The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

The Man Who Struck a Papier Mâchè Gong


For an industry with more than its share of iconography . . . the MGM Lion, the RKO radio tower, the Pathè Rooster, etc . . . one of the more ubiquitous and better-known throughout the world was that of the muscle-bound Riefenstahl-esque figure who struck a gong, signalling the opening of a zillion motion pictures distributed by the J. Arthur Rank Organisation. As such icons go, this one was undoubtedly strange: an odd, aggressively kitschy lead-in to the normally restrained works of British cinema that followed it; more of a piece with an Italian Sword & Sandal epic like Maciste vs. The Vampire than films such as Olivier's Henry V or some sublime creation from the firm of Powell & Pressburger. But cheesy as it was, our conception of film in Great Britain would not, I think, be entirely whole without it.

The man who wielded the instrument of heraldry on these occasions and brought it to (dubbed-in) sound on a golden papier mâchè gong in front of a red velvet curtain, Ken Richmond, passed away earlier this week at the age of 80. His only other contribution to film was an appearance in Jules Dassin's astonishing nightmare, Night and the City (1950), and he was not the first, nor the second, nor the third to perform this task for the Rank Organisation. But he was the only one who passed away this week, and we here at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger . . . long ago resolved that we would never miss an opportunity to look back at a time (a time so far in the past that one could be excused for not thinking it possible) when corporate logos, believe it or not, had a soul.

Many, many thanks to one of our earliest, most frequent and most valued regular commentators, Rob Carver (aka Vanwall), for giving me the heads-up on this item.

6 comments :

Vanwall said...

Stahhhp it. ;-) Thanks!

The Gongman could kick Chuck Norris's ass, I bet. I really loved this opening as a kid, tho, it was a symbol of movie magic for me, much as the opening theme music from CBS Special Movie Presentation, with spinning film reels, still resonates in my brain.

Richard Gibson said...

Thanks Rob, I live here and I didn't even know he'd passed.

swac said...

He was also the icon for the long gone Odeon Theatres chain here in Canada, which was responsible for endless screenings of Carry On films and other English ephemera mixed up with the usual Hollywood fare.

slyboots2 said...

I heard about this earlier this week on NPR (during a loooonnnngg commute), and thought it was fascinating. Keep up the good work, boys!

Nick Zegarac said...

I think it's important to remember that the J. Arthur Rank logo is a complete rip off of RKO's main title sequence from Gunga Din (1939).

The staging and effect in which the lettering of the Rank Corp. appears is verbatim an homage or a direct steal from this main title - whichever preference you prefer.

Grimnir said...

Not a well known fact this, but a group called The Very Things, did a track called.....The Gongman! VERY Weird but all about wondering who this guy was! Odd!