Bodies of Work: From JFK to X-Men (Toronto Event)

Hurray! The fine folks at the Revue Cinema have given me a reason to leave the house next week.


Next Wednesday kicks off a three-night series showcasing the work of Toronto-based special effects artist Gordon Smith. His work in JFK, X-Men and Jacob’s Ladder will be on the screen and on display as the cinematic experience is fleshed out with choice props and Q&A’s with the man behind the visuals. I am especially interested in the JFK evening which includes a life-size effigy of the deceased president on display. I have, as of late, become something of a JFK nut, not quite to the point of holidaying in Dallas but enough to know the name of Oswald’s landlady (and own the quite terrible Martin Sheen miniseries). I look forward to revisiting Oliver Stone’s film theatrically.

Here is the press release for the event:


A Special Effects Show and Tell at The Revue

TORONTO — Gordon Smith has always been unnerved by the sight of blood. He calls it a serious phobia. That’s what makes his journey from stage actor to master of prosthetic makeup and special effects for the movie industry all the more remarkable.

Smith and his Toronto-based company, FXSmith, helped recreate the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Oliver Stone’s JFK. He’s responsible for vampire gore in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, the nightmarish hallucinations in Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder, the visual realities of war and death in Stone’s Platoon and Salvador and mutant designs in the first and second X-Men.

In the course of his career, Smith has revolutionized his industry, a remarkable accomplishment for a Canadian who never moved to L.A. His silicone prosthetic technology is now the special effects makeup standard for filmmakers around the world.

The Revue Cinema is proud to present Bodies of Work, three evenings with Gordon Smith, in what can only be described as the ultimate show and tell.

He will introduce three films for which he designed and executed the special makeup, bring appropriate props for the audience to see up close, explain how he built them, entertain with behind-the-scenes anecdotes and be on hand for post-screening questions from the audience.

1. JFK, Wednesday, March 16, 7 p.m.

The life-sized effigy of Kennedy, which Smith refers to as Jack in the Box, has resided at Smith’s studio since the filming of JFK. He will bring it to the cinema for viewing. To build the body, Smith conducted his own forensic study, compiling information from all available sources, even some not made public. He could only conclude that the findings of the Warren Commission had little to do with the truth.

2. X-Men, Wednesday, March 30, 7 p.m.

A presentation mannequin of the blue character Mystique will attend the screening. Her last appearance was at MOMA in New York as the centerpiece for the “Superheroes in Fashion” show. X-Men was one of the easier films to pull off, Smith says: “If the character is blue with a tail, no one’s going to compare him to all the other blue people with tails.”

3. Jacob’s Ladder, Wednesday, April 13, 7 p.m.

Working with the film’s British team, which fully appreciated his work, was an exceptional but stressful experience, so much so that Smith broke out in hives. “Unfortunately, we were filming in New York. I thought it was bed bugs,” he recounts.

Smith’s 30 years in the film industry leave him a wealth of stories to tell: hair-raising experiences, like the heart that inexplicably began to inflate in Threshold (1981), starring Donald Sutherland as a cardiologist; Hollywood politics and a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse at Academy Award nominations; industry trends; and powerful personalities like Oliver Stone.

Smith considers his greatest accomplishment to be the prosthetic technology he developed, thereby raising the bar for an entire industry. In Toronto, he was able to assemble an exceptional team, including sculptor Evan Penny, whose arrestingly realistic work has gained international recognition.

Tickets for the event are $10 for Revue members and seniors; $12 for non-members. The doors open at 6 p.m.

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So I caught the JFK night and it was awesome, Gordon Smith talked for an hour and showed himself to be entertainingly unhinged with his opinions (Stone is craziest guy he has ever met, Woody Harrelson’s dad was thought to be one of the assassins and was one of the reasons Oliver hired Woody for NBK). The body of JFK was insanely believable, and apparently fooled a coroner in New Orleans.

Watching JFK for what is probably my sixth or seventh time now, I have come to some new realizations, particularly in lieu of the research I did in the last couple months: whereas before I had blindly assumed that portions of the facts were exaggerated by Stone to deserve the onslaught of media criticism, I can say now that when it came to base facts about Dallas and the government activities surrounding it, it is documented and accurate. Dramatic license was used to conflate events in Garrison’s life, inject Mr.X (Fletcher Prouty) who met Garrison after the trial not before, and the whole closing statements is an aggregate flourish of Stone’s thesis to the audience, I suspect without much relation to the actual trial. His point was not to recreate exactly the trial of Jim Garrison, the trial was a means to an end, to express in dramatic form the story of the conspiracy and one man’s dawning awakening about it. For the first time I noticed that the film is not pointing its finger directly at Clay Shaw as guilty… there is a key scene that is easy to overlook with all the information in the film, when Garrison tells his team: we shall fight a losing battle in the short term (conviction of Shaw) in order to win the larger war twenty or thirty years hence (the exposure of the truth). Part of the problem is the film is thinking about Shaw as a villain, but it is a villain within the mind of Garrison, who is convinced on first encounter. But that pivotal scene before the trial is a statement about the movie as a whole, how it should be treated. Outside of the dramatic narrative of the trial, there is the understanding in the story that the ultimate purpose is to expose the facts, and that the ultimate jury in the story is us (when, of course, Garrison, breaks the fourth wall). The film is not saying Clay Shaw was a conspirator, it is saying Garrison thought he was, but that more importantly, a losing trial was taken on for the greater good of making public the evidence like the Zapruder film, and the coroner reports.

People attack Oliver Stone the way they attacked Jim Garrison, missing the point. Apparently there is a book of the film that is out that puts side by side the scathing assaults on the film by journalists with the actual documents they are refuting. To me the deniers are ridiculously naive, and get excited when they find something like the seats in the car were elevated in such a way that the single bullet theory is not as absurd as it would seem. Fine. Explain the behavior of the government and secret service in the orchestration of the parade route, explain how James Teague was nicked by shrapnel at the overpass, which proves a fourth bullet, explain the destroying of evidence, the phone system being shut down, etc.

It is absurd if you actually look at the evidence to think anything but that the government, or at the very least, the CIA were involved.


and here be that book:

which of course, I will buy.