Friday, April 13, 2018
At least two of the movies opening today, Rampage and Isle of Dogs, may not have been possible without the pioneering animation of Willis H. O'Brien (1886-1960). In movies such as King Kong (1933) and The Last Days of Pompeii (1935), he made a giant gorilla tear up parts of New York and re-created the most famous volcanic eruption in history. In his hands, the impossible seemed real and delightful.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, you can discover O'Brien's unique artistry for yourself when his 1925 silent movie The Lost World opens the 17th Annual Ozark Foothills FilmFest at the Melba Theater, 115 W. Main St., in Batesville. Tickets are $7 and $6 for senior citizens. Order advanced tickets at Melba box office or call (870) 251-1189. For more information on the festival, go to ozarkfoothillsfilmfest.org.
The movie is an adaptation of Scottish doctor and writer Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novella about the ambitious Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery, The Champ), who journeys to a remote South American mesa in hopes of proving that dinosaurs still exist there. If he didn't find them, there probably wouldn't be much of a movie.
O'Brien and director Harry Hoyt create dozens of ways for the prehistoric critters to terrify the residents of London. The movie also stars Lewis Stone (who played Mickey Rooney's dad in the Andy Hardy series), Bessie Love, Lloyd Hughes and Arthur Hoyt. It's a far different environment from what Conan Doyle created for his Sherlock Holmes stories.
O'Brien helped lead the way for future stop motion animation projects such as Rankin-Bass' Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and, yes, Isle of Dogs.
O'Brien even mentored fellow special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans). In an interview I conducted with Harryhausen in 2003 for NitrateOnline.com, he recalled, "He said the legs of my stegosaurus looked like sausages, which they did. So he said, 'You'd better study anatomy.' So I went back to school and studied anatomy. Now all my figures look like Arnold Schwarzenegger."
O'Brien came to animation at the relatively late age of 29. Before then, he'd been a cowboy, a marble cutter, a bartender and a cartoonist.
O'Brien shot his dinosaurs and apes one frame at a time. When the finished film played, they came to life and caused all sorts of delightful destruction. O'Brien's predecessors used clay figures, but he made his out of rubber, which made them look more lifelike.
While King Kong's 1933 quest for Fay Wray is easy to find and has been remade repeatedly, much of O'Brien's other work has been lost. He never completed Eagle's Way, and much of the work he did for Thomas Edison's studio is lost. Only 16 minutes remain from The Ghost of Slumber Mountain.
The Lost World almost disappeared like the dinosaurs themselves. It left circulation in 1929, and the distributor actually destroyed every copy they could get their hands on. Apparently, they didn't want O'Brien's earlier creations to compete with King Kong. For nearly 80 years, the only versions of the film available ran for 65 minutes.
The version playing at the Ozark Foothill festival is restored to a 104-minute running time. It features scenes assembled from prints collected around the world.
Silent movies may not have had synchronized dialogue, but they weren't quiet.
Depending on the movie and the theater, lone musicians or even orchestras set the mood for the film. Some distributors even provided scores for accompanists to play. To make Thursday's screening special, The Lyon College Jazz Band (featuring Taylor Hartwig, Raygan Adamson and Charlie Fancyboy and band director Montgomery Hill) will play an original score.
Thanks to a new score and O'Brien's timeless images, stop motion animation and silent movies aren't likely to go extinct anytime soon.
MovieStyle on 04/13/2018
ArkansasOnline.com for only
$0.99 for the first month.