Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ray Harryhausen and writing

In the NYT obituary for legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, I found myself dwelling on this statement:
“There’s a strange quality in stop-motion photography, like in ‘King Kong,’ that adds to the fantasy,” he said in 2006. “If you make things too real, sometimes you bring it down to the mundane.” 
As a fiction writer--and reader--I've always agreed with this, without ever quite knowing why. Now I actually suspect it's because I grew up watching Harryhausen's movies, often on the big screen, in gorgeous Technicolor. The way Harryhausen's monsters moved impressed the hell out of me--at once faster and slower than humans, with starker contrasts between light and shadow. I don't remember precisely how they looked. The movement was what made them otherworldly, and therefore more real, in the sense of more plausible as monsters. Why would something from another world (or from the imagination) move as we do, and exist in precisely the same plane? The movements of Harryhausen's creatures made them seem both here and somewhere else at the same time--and that lent them real power and real magic. And as he suggests, the more realistic CG effects become, the more disappointing they become, even as we marvel at the technical achievement. The monsters really have been brought down to Earth.

That's probably not the *only* reason that I prefer a veneer of unreality in fiction. But if you're going to go ahead and create a world, why not let it shimmer and quake a little around the edges? Because you have made something. You have brought something into our world from another one--your imagination. That wonder and that strangeness, it seems to me, deserve attention.

1 comment:

Steve Shilstone said...

First, congratulations from a fellow Bona Fididian (Tahoe Blues anthology contributor) on your upcoming book. I came over to say that and read the Harryhausen post. Wow. Nailed it exactly. The cyclops and medusa, to name 2, were more scary and monstrous because of their other worldly movement. Absolutely.