Reflections : ‘I may look lie a weirdo, but once you talk to me you know I’m just really normal’
As a child in Osaka, George Tani loved the unreal worlds of Japanese cartoonists and surrealistic painter Salvador Dali. After receiving a degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he came to North Hollywood as Screaming Mad George to make masks and monsters for the movies. He has worked for the special effects company for “Fright Night” and “Poltergeist II.” Screaming Mad George interrupts his conversation with gleeful outbursts of laughter, gasps and high-pitched exclamations.
Why is my name Screaming Mad George? Simple. When I was in Japan I really liked Mad Magazine. When I thought about my characterization, ‘mad’ was more interesting than ‘crazy.’ ‘Mad’ had more impact to me, so I thought ‘mad’ is even better than ‘crazy.’
My real name was George even in Japan. It’s cool if your name is George in Japan, not too many people have Americanized names. But when I came here I just didn’t like it. There were too many Georges and I’m just one of them. I don’t like that, you know?
I really liked the singer Screming Jay Hawkins. So I thought Screaming Jay Hawkins and Mad together would be nice, very identifiable. Screaming Mad George would be a perfect name for me. It’s cool!
In college I had a very shocking rock band, actually very theatrical. It was 1977 and I wanted to have this extremely grotesque show with punk music. Punk was very big then. I always combine visuals with everything I do. In the middle of the first song I started ripping my stomach (wild laughter), my guts are falling out all over the stage.
This is violent, yes, but totally unreal, I mean, who would want to rip his guts open? (laughter) I like the idea of doing something unreal but doing it so realisticly that everyone gets nauseated. (wild laughter). It’s just total nonsense.
I made a rotted corpse’s face for the mime and put a normal female mask over it. In one song the mime wanders onto stage, a graveyard, and digs up a foam latex baby corpse which I made. He holds the baby to his chest and it starts moving. The mime is moving it but he is so good you can’t tell. The baby jumps on his face, tears off the female face and you see the face of the rotted corpse. We were playing creepy rock music. It was very well done.
I like the whole concept so much that I made a lot of masks and we started making videos.
My videos led to my first job in the film industry in Los Angeles. I started working as an assistant’s assistant, watching the professionals work on special makeup effects for the movie “Coccoon.” When Halloween came I decided to make a costume, since I wasn’t doing anything creative. I made a complete monster costume starting with a full-sized sculpture and a mold. I had to make the mechanism for the head which is in the middle of the body.
Everybody said I was crazy! (wild laughter) Nobody thought I could finish it. It was a lot of overnight work, but when it was finished, everybody liked it. The monster costume was even used for a Miller beer commercial and I was in it (laughter). They really liked my monster, and I got paid.
Because my art is so violent, sometimes people immediately identify me as a maniac (laughter). Because I wear a strange hair style and use makeup, people think I’m completely a weirdo. Well, I may look like a weirdo (wild laughter) but once you talk to me you know I’m just really normal.
I want to make the most (laughter) strange fantasy realistic 3-D. (wild laughter) I want to make the unreal realistic. That’s my whole thing. I want to do something totally unreal, completely imaginative, to give birth to it. Animation is not real enough. But this makeup effect is getting more and more realistic. It’s closer to realism. Everything is fake but it looks so real! This so far is the most fascinating art form to me.