12 a.m. “Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan” – Documentary
(2011, Arrow Video) Reverential look at the pioneering stop-motion effects of Ray Harryhausen, whose creations in films like “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” and “Clash of the Titans” thrilled horror and science fiction fans for decades, and inspired more than a few to take up filmmaking. The latter includes Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg, Simon Pegg and Nick Park, each of whom unleash their inner little boys in interview segments detailing the primal thrill they experienced in witnessing some of Harryhausen’s most iconic creations, like the brawling Cyclops and dragon in “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,” the kamikaze UFOs in “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” or the skeleton army in “Jason and the Argonauts,” which required untold hours of minute movements to make their way through even a few seconds of screen time. Harryhausen himself, who died in 2013, is his usual humble self in interviews, where he details his introduction to special effects via “King Kong,” his early efforts with short fairy tales and his subsequent big screen work on the aforementioned and much-loved features. For fans of Harryhausen, Arrow Video’s documentary may present few new facts but loads of exciting interviews and images, including footage of Harryhausen at work on his projects, as well as tributes from admirers like Ray Bradbury and one terrific extra in which director Gilles Penso examines the original models for many of Harryhausen’s creatures with palpable glee. Those less familiar with Harryhausen’s menagerie will come away with an appreciation for a lifetime spent in pursuit of bringing one’s childhood dreams to life; playing with toys never seemed so inspiring or remarkable.
2 a.m. -“First Men IN the Moon” – Science Fiction
(1964, Sony Choice Collection) While we’re on the subject of Mr. Harryhausen, he and partner Charles Schneer co-produced this frothy adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel about a 19th century lunar trip – fueled by a sort of anti-gravity paste – undertaken by caddish Edward Judd, his long-suffering fiancée (Martha Hyer) and the substance’s inventor (Lionel Jeffries). There, they encounter a race of insectoid creatures, the Selenites, and their disembodied leader, the Grand Lunar, before beating a hasty retreat back to Earth, where their claim is dismissed for nearly a century until a U.N. space mission proves them right. Harryhausen’s special effects work is largely devoted to miniature work on the lunar surface and the (impressive) palace of the Grand Lunar. He also gets to create a bona fide monster in the colossal, caterpillar-like Moon Calf and certain mass shots of the Selenites (which are largely essayed by small actors in full-body suits). It’s all gorgeous work, even if it’s not as show-stopping as, say, “7th Voyage,” and it’s well complemented by a terrific score by Laurie Johnson (“The Avengers”) and an amusing script co-penned by acclaimed British horror/science fiction writer Nigel Kneale (the “Quatermass” films). Sony Choice’s DVD-R is widescreen.
4 a.m. – “Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Vision of Paradise” – Documentary
(2016, Cadiz Video) Like its mercurial, 80-year-old subject, the German documentary “Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Vision of Paradise” is given to making quasi-mystical declarations on a wide array of subjects, including the music industry, Jamaican culture and identity, and the everyday struggle between good and evil. Neither Perry nor the movie – directed over a 15-year-period by Volker Schaner– say much that’s profound (or cohesive) on these topics, but both display such eccentric good cheer that it’s hard to dismiss them altogether. Perry speaks only elliptically on the nuts and bolts of his groundbreaking work in Jamaican music – though he’s dismissive about his collaborations with Bob Marley – allowing guests like Adrian Sherwood and biographer David Katz to testify on his innovative production technique and lasting influence on a variety of genres, from dub to electronica. A great deal of time is devoted to Perry’s shambolic spiritual beliefs, much of which centers on his own role as spokesperson/savior for the world through his music; folk art-styled animation is used to explain some of the more rarified-air aspects. These elements would be trying, were it not for Perry’s delight in wordplay and quirky behavior, which includes communicating with pigeons, donning seaweed as faux dreadlocks or an array of costumes and wigs. His playful nature underscores the popular perception of him as a mad genius and also makes palatable some of his more impenetrable statements and actions. “Vision of Paradise” is not, as the cover art promises, “the one movie that explains it all” about Lee Perry – not by a long shot – but it is an affectionate look at the weird day-to-day of one of music’s true originals. Cadiz’s two-disc set comes with a lavishly illustrated booklet and notes which, like Scratch’s pronouncements, hover somewhere between whimsical, profound and absurd.