What’s Haunted Happenings without a scary movie?
For those looking for a special thrill that does not involve waiting in long lines, consider the award-winning animated adaptation of “The House of the Seven Gables” at Cinema Salem on Thursday, October 28. After the film, those in attendance are invited to a Q&A with the filmmaker.
Rockporter Ben Wickey, who has been busy making animation in L.A., comes back to the North Shore in October to show and discuss his film starring the legendary David Frankham. Cinema Salem generously hosts the event set to begin at 7 p.m. Admission to the event is $15 and tickets are available here. Tickets must be purchased online before 7 p.m. and all sales are final. Cinema Salem’s concession stand will offer a cash bar along with fresh popcorn, candy and other treats.
“I’ve visited The Gables since the age of 4,” says Wickey, “and as a child took away impressions, or atmospheric memories. I knew there was a book associated with the house. The story — dark, romantic, gothic — just adds to the mystique of the house.” Wickey says his expressive and lively work conveys feelings for the novel and for the place that he hasn’t yet seen on the screen. “I am heavily influenced by and interested in Nathaniel Hawthorne as a New Englander. I think of it as a psycho-geographic connection. We saw New England the same way.”
The half-hour animation will be followed by Wickey’s presentation and a Q&A. Wickey says he’s also planning to show illustrations from his yet-to-be-published two-volume set of comic books about the Salem witch trials.
The Gables partnered with the new owners of Cinema Salem, Marshall Strauss and Elaine Gerdine, to bring Wickey’s film to the public during Haunted Happenings. This past spring Strauss and Gerdine invited nonprofits in the region to use the space for free for two months. “My wife and I came out of the nonprofit world,” says Strauss. “Our aim is to convert Salem Cinema into a center for the arts in Salem. A large portion of our activity is devoted to film but not limited to film.” Strauss served on Gables’ board of trustees for 15 years and is currently treasurer of Salem Pantry. He says he is especially pleased to cohost this special event with The House of the Seven Gables.
To make his film, Wickey used a technique known as stop-action animation. He says it’s one of the earliest forms of animation and has changed very little over the years. “It involves moving an object or puppet for each of 24 frames per second. It’s very time consuming, contemplative, almost meditative,” he says. It took nine months to complete the project that included building the sets, writing the script and making and animating the puppets. “I did it as a student film, a final thesis, and it took two semesters at the California Institute of the Arts.”
To come up with the script, Wickey said he highlighted all his favorite lines in the iconic novel to help capture the spirit of the book. “I had to condense a 19th century novel into a 30-minute film.” The characters, or puppets, are wire skeletons. To achieve the proper facial expressions Wickey used replaceable eyebrows and mouths and he moved the pupils of the eyes with needles. “It’s exacting, precise, patient work,” he said. “I would have to call myself disciplined. I didn’t do much other than sleep while working on the film.”
Though the work involves precise attention to detail, Wickey found plenty of opportunity for creativity. To sample the delight, the artistry and the mood Wickey conveys in the film, check out the trailer.
He gives credit to the composer, Jonathan David Dixon, whom he calls brilliant, and the actor he has long loved and admired, David Frankham, who turned 95 this year. Frankham starred in three Vincent Price films in the 1960s. “Frankham not only voiced the narrator, but I modeled the puppet to look like him.”