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Ray Harryhausen: Bristol Silents Tribute

Ray Harryhausen

Stop-motion animation genius and weaver of dreams Ray Harryhausen left us yesterday aged 92. Bristol Silents Director Chris Daniels remembers the man who we were lucky enough to count as one of our patrons.

In 2004 I had the unforgettable pleasure of meeting Ray in his home in Central London to plan a Bristol Silents event. He was charming and delightful and quite taken aback that we at Bristol Silents would be interested in screening some early silent works from one of his great heroes and mentor, Willis O’Brien. As part of our two show programme to champion O’Brien’s work we invited that unstoppable modern-day stop motion Guru from Aardman Animations Peter Lord to introduce THE Lost World (O’’Brien’s great dinosaur picture, made before his more famous classic King Kong). Pete introduced the silent movie for us and for the second show Ray was kind enough to come to Watershed in an event called Animated Lives where, in discussion with Andrew Kelly, he spoke about his long career in stop motion, his love for Willis O Brien and his feelings about CGI (Peter Jackson was a fan of Ray’s work, he told me).

It was a privilege to work with Ray at this event, one which some of our other patron’s, Kevin Brownlow, David Robinson and Paul McGann, all attended. We enjoyed the show so much that we produced a further event at the Barbican cinema in 2005, and one more a few years later at Watershed when Ray’’s new book came out. Ray was always delightful and charming, bringing his famous skeleton (in a coffin) out towards the end to squeals a delight from audience members.

Ray told me that the ‘dialogue’ actor sequences in his films were really just a vehicle to move the action to the next creature, encounter or battle. In that, we understood that his ‘silent’ sequences were the bits that people remembered. The ‘action’ was always king in a Harryhausen movie.

When we invited Ray to become a patron of Bristol Silents he wrote a handwritten letter to us (now a treasured possession in the Bristol Silents and Slapstick offices) saying he would be ‘honoured’. Ray will be sorely missed along with other great patrons we’ve been fortunate to have known and to have worked with, including the late great Eric Sykes and Jack Cardiff.

Long may Ray’s work continue to be recognised, celebrated and loved.

Chris Daniels
Bristol Silents/Slapstick Festival

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