Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Starting at the end

Seems odd and yet at the same time fitting to say hello on this blog by saying goodbye to 2013’s parade of dead folks. At the start of last year I’d intended to stop doing this. But some of the people who passed in the last 12 months really can’t go without some recognition.

Richard Matheson – Many times I’ve found myself watching something random only to discover that Matheson wrote the screenplay. Or the production was based on one of his novels or short stories. Sometimes the discovery wasn’t much of a surprise (several takes on post-apocalyptic survivalism have been blamed fairly or not on I Am Legend). But on a few occasions it’s been a total “wow, he wrote that?” experience. Check his credits on IMDb and you’ll see what I mean. How fair is it that we lost him barely a year after Ray Bradbury passed?

Jean Stapleton – Edith Bunker was my grandma to my grandpa’s Archie: unflappably kind and optimistic in the face of often less than ideal circumstances. Quite a coincidence that Stapleton and Grandma died less than two months apart. They were both liberal Democrats and fond of the theatre (though Grandma spent more time in the audience than onstage).

Roger Ebert – Critics are easy to hate. Spend just a few minutes digging through the staff reviews on 8sails and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of opinions with which you don’t agree. Indeed, if you agree with everything I write then you’re probably me, in which case you need to quit goofing around on the internet and get back to work on the proposal that’s due Monday. Without doubt I differed with Ebert many times. But I respected his obvious love of movies. Such affection can be hard to come by in the 21st century.

Jonathan Winters – Along with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Winters’s comedy albums were a big influence on my childhood development of a sense of humor. I particularly liked his willingness to explore the strange and nonsensical.

Hal Needham – For better or worse, here’s the guy who made Burt Reynolds what he is today. Needham intrigues me because he’s one of the few people who escaped the realm of the support staff – in his case the stuntman pool – and achieved success in movie management.

Eileen Brennan – Brennan appears in all three of my favorite detective movie parodies: The Cheap Detective, Murder by Death and Clue. That’s partially coincidence, but it’s also partially a testament to one hard working actor. Here’s another IMDb listing that’s bound to impress.

Lou Reed – Reed’s New York tour remains one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, only appropriate considering that the New York album remains one of my favorite records. He was an intriguing performer, sometimes humorless in his music (especially some of the more self-indulgent stuff from later in his career) and yet willing to play a villain (One Trick Pony) or laugh at rock stars (Get Crazy) onscreen. After he stopped doing really brilliant work, I lost a lot of my interest in music.

Ray Harryhausen – Thus passes not just the career of a special effects genius but the end of an entire special effects era. Harryhausen’s Dynamation process was downright clunky by sophisticated CGI standards. Certainly none of his animation would ever be mistaken for the “real thing.” But his work had an artistry almost entirely absent from the fancy stuff technicians churn out now. His clunky characters had real personality, making otherwise dreadful movies worth watching. I don’t have a lot of movie-related stuff in my office, but reproductions of three of his creations adorn the tops of my shelves.

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