Fall of the Titans
In the last two months we’ve lost some giants. They were icons of their individual fields that were imitated and emulated but stood alone on their own shelves – no one coming close to their level.
Ray Harryhausen died in May at the age of 92. His stop-motion animation made the fantasy sequences of his movies real, especially to an impressionable youngster with a love of fantasy and monster movies. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was real. Mighty Joe Young was real. The skeletons that fought Jason – real. The Kraken, Medusa and Pegasus from “Clash of the Titans” were better actors than Olivier.
And “The Valley of Gwangi”. Ray assured himself a special place in heaven with “The Valley of Gwangi”.
Without him I would be taking Jean-Luc Godard and Dziga Vertov seriously.
A friend’s mother went to high school with him. Her mother still has the year book. Isn’t that cool?
It’s very easy in this cynical age to look back and say how cheesy his artistry was. “Look at Lord of the Rings,” one would say, “how can any of his work compare to that?” The answer is simple – the son always strives to be better than the father. Peter Jackson would be the first to agree.
Watch the battle between Jason of “…and the Argonauts” and the undead skeletons near the end of the movie. Imagine you are eight years old. Did you fold your legs under you on your seat? Were you afraid of a boney hand brushing your ankle from under the sofa? No? You are lying.
He made me believe in monsters said “Shaun of the Dead” director Edgar Wright in a memoriam. Thank you, Ray, for making us believe.
George Jones died in April at age 81. He was one of the last great country singers of his era. For almost sixty years he ruled the country music roost. If there was an award, he won it. His music was of a kind only imitated now.
His signature tune, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” has been called the greatest country song of all time. It is certainly one of the saddest songs of all time. But that is saying the same thing, isn’t it?
Jonathan Winters died in April at the age of 88. He was a comedian. No one, no one, has been able to match his styling. He didn’t do stand up, he didn’t do monologues, he didn’t do wry political commentary. He did one-man acts; skits with his own sound effects.
Some comedians start with, “two Jews walk into a bar…” Winters started with “Colonel, the Apaches are lining the hills…”, or
“(affecting an elderly lady’s voice) Oh, what a lovely day for a drive…”, or
“Did you ever undress in front of your dog?” I laugh out loud still thinking of this bit. I smiled while typing it.
“Are you queer?” “No, I’m homosexual. My little brother’s queer. He collects little bugs.”
Marvin Kaplan, his co-star in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” said he worked with two geniuses in his life – Charlie Chaplin and Jonathan Winters. Watch him discuss his time in that movie with Winters giggling alongside at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD5WeFCcu68.
Jonathan Winters was on Scooby-Doo, he was Papa Smurf, and he was on the Muppet Show. You can see the exact moment Frank Oz as Fozzy Bear gave up trying to improvise with him. The crew’s laughter drowned out the laugh track.
Robin Williams is the only comedian who has come close to the weird and manic ways of Winters comedy-style; and even he admits he didn’t come close.
Was he insane? He spent time in a mental institution. But he channeled any mental illness he suffered into a useful and beneficial way. He made us laugh. He made us laugh until our bellies hurt. Goodbye old friend.
We’ve lost two other artists who I will miss as well. Not the titans of their genre, but I was still saddened by their deaths.
Richie Havens was a folk artist with a very unique guitar playing style. He died in April at age 72. He will be renowned for being the opening act at Woodstock, but he should also be known for his music. Among his accomplishments include something extremely rare: He remade “Here Comes the Sun” in a version more beautiful that the Beatles’ version.
Ray Manzarek died at 74 in May. If he had not founded the Doors with Jim Morrison, he would have been known as a great keyboardist – either in rock or jazz. If he would not have stayed in the music business he probably would have been a professor of music at a distinguished university. I interviewed him in the late 1980s and he was extremely intelligent and funny. He talked about the influence for his opening riff on “Light My Fire” and his relationship with Jim Morrison. He sang on a few Doors song – notably “Close To You”.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry