Review: ‘Men In Suits’
A Tribute To Suit Actors Who Bring Movie Monsters To Life
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando review teh documentary "Men in Suits," playing Saturday, September 14 only at the Digital Gym Cinema.
Most people can rattle off the names of movie monsters from Godzilla to Predator but very few can name the suit actors who play them. The documentary “Men in Suits" (playing Saturday, September 14 at the Digital Gym Cinema) tries to set that right.
Most likely you recognize Godzilla’s roar but can you name the man inside the rubber suit who brought the atomic beast to life? Filmmaker Frank Woodward fell in love with movie monsters ever since he saw Godzilla fight the Smog Monster.
Woodward had been making behind the scenes featurettes for Anchor Bay, which, he said, "is what led to me doing documentary films on kind of the fantastic genre like science fiction, horror and fantasy, and I had done a documentary called 'Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown' [which screens this Friday night at 10:00pm at the Digital Gym Cinema], which is about the author H.P. Lovecraft and I was looking for my next project and I missed movies, and we were talking about horror make up and things like Jack Pierce from the old Universal monsters day who did Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man and things and we thought people have done that well wait a minute what about the guys who actually have to be in the suits, like Godzilla and it can even be more than just horror, it could be fantasy like what Jim Henson did, and science fiction like you see in Star Wars and my partners and I were like yeah let’s go do that. Cause we knew a lot of these guys from going to conventions and being fanboys."
The result is the documentary “Men in Suits.” It is more than just a valentine to the actors who battled heat, fatigue, and uncomfortable costumes to bring fantastical creatures to life on screen. It’s a film that demands appreciation for an unrecognized craft.
"I recognized the amount of talent that went into bringing these characters to life," Woodward said, "I mean a lot of people when they list off the top characters in movies ever they’ll list off a James Bond, they’ll list off Han Solo, Indiana Jones, but they will also list off Godzilla or Predator or Creature from the Black Lagoon, and whereas in most cases people can tell you who played all the different James Bond characters, not many people can tell you who played the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And I thought that was wrong. I thought these are actors, especially now with people like Doug Jones, Brian Steele, these are people who brought these characters to life with every bit as much talent as your top actors out there. And nobody knows their names, nobody knows their face."
Actors like Haruo Nakajima, one of the men who climbed inside 200 pound rubber suits to make Godzilla and other Toho monsters international icons. In “Men in Suits,” author August Ragone recounts this anecdote about Nakajima: "With Nakijima, he was playing Rodan in the 1958 movie and the scene required for him to walk over this truck and they blew it up underneath him, it burned right through the costume and burned his groin. He did not yell for help. He didn’t cry. He kept on with the scene because he said until the director yells cut I kept acting… and he said the reason why he did that was because everyone depended on me to continue on because otherwise we’d have to shut down production that day, so everyone’s jobs, everyone’s families, everyone’s meals, depended on me continuing and sucking it up and being a man basically."
It might have also helped that Nakajima was a kamikaze pilot during World War II but the war ended before he was called to duty.
"Men in Suits" offers fascinating behind the scenes photos and footage as well as interviews with today's top suit actors (Doug Jones, Brian Steele, Tom Woodruff, Jr, Camden Toy, and more) and with director Guillermo Del Toro, a champion of practical effects in movies. It not only brings back nostalgic memories of being in awe of the creatures we saw on the screen as kids but it argues for why suit actors help to create more memorable movie monsters.
Woodward said his film is for movie fans "who want to respect an art that’s not respected very much. But it’s also there to show people an occupation that some people don’t even realize is a job, they don’t realize the skill and the art and the craft that actually goes into it and you want to discover an undiscovered art I think coming to see 'Men in Suits' is for you."
Suit actors accept that filmgoers may not know their names but what bothers them is that casting directors don’t know their names either. Woodward’s film takes a monster-sized step in giving these artists the recognition they deserve. It’s also a wildly entertaining look at the nuts and bolts of a particular kind of movie magic.
"Men in Suits" screens Saturday at 10:00pm at the Digital Gym Cinema as part of the Film Geeks Present series of late night genre films and is specifically sponsored by Horrible Imaginings Film Festival. Woodward's documentary "Lovecraft" (which had its San Diego premiere at Comic-Con) screens on Friday September 13. There is a reception before each film at 9:30pm and Woodward will be available for questions via Skype at the screening.
You can get your tickets online here.