I am an artist/writer and there was a time when I would not have been able to imagine my being such a thing. My unexpected encounter with the art of Ray Harryhausen played a considerable part in my moving in that direction and it is really remarkable what a great effect it had on my entire life.
I was a 7, almost 8, year old poor boy whose heroes were Mickey Mantle and Elvis Presley, when I first saw this amazing film at a small local theater for 25 cents! (I am not joking. I was part of a white minority living in a mostly Hispanic and Black low income neighborhood where Frosty Malts were 15 cents, a Big Hunk was a nickel, movie posters were hypnotizing, and the local theater smelled like old tennis shoes. I mention this only to give a glimpse of the setting in which the miracle occurred.)
This first viewing of the film impacted me so deeply, so forcefully, that to this day some 46 years later, my strong memory of its phenomenal colors, forms, and sounds even includes intense particular memories of the dark, shabby, musty little theater interior itself on that very day. Sometimes memories are so powerful they become symbolic for us. This is one of those.
I was very far from being an egghead type of kid, but I had considerable powers of concentration, focus, and retaining when something really interested me and from the moment I saw the poster behind the glass advertizing the 'coming attraction' called THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, I was ready to give it my all. And when that seemingly fated afternoon came, I did so. I took in everything, I listened very carefully to the dialogue, I watched every little movement on that big screen that was so amazing in a neighborhood where many people did not even have a television. Within the first ten minutes of the film I was deeply in love with it and by the time it was over I was madly in love with it. I could think only of seeing it again... and again... It had succeeded in drawing me into its timeless circle of fantasy. With a single viewing I had memorized the entire story line and when I saw the film again ( I begged my mother for the quarter) it was like entering a realm where, though everything was wondrous and new, it was really where I had always lived. And still do. Though in certain ways I understand it better now than I did then, it remains a place where truth is inseparable from wonder and mystery.
For my actual review of the film, I am going to focus only on its first ten minutes (from the opening darkling shot of Sinbad at the helm to the crew's escape from the enraged Cyclops back to the ship). I will explain why it so captured me as a boy and why I think it is the most powerful opening ten minutes to ever come out of TinselTown .
First of all, it must be understood that all the things that keep a popular film such as this from being categorized as 'high art' of course meant nothing to me then and honestly mean nothing to me now because Harryhausen's genius transcends them all.
FIRST, Sinbad's intense calm at the helm and his ability to see land through the seemingly impenetrable, surrounding blue-black darkness that served as a symbol of the crew's lost condition told me immediately that he was a hero.
THEN the anxiety of the hungry crew that they might actually find something terrible on the land assured me that they would indeed find something terrible and that Sinbad was ready to face it.
So the question was: When it appeared, how exciting and how good would it be, this terrible thing?
Well, when the Cyclops emerged from the cave I entered a new world and had a new hero named Ray Harryhausen.
In generations to come, art-lovers will laugh that anyone actually ever thought that CGI animation was even in the same league with the art of Harryhausen.