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.
BODIES OF WORK: FROM JFK TO X-MEN
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.