Sunday, April 17, 2011

Part 9: A Destiny, Unmapped

It was like the top of my head had been opened, my brain had been doused with lighter fluid, and someone had put a match to it. Thoughts raced through my head so fast that it was difficult to control them.

I was not alone.  The collective consciousness of America had been changed and, the way that I could tell, was that it hadn't happened over night. It was like a heavy freight train that was starting to roll from a complete stop to an acceleration rate that threatened to derail it. I'm speaking, of course, of the impact that STAR WARS had on the United States and then, the world.

Proof positive that you don't need Photoshop to sell a good movie
 It had taken a long road for me to get from my house in Terrytown to Lakeside Cinema across the Mississippi River.  See, when STAR WARS opened in Louisiana, it had opened in one theater.  That's what I mean about slow burn.  When the mania had reached a fevered pitch, then the film was more widely released to surrounding theaters.  It was brilliant.

Now, unless you are disinterested in Special Effects, which would make your reading this blog just plain silly, or you are from another planet, I don't have to tell you what a visual feast the original STAR WARS was (and in my opinion, still is).  From the very opening shot, I knew that I was in for the cinematic ride of my life.

Look, Ma!  No CGI!
Months earlier, I had made a wise move without even knowing it.  For my birthday, I had cut the subscription order form from the inside cover (ouch!) of my CINEFANTASTIQUE magazine that featured Ray Harryhausen and his models from SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER.

Mine has a rectangular hole in it now.
My subscription to Cinefantastique would begin with the STAR WARS issue.

One of the single greatest issues of any magazine, ever!
Inside this magazine were more photos and dense interviews with many of the foremost artists and technicians involved with the project.  I was learning names and connecting faces with people like Phil Tippett, Dennis Muren, Richard Edland, Robbie Blalock, Grant McCune, Adam Beckett, Joe Viskocil (ooo, a personal favorite because he blew things up!) and of course, Rick Baker.

I saw Star Wars in the theater 22 times.  No, really.  I would go to the Westside Cinema in the morning and sit through three showings and go home in the evening.  I was that obsessed.  And, you should see my copy of the Cinefantastique Magazine know what?  I'll show you what kind of condition it is in today:

A much loved, read, and reread magazine.
I believe this illustrates just one example of how much I loved this movie.  Never before had a movie made an impact of this magnitude.  There were new Science Fiction magazines springing up everywhere on news stands, and those that couldn't get access to photographs, would hire illustrators to paint Star Wars images.  It was a media melee and, I bought MOST of them.

Now, when my family or friends of my parents would ask me what I wanted to do when I got out of college, I would no longer answer "paleontologist", I would now answer "Motion Picture Special Effects."  The shift was complete.

But this was not the end of the year 1977.  It didn't begin and end with STAR WARS.  For one, there was a short article in the front of the Star Wars Cinefantastique about a modest Science Fiction film entitled LASERBLAST.  Although I could tell it wasn't going to be as huge (ha!) as Star Wars, I loved the designs of Dave Allen's Stop Motion aliens.

I was still a sucker for this aesthetic
There were a few really excellent cuts of Stop Motion in STAR WARS, and if there was one facet of Special Effects that I was leaning toward, it was still Stop Motion.  Maybe it was still the original Kong influence, or Harryhausen... who knows?  But LASERBLAST promised Stop Motion aliens and I couldn't wait to see them.  When the film opened in 1978, a small group of friends and I went to see it and although we didn't care much for the film, I, personally, LOVED those crazy Stop Motion aliens and became a fan of animator, David Allen.

Back at home, I began painting acrylic paintings of all of the scenes of Star Wars that I loved: X-Wing fighters, R2-D2, and the Escape Pod tumbling toward the planet Tatooine.  And finally, because this film had kicked open the door of interest about how Special Effects were accomplished, the information didn't just was a DELUGE both on page and on television.

By mid-summer of '77, I began hearing about a new film by the director of JAWS, Steven Spielberg.  Shrouded in secrecy, all anyone knew was that it was about UFO's and was entitled CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.  All anyone saw were photos of people wearing sunglasses and looking into the sky and this poster:

Incredible marketing.  What was just down that road?  We HAD to know!
So, being the son of an entertainment critic, I was a shoo-in for all sorts of studio Star Wars goodies, right?  Wrong.  My father had pissed off 20th Century Fox by panning too many of their films and so he was dropped from their list of favored critics.  However, he had critic friends in New Orleans who were happy to give up some of their Star Wars stuff not knowing that it would be worth beaucoup bucks in the future. Heck, for that matter neither did I.

My father brought home a laminated two-sheet sized poster of the Star Wars poster pictured at the top of this post that hung on my wall until I left for college in 1980.  I have no idea what I did with it.

Although he was off of Fox's list, he was in GOOD terms with the folks at Columbia Pictures and was sent out on a junket for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.  He interviewed Steven Speilberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, and Special Effects Artist Douglas Trumbull.  Columbia not only gave him a folio with color-coded, empty, audio cassette tapes, they also gave him a mini-cassette tape recorder with the CE3K logo on the side of it.

When he returned from the junket, he was tired and a bit Douglas Trumbull.  After the interview, my father had told Mr. Trumbull of my passion for Special Effects and had asked him for an autograph. "I don't give autographs." Mr. Trumbull told my father. This set dad off.  "Who do you think YOU are?" he asked, "You should be thankful that anyone even WANTS your autograph." .....uh.....way to go, Dad.

Again, TIME Magazine had the scoop and revealed the first images of the Mother Ship from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and it was so UNLIKE anything I had seen in STAR WARS.

Even seeing it, I didn't understand what I was looking at...
Needless to say, I was intrigued.

Last but not least, my parents were friends with a family in New Orleans named The Bishops and their son, Shawn, had been cast in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.  We all got together the night of the advanced screening of the movie and I sat next to Shawn who would point out the tiny moving "stars" in the night skies prior to the big UFO reveal in the film.

And then...the Mother Ship rose up from behind Devil's Tower...
...and I began to giggle in shock and wonder.  I hadn't seen anything like that...ever...

And then, just like that, my ambitions changed...I didn't want to do Special Effects anymore...I wanted to DIRECT!

1 comment:

  1. Brings back a flood of memories! Yes, this is what it was like!!! Thanks for crafting a wonderful time capsule!