including Michael), I can't think of any other intentional comedies of recent years that have given me so many, or so many varied, big laughs in the space of 30 minutes. IT'S A FRAME-UP is chock-full of jokes: verbal, visual, crass, subtle, sensible, surrealist, nerdy, knowledgeable, physical, quotational, inside, outside, with one or two that literally hide in plain sight. I don't think even one of its jokes is topical, and not one is fart-related or in poor taste. Its sense of humor takes the Jules White tradition to a meta level; it's set in the past (well, "a" past) and manages to be true to that style and those comic traditions without entirely dwelling there. And it's not just slapstick because the more you know about this art form, the more richly you will laugh. At the same time, you could show this film to kids, adults, old people and film buffs and they would all get a different handle on it.

In short, it's both classical and contemporary, and it makes what has basically been a dead art form for the past 50 years feel vital once again. It deserves to be widely seen and enjoyed -- and that enjoyment cannot help but spread backwards to renewed interest in vault items as well as forward to new adventures. IT'S A FRAME-UP is now available for festival screenings. Michael and his crew are hoping to do more; they have titles and loglines prepared for more than 20 additional Biffle & Shooster shorts, including BLAND HOTEL, THE BRIDE OF FINKLESTEIN, FLYING DOWN TO LEO and OF HUMAN BANDAGE.

Netflix, this should be your next original series.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fear and Monkey Business at Wonderfest 2013

Donna and I with Rondo presenters Nurse Moan-eek (Linda Wylie) and David Colton.

It was an unusual Wonderfest for Donna and me, but also a very happy and successful one. Aside from two brief meetings with Sara Karloff, who had a very warm handshake and seemed a genuinely nice lady, I didn't meet any of the guests. That's not why I go to Wonderfest; I go to see those friends I am not able to see at any other time of the year. I didn't get downstairs to the Dealers' Rooms till an hour before they closed on Sunday, and I didn't cover all the ground or buy a single thing -- with the exception of William Stout's must-have new book LEGENDS OF THE BLUES, which I arranged to obtain from him in advance. I saw Lee Meriwether (my favorite Catwoman since 1966) from afar, thought to myself that I really didn't have anything to say to her that she wouldn't have heard at least a millllion times before (I mean, Donnie Waddell had already played the 4D MAN card), so I decided to keep our happy relationship as it was: real but unrealized, and all in my mind.

A large number of the people we usually see at Wonderfest weren't there this year. No Bob and Kathy, no Frank and Trish, no David J. Schow or Larry Underwood or John Davis, and a few of the Nashville contingent showed up stag, leaving their better halves at home. Most significantly, Gary L Prange wasn't able to host his Old Dark Clubhouse for personal reasons, so Donna and I accepted to pick up the slack by hosting a hospitality suite for our group of friends. We dubbed it The Kogar Suite, in honor of the great ape Kogar and his keepers, our dear friends Bob and Kathy Burns, who have always been as central to the friendships formed at this convention as a family hearth. We informed them of our plans and they provided us with a disc of photos pertaining to Bob's career as the mighty gorilla Kogar -- including his encounters with Elsa Lanchester, Fred MacMurray, Glenn Strange and Rat Pfink a Boo Boo -- which we used to decorate the place, along with other adornments. Chris and Lisa Herzog, who took the other adjoining room and helped out with the suite, brought along a wondrous assortment of monkey-related things, including a monkey piñata (which Lisa called "the monkey autopsy" after hollowing out its belly and filling it with candy) and that perennial game of skill and patience known as Barrelful of Monkeys (in red and green), which -- before the weekend ended, had joined hands and were literally swinging from the chandeliers).

Donna and Lisa Herzog, who painted this fearsome likeness of Kogar for our Wonderfest suite.

With a small select group of early arrivals, including Rondomeister David Colton and his wife Eileen, we toasted Bob and Kathy and our other absent friends. The first surprise of the weekend concerned an absent friend. Literally for months and months, there had been a lot of backstage whispering going on because Jessica Lentz was preparing a surprise 50th birthday party for her husband Jerry, which was going to be the centerpiece of our suite's Saturday night activities. When Jessica and her daughter Erin arrived, they brought  plenty of food with them to be refrigerated... but alas, no Jerry Lentz. Not feeling well, he opted to stay behind in Nashville. Even after the beans were spilled to him about the party plans, he didn't feel well enough to attend. But Jessica didn't want to disappoint Erin, whom she thought would enjoy the show, and Donna introduced her to some of our annual sushi pleasures at Sapporo in Bardstown which, I repeat as I do whenever I mention it, offers The Best Sushi in the World.

