Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ray Harryhausen, The Master of Fantasy

He died Tuesday, at the age of 92.  I don't follow the obituaries, but my dad, roughly ten years Ray's junior, does.  He called to tell me of the master animator's death.

There has been much written about Ray, and so I have no intention of providing a biography of the man.  Nor is this post meant to be a eulogy.  It's simply a personal reflection from one of the countless thousands of fans whose lives Ray touched.

When I was a child, my favorite movie was King Kong (1933).  It still is, in fact.  That's one thing Ray and I shared.

Another was our love of fantasy.  At the age of ten, I received a book titled From the Land Beyond Beyond, a guide to the films of Ray and his mentor, King Kong animator Willis O'Brien.  I read it so many times the cover came off, and had to be reattached with Scotch tape (the old kind, the kind that yellowed and cracked after a few years).  It's still on my bookshelf--as, in DVD and Blu-Ray where available, are all of Ray's films.

They're all great.  My favorite is Jason and the Argonauts, but The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Twenty Million Miles to Earth are close seconds.  When I wrote my own book on fantasy film, Framing Monsters, I noted the absence of Ray's films in scholarly treatments of the genre and included a chapter of my own on the Sinbad trilogy.  The book received mostly positive reviews, but even the less positive ones singled out the Ray chapter as the book's high point.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a stop-motion animator.  Turns out the industry left that dream behind, and had I stuck with the craft of motion pictures, I'd likely have become a CGI artist, one of the thousands whose names roll past in big-budget movies like The Hobbit and Iron Man 3.

Ray was different.  Working solo, he created life.

There's really no way I can sum up my feelings about Ray.  He was--and is--one of my heroes, one of the people who absolutely made me who I am today.  He was--and is--the single greatest magician the cinema has ever known, or ever will.

I've been in the habit of dedicating my books to influential people in my life who are no longer with me.  My first academic book was dedicated to my grandparents, my second to a dear friend who died young, my third to a college mentor.  I've wondered whether to continue this practice when my debut novel appears next year, and if so, to whom the book should be dedicated.

But there's no longer any question about that.

It's Ray.

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