To this longtime cinephile, the Roxy Theatre’s “Silence is Golden” series is the film event of the year and I never fail to pencil it in to my calendar. I was fortunate to attend “Metropolis” back in 2010 and found the experience vastly entertaining, a thrilling fusion of dazzling visuals and powerful, evocative music. I haven’t missed a “Silence is Golden” screening since.
Last night’s presentation of “The Lost World” was, to my mind, “Silence is Golden” at its very best. The 1925 adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure yarn was ground-breaking for its time and introduced the world to the genius of Willis O’Brien. O’Brien was the great-grandfather of today’s special effects wizards and his pioneering work with stop-motion animation led to his greatest achievement, “King Kong” (1933).
“The Lost World” certainly never achieves the technical virtuosity and brilliance of “Kong”, but there are ample hints of things to come. According to A Century of Model Animation (Harryhausen & Dalton; Aurum Press; 2008), “pre-production, which involved experiments on effects scenes, mattes and the models took over two years”. O’Brien and his small, dedicated crew meticulously and painstakingly animated frame by frame a plethora of creatures from the Jurassic, not only granting them movement but also a degree of personality and realism that, nearly ninety years later, still astonishes. There is a moment in the movie when a pterodactyl feeds on its prey and then absently scrapes off its beak, a gesture I’ve seen crows and ravens make many times. At another point, an allosaurus is on the rampage and an adult tricerotops nudges its young out of harm’s way before thundering off to engage the menacing intruder. Just little touches but they demonstrate Obie’s powers of observation and perception, as well as his knowledge of the animal kingdom.
Officially, Harry Hoyt is the credited director of “The Lost World” but I believe his input was minimal. It was Obie who created the visual look of the film and he not only had to supervise his animators, it was also necessary that he be present during principal photography to ensure the “live” footage matched up with his miniature sets and matte paintings. “The Lost World” is a Willis O’Brien Production in every sense.
As much as it was a treat to finally see “The Lost World” on a big screen, I have to say that this year it was the music that stole the show. The members of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra who shared their talents with us last night succeeded in creating an atmosphere that imparted a whole other dimension to the viewing experience. The score, by Robert Israel (based on period music), was perfectly suited for the film, a seamless fit, none of the stitches showing. William Rowson conducted this time around, stepping in to Brian Unverricht’s shoes, and he took on a challenging task with energy and contagious vigor. He seems awfully young but from what I could see, his poise and ease at the podium, the kid’s the real deal. A local lad too, which is even better.
Thank you to all the gifted artists who combined their world class talents to create such a magnificent atmosphere for film and music-lovers of all ages, an evening none of us will ever forget. Impossible to discriminate between brass and woodwind, percussion and strings, every single musician was at the top of their game, adding mood and depth and drama to ancient, scratched images, imbuing them with something like life.