Stop-motion thoughts on Ray Harryhausen’s 90th birthday.

Stop-motion thoughts on Ray Harryhausen’s 90th birthday. (photo)

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29 years ago, Ray Harryhausen unleashed the original Kraken in the 1981 “Clash of the Titans.” Then he walked away from Hollywood filmmaking, annoyed that his work had been written off as mere “technical achievements.”

Today is Harryhausen’s 90th birthday and the man’s still going strong. His monsters are being archived in museums — an exhibition of his work opens today at the London Film Museum.

Harryhausen didn’t invent stop-motion, but he practically branded it. His monsters, skeletons and mythical creatures have become associated with the medium more than, say, Willis O’Brien, “King Kong” creator and Harryhausen mentor. O’Brien made many technical breakthroughs, but Harryhausen was his own auteur. At his ’50s and ’60s peak, you came to his movies solely for the creatures rather than the men opposite them.

Harryhausen’s creations are beloved outside of the movies they emerged from: “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and “Jason and the Argonauts” have their passionate defenders, but even if you’re only looking at Harryhausen’s contributions, snipped out of context, they don’t suffer one bit. Harryhausen actually had more control over the surrounding content of his movies than most “mere technicians.”

“I’m not just handed a script,” he told Damien Love in Bright Lights 2007. “I work with the writer on the scripts, and I’m associate producer, sometimes producer, and direct some of the sequences that involve my work.” He never did get to direct the whole movie, and sometimes regretted it: “I think I could have done better than some of the directors we had.”

Harryhausen’s creatures were almost invariably more expressive than the actors who did battle with them. His fascinations — dinosaurs, Greek mythology, antiquarian sci-fi from H.G. Wells and Jules Verne — performed the unlikely feat of using progressive technology to leap back in time mentally.

His work became increasingly less viable commercially, not just for tech reasons, but because he wasn’t at all interested in using his formidable knowledge and technique to enter the present day. (It’s no surprise he was a little ambivalent about Tim Burton’s loving tribute in “Mars Attacks!,” a far more acerbic and less benign work than anything he ever did.)

While his work remains incalculably influential (and a standard-bearer for anyone arguing for personality-laden analog effects over soulless sturm-und-drang CGI), it’s become as embalmed-in-time as Verne and Wells. What’s fascinating about stop-motion animation is that it’s got some of the highest work-to-success ratios around. It’s such a ridiculously time-consuming and difficult process that it can’t be dashed off in the same way as crappy traditional cel animation or bargain-basement CGI.

A stop-motion animation short or feature is almost invariably a cut above, and more personal than most, in its very nature. To engage in such a time-consuming process generally means you have something to express that hasn’t been expressed before.

In that sense, looking back at Harryhausen’s legacy means acknowledging that though his influence upon the fantasy-inclined is massive, his influence upon his medium is less pervasive. Big names working today, like Jan Svankmajer and contemporary uber-technician Henry Selick, owe nothing to Harryhausen’s sensibility. He locked up all the possibilities for mythology and dinosaurs. People will continue to look at and love Harryhausen’s work, but no one’s going to be his successor.

[Photos: “Jason and the Argonauts,” Sony, 1963]


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.