Me with Jessica "JL2" Lentz, whom you may remember as our Inside Back Cover model in VIDEO WATCHDOG 165!

As I look back over the weekend, it seems even blurrier than usual and I seem to be having a harder time than usual recovering from it, so I must have had a wonderful time. I certainly had a marvelous time at the Eleventh Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, about which David Colton was a wee bit trepidatious because the majority of acceptances this year were going to be absentees who sent in videos... but it was still a very entertaining program, thanks to the complementary chemistry of the tuxedoed David and his comic foil Nurse Moan-eek (VW's own Linda Wylie). I was especially pleased to accept awards for Writer of the Year and Best Themed Issue (for VIDEO WATCHDOG's DARK SHADOWS round table issue) and to see my pal Stephen R. Bissette inducted into the Rondo Hall of Fame by fellow artist and dinophile Bill Stout. I thought for sure that Bill and I would have an intensive one-on-one conversation about a project we've been discussing for a couple of years now, especially since the weekend was immediately preceded by a sudden flurry of excited emails from Bill, but sadly, that conversation didn't happen. He was present and involved in other discussions of earth-shaking import, however. I almost missed saying goodbye to him, as I found him hastily packing up to catch his plane as I finally made it downstairs to his table. He is due back for Vinylfest in July, however, and I hope to see him then.

Chris and Lisa Herzog, MONSTER KID HOME MOVIES producer Joe Busam, Rondo-winning artist Mark Maddox, Yours Truly and Ted Haycraft discussing something or other in the Louisville Crowne Plaza's Suite 572.  Photo courtesy of Abigail Yates.

I spent most of my time talking with Chris and Lisa, VW 171 cover artist Mark Maddox (who bailed early and did not say goodbye - he will be dealt with later), Frankensteinia blogger Pierre Fournier and Denise Gascon, Max "The Drunkenseveredhead" Cheney and Jane Considine, sushi neighbor Rodney Barnett (who's on some kind of jungle girl movie kick), Danya Linehan and Mike Parks, Ted Haycraft, Donnie Waddell, Carrie Galloway, Melinda Angstrom (who arrived on Sunday night and joined Donnie in a hilarious, extended comedy pas de deux), Ethan Black and newcomer Abigail Yates... In fact, as Donna noted later, there were more women in the hospitality suite than she remembers ever seeing. We counted seventeen. I did not have sufficient time to speak with the charming Belle Dee, the dimpled Terry Pace, the zennish Scott "Belmo" Belmer, the itinerant Steve Iverson or the injured Dave Thomas, which I regret. I'm a bad host; I can help provide the space for friends but I'm not so good at circulating. I tend to sit in one place, get into conversations and delight as they widen and deepen.

Anyway, a lovely time as always, over much too soon. The Kogar Suite was a great success and it shall be again.   

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

He Moved Us: Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)

There could be no "right" time to awaken to the news of Ray Harryhausen's death at the age of 92. His was a life well-lived, a career well-played, and a legacy well-acknowledged; even so, such news crashes, flying saucer-like, into the wide-eyed child in all of us, whom he entertained for so many decades with ideas and imagery consistently larger than life.

He was not the originator but rather the exemplar of stop-motion animation. He took a scientific principle and gave it a consistency and character that was never-before-seen yet part of an essential tradition of storytelling traceable to the earliest etchings on cavern walls, when stories were brought to life by flickering candlelight rather than a rattling neighborhood movie projector. For the Baby Boomer generation, Ray Harryhausen was Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, La Fontaine and the Arabian Nights all rolled into one, himself animated by a heart of adventure whose depth and scope were worthy of H. Rider Haggard.

For those of us who saw his work writ large on theater screens, his name summons a seemingly endless ribbon of marvels, unforgettable scenes all the more remarkable in that they were the work of a single man working in a kind of Aladdin's cave of lights, scale models, measuring instruments and rubberized armatures given the illusion of life one meticulous frame at a time. Many of us took our first step beyond monsters, beyond makeup into the larger realm of special effects, under his guiding wing. Anyone who can speak effectively about what made Ray Harryhausen great will note the jagged, angular quality of his stop-motion work, a quality also present in the work of his mentor Willis O'Brien and in that of colleagues like Jim Danforth and David Allen, but there is an additional sleekness, an energy, a tail-thrashing alacrity, a more far-reaching sense of vision in Harryhausen's executions that lends them powers wholly their own. There is something about his fabulous creatures that is both not quite real and yet captivating in a manner that seems to exceed reality and tap directly into the way we imagine, the way we dream.

