The exoticization of the fantastical is deeply rooted, as these movies indicate, by the culture of the Arabian Nights. The orientalist construct of fantasy, in old Anglo/colonial culture, was circumscribed by the exotic fantasy world of that book. This is why China and Arabia, without a concern about the real middle east in the colonial period, were the alpha and omega lands of this vision of the world. Seeing Something Wicked, of course, made me think of Dr. Lao again. I saw Dr. Lao as a young man, I never saw Something Wicked until I screened it last year. Dr. Lao, as mentioned, reminded me of Valley of the Gwangi, the last great movie done by Harryhausen. In it, a dinosaur is found in an isolated valley in Mexico, and made the main attraction of a—circus, a local affair travelling the second rate circuit, from town to town, hanging on. In it, James Franciscus, looking for a gimmick, visits an odd circus
That shows a tiny pony, he wants it,
But a gypsy woman, presumably a Mexican peasant, a soothsayer, roaming the west borderlands, tells him of a valley, lost in time
So he goes out there, and it is a mystic valley, a fantasy valley, very difficult to get into, through chinks in the rocks, and the instant you are in there, the movie had done its way in estranging us about it, as it chills, and you see pteradactyls with wonder
The valley is a wonder valley
Filled with admittedly not great stop action combined with rear projection dinosaurs
They then find and trap Gwangi and bring him back in to a local rural Mexican circus and give him the King Kong treatment,
Even having him fight another, with predictable results
There are other pleasures of the movie, but two things, the travelling circus, with wonders, on a rural circuit, and then the fact that its wonders were found in a mysterious valley (with elements like any other fantasy geomythic place of the time, and even up to today, with Jack and the Giant Slayer) (I also note that in those old movies women were primarily figurative, to help along the psychological acceptance of the wonder of the valley, as all such valleys were maternal, in form, both upper and lower half of the body, nourishing and birthing, and when I ask in review what must a ten year old boy have thought of the wonders of Gia Golan, wet, then slipping behind the dressing screen to change, one is obvious, or not so much, the other mysterious
In any case, by this detour, we link up a circus to a mysterious landscape; this is how a circus becomes the gateway threshold to the mystery and wonder of the wide world. At that time, this wonder, as here, was expressed in mysterious vallies. In addition to this one, there was another enchanting valley in Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts
But by far the best of these was the valley of the Cyclops in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,
Which represents many things, including monocular vision down that valley, a space entirely filled, uncannily so, with its presence, its artifacts, hints or intimations of what it might look like, danger, and then it is real.
The movie’s space is also instrumentalized in other ways. Inside reality, is a second reality, a wonder reality, in the lamp
It is a miniature world, that models the spaces of circus tents in their Americanized form. And then a force can break out of them, in the form of light and smoke, as a genii, a djinn, a spirit, sometimes eveil, and I think all storm, wind, lightning and electrical rendition of the appearance or action of transforming wonder, is derived from the fact that the force comes from within or afar to a real place. So, this is a kind of imagination that moves from the micro to macro, to assume power, and moves from the far away to the near at hand, the end of the vallery, to close up, with the micro then having the power to cast a spell that creates a barrier. This palingenetic depiction of reality, engendered in the Arabian Nights, became perhaps the substructure of the imagination of these Anglo fantasy circus-comes-to-town model.
And then it has the power to restraint the monster, by erecting a magic barrier, depicted here as a kind of wobbly wall that one cannot get through, this is a classic example of gateway theory embodied in space, it showed up Earth Versus Flying Saucers, also Harryhausen, and also in, way before him, Chandu the Magicien, where, on the island of Bubasti, they are within a magic veil, later on that
Part III to come.