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“Summer Camp Film Series”
Special-effects legend Ray Harryhausen crafts campy creepy-crawlies and marauding saucer men with an imagination unmatched in modern cinema. From the famous skeleton swordfight of Jason and the Argonauts to the expressive apes, centaurs, snake ladies, and Gorgons of Clash of the Titans and the Sinbad series, Harryhausen’s stop-motion masterworks quiver with an otherworldly weirdness that leaves CGI feeling DOA. Making masterful use of miniature models, multiple images, and in-camera optical trickery, Harryhausen’s work is less animation than—as he likes to call it—“kinetic sculpture.” It might be fitting, then, that the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has chosen three B-grade, atomic-age Harryhausen classics for this year’s “Summer Camp” series, which kicked off last week with 1955’s It Came From Beneath the Sea, the age-old tale of an irradiated octopus that puts the squeeze on San Francisco. In addition to marking the beginning of the film fest, It Came From Beneath the Sea also happens to be the first film in Harryhausen’s longtime collaboration with producer Charles H. Schneer. In fact, all of the “Summer Camp” films are Schneerhausen joints: The pair partnered on the cult favorite Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 12), as well as 20 Million Miles to Earth, about an alien hatchling that bulks up and sacks Rome(at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 29). Film scholar David Wilt introduces each movie in the series, which runs through Sunday, June 29, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Ring Auditorium, 7th St. & Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 633-1000. —Rin Kelly
If you’re trying to make a statement about moral extremes in modern America, filling a novel with terrorists and pole dancers isn’t a bad way to stay on message. A number of 9/11 highjackers visited strip clubs during their brief tenure in the United States, a detail that Andre Dubus III uses as inspiration for his third novel, The Garden of Last Days. Set in Florida just before the attacks, the novel roots inside the head of numerous characters, mainly Bassam, a jihadist who can’t resist the Champagne room, and April, a stripper whose toddler goes missing during her shift. The brief chapters and Airport-style shifts in perspective make the novel feel like a breezy beach read, but the characterizations are strong throughout—excepting the illiterate bouncer who keeps a book-on-tape of The Waste Land in his glove box, Dubus’ cast is convincingly drawn and rich with emotional detail. Dubus III discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. —-Mark Athitakis