Moreover, life seemed to burst forth from his creations with a robust exuberance that left the viewer no room to experience anything but awe. When the Cyclops roars into view for the first time in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, it wasn't just cinema that changed; we all changed -- and you can go through his admirably compact filmography one picture at a time and see how each project advanced not only his art but the art form itself. His BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS seems to stand on the shoulders of Willis O'Brien's work in the silent version of THE LOST WORLD, rising ever higher to give us the cinema's first full-scale dinosaur invasion of a modern city, with sound and an attention to detail that went well beyond the anecdotal. In IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, it was the challenge of animating a series of tentacles -- a dry run for the skeleton armies yet to come, if you will. In EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, it was in the way he achieved a personality for the saucers themselves and dazzled us with suggestions of their vast size by having them interact with reality in matte shots and scale models. In 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, he produced his first superstar, the Ymir, an alien creature wholly of his own design and, for the first time, thoroughly enriched with character and pathos. And yet the leap from that remarkable accomplishment to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD was almost incomprehensible because, in the course of one story, he gave us an entire bag of tricks, presenting us with seemingly infinite variety -- the Cyclops, the Auk, the Dragon, only to top them all with the unimaginable technical challenge of the Skeleton Army. Though the quality of his own contribution was always impeccable, the rest of these films were generally left in the hands of B-picture directors like Nathan Juran, causing serious imbalances in the overall end products; only Bernard Herrmann, who scored his best work, seemed capable of lending the level of support his genius warranted. When he made JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS in 1963, working with director Don Chaffey, his level of quality was carried throughout the entire production. It remains the citadel of his work and one of the greatest fantasy films of all time. It's the favorite film of a lot of little boys inside a lot of grown men, and had it come out of nowhere -- like the original KING KONG -- it would likely be much better appreciated as the miracle that it is. 

Thanks to the "protection" of his faithful producer Charles H. Schneer, Harryhausen continued to make his leaps and bounds in a blessed state of hermetic purity until the 1970s, when Steven Spielberg and a malfunctioning robot shark redefined cinematic spectacle and Hollywood found new ways for the cart to drag the horse. He had also risen himself, on his waves of success, to a level of production where too much money was riding on his projects to rest too much on the shoulders of a single man. In Harryhausen's last couple of films, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER and CLASH OF THE TITANS, you can feel his Old World craftsmanship being prodded along by New World production schedules; for the first time, he was being dogged by deadlines, required to hire assistants, to farm out sequences to other animators, and generally pick his battles, reserving his full mastery for those sequences that would best be served by it, like the unforgettable Medusa sequence in CLASH. With word being bandied about of a next project, SINBAD GOES TO MARS, Harryhausen glumly noted "like Abbott and Costello" and announced his retirement in 1984.

Without Harryhausen as an inexhaustible topic of discussion, we would very likely not have anything like the widespread consciousness about special effects that people have today. In 1971, Ernest Farino and Sam Calvin produced FXRH, the first purely technical fanzine addressed to appreciating and deconstructing his backlog of achievement, which in turn inspired other publications such as FANTASCENE and CINEFEX. Harryhausen himself has published a number of books, beginning with his oft-revised and updated FILM FANTASY SCRAPBOOK and including a particularly delectable coffee table devoted to his production art. More recently, Farino has collected the four issues of FXRH in hardcover and has been serially publishing a set of hardcovers assembling Mike Hankin's definitive biography, RAY HARRYHAUSEN, MASTER OF THE MAJICKS. Published in a staggered order, these lush volumes began with Volume II and continued with Volume III (both of which quickly sold out); the first and final Volume, covering Harryhausen's "Beginnings and Endings," was sent to the printer just a few weeks prior to his death today.      
It has been said that today's CGI effects have relegated the work of Ray Harryhausen to another time, but it might be more accurate to assign his legacy to another space. Because, unlike CGI effects, whose dimensional quality is absolutely flat and illusory, Harryhausen created alone as an artist what entire armies of people do now as collectives with a series of mouse clicks. His work required him to be a draughtsman and a craftsman -- an idea man, an artist, sculptor, scientist, machinist, mathematician, technician, cinematographer -- and what he produced occupied space as three-dimensional as any ever inhabited by an actor. And through the effort of moving his creations forward by fractions of inches, filling 24 frames per second, he not only moved them, he moved us.