The Ray Harryhausen Film Study

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For a couple of years now, I’ve been teaching a series of classic film courses. Film Noir, Screwball Comedy, and Hitchcock are some of the topics we’ve tackled. Starting this week, we’re kicking off with a new adventure into a fantasy world of mythical creatures and monsters. A cinematic dream world created by Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen was so enthralled by the wonder of a stop-motion animated ape, created by Willis H O’Brien in KING KONG (1933) as a 13 year-old boy, it changed his life forever. Over the decades that followed, he obsessively and masterfully perfected the art of stop-motion animation, including a process he called “DynaMation.”

Most of the films where he served as the Special Effects creator and director, were more known for his work than the lead actors or director. This remains true to this day of his films. And yet how many Special Effects people can you name, and know so readily by their work like his?

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His craft often required months of long hours and solitary commitments for what would result in a few minutes on screen. His work ethic was exhausting to even consider. For this reason and the sheer brilliance of his artistry, and the timing of what is now a lost art, he stands alone in his legacy. Ray worked with greats like Ray Bradbury and Ted Geisel (Dr. Suess), and his work then inspired legendary filmmakers such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, Peter Jackson, and countless others.

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In our class, I will present Ray Harryhausen’s background history, the influences and influencers, but mostly we will discuss his filmography together. We’ll explore his Mother Goose Fairy Tales (1946), his contributions to MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), his other monster and alien creations in SciFi classics such as IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), EARTH vs THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957). Then we’ll transition to the fantasy, mythical, and sometimes prehistoric worlds found in his Sinbad films, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), and finally CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981).

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I look forward to enjoying these films through this deeper exploration in a shared experience. If you live in the Lawrence, Kansas area, please join us!

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