Tag Archives: Remembrance

Simply Told and Radiantly Illustrated: Appreciating the Work of Eric Carle

Generations of children may feel the world is a bit less colorful as children’s author and illustrator Eric Carle has died at the age of 91.

There’s a great piece by Emily Langer in the Washington Post, where I got the delightfully succinct phrase “simply told and radiantly illustrated from. There’s also a nice 2-minute piece by Neda Ulaby on NPR as well as a remembrance from the BBC.

Eric Carle and the denizens of Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do You See?, the work with Bill Martin that lit a fire to do children’s books

In these remembrances, you’ll get a sense of not only his career, but his life leading up to a rather life-changing and ravenous caterpillar, including a childhood partially lived in Nazi Germany, depressingly confirmed by him in interviews to be rather devoid of color.

I don’t remember being particularly enamored of Eric Carle’s work growing up even though I recall I enjoyed it. It could be that I discounted its effects as I leaped from picture books to chapter books at a voracious pace. It’s more than likely that I failed to appreciate how much work can go into presenting something simply. For all our interest in magic as kids, we sometimes miss the wizards behind the curtains.

All this changed as a parent, where I got to see firsthand the impact of his books had on my children. And it wasn’t just the books that came into rotation. The animated adaptations were played again and again — and one of my kid’s first theater experiences was seeing a puppet adaptation of several of the stories with me and his children’s librarian grandmother. His face lit up seeing the larger-than-life –and more than a little colorful– caterpillar munch his way through all sorts of prop foods.

It’s nice to know that, in his lifetime, he got to see the joy and color he brought to the world, something delved into by Emma Brockes in a profile of Carle for The Guardian back in 2009.

Thanks for all the colorful memories.

Beverly Cleary: An Appreciation

Beverly Cleary at home in Carmel Valley, California in April, 2006.
Christina Koci Hernandez | San Francisco Chronicle | Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

Author Beverly Cleary has died at the astounding age of 104. There are remembrances and obituaries all over including:

While the comic creations of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Goscinny & Uderzo, Carl Barks, and HergĂ© loomed large in my childhood, I’m hard pressed to think of a single author whose chapter books I read more as a kid than Beverly Cleary. This fact was probably aided by the fact that my mom was, like Cleary herself was back in the day, a children’s librarian, and I am of an age that some of the Ramona books were still coming out new when I was of prime age to read them. I also read all the Henry Huggins books, my favorite probably being Ribsy, and also quite liked the tales of Ralph and his motorcycle, which at least one of my kids has now read as well.

If life is indeed something that happens while you’re making other plans, it’s nice to know you can create some magic along the way.

Let’s Go Over the Bonus Situation: Remembering Yaphet Kotto

An actor whose magnetic presence matched or exceeded his six foot, four frame, Yaphet Kotto has died at the age of 81.

Parker in the classic sci-fi film Alien is one of his best known roles

Remembrances can be found across the internet, including:

While it’s almost certain I first saw Kotto in Alien, the performance that will always stick with me was seeing him on stage as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences.

A publicity still from the 1990 London production of Fences (couldn’t find the DC one)

Through all the power, fragility, strength, and weakness in that character was a presence that just couldn’t be faked. As an actor and as a casting director, I obsess about actors “inhabiting” their characters to the right degree — and Kotto always did so. Amazingly so.

And I should point out he could inhabit all sorts of characters in a variety of genres. For Midnight Run, his turn as FBI agent Alonzo Mosely is a perfectly realized straight man in an action-comedy whose plot was anything but straightforward. His gravitas weathers all the shenanigans and manages to ground the film in the stakes, especially at the end.

His moment at the end is pure acting gold.
This man has seen things you recent Starfleet grads wouldn’t believe…

Although he turned down an opportunity to be Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, evidently in part to avoid being typed in “space” films, he did come awfully close to being in another venerable sci-fi franchise.

Yes, apparently he was close to being Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. That would have been a very different Picard, but man would I like to see the stories from that timeline.

Time and again, the appearance of Yaphet Kotto has meant you’re getting a damn fine performance. I’m overdue to revisit his turn as Lt. Al Giardello in Homicide: Life on the Street, a series I should check out again anyway.

You want to talk about the bonus situation? The bonus situation was whenever Yaphet Kotto showed up. May his memory be a blessing.

And give the man his badge back (still from Midnight Run)

Bringing the Real and the Imagined Alive: Remembering Michael Apted

Apted at the Peabody Awards in 2013 (Photo: Anders Krusberg)

When you talk with your filmmaking peers, it comes as no surprise they have always have a few filmmakers they follow closely, perhaps someone who isn’t necessarily a household name… or even necessarily an art house movie theater name.

Michael Apted was one of those filmmakers for me. He died at the age of 79, earlier in January (I’m just getting to writing this post now). You can read obituaries and remembrances from the BBC, the Guardian, Variety, and NPR among others.

One part of his career you see mentioned again and again is the Up series, documentaries made at seven-year intervals looking at a particular set of Britons starting in 1964. It has become –as I recall one reviewer putting it– “a time-lapse film of human lives.” It’s simple, straightforward, and extraordinary.

Apted continued to make fiction and non-fiction films for the rest of his career… and the fiction films included a James Bond spy film and an installment of the Chronicles of Narnia. His filmography is rightly described as “eclectic.” And with a background in both anthropology and theater, with a love of films and history, you can perhaps begin to see why he was one of the filmmakers I followed.

For those of you who have seen my biennial Favorite Films sort, none of his fiction films ever make it into my top 50 and –by virtue of me wanting each feature to stand on its own– that eliminates the Up series from competition (its heft comes from the whole package after all). But I would be hard pressed not to find something interesting an energizing about every single one of his movies. In part, I think it’s because he always finds ways to bring forward truth in the fiction.

Nowhere is this more on display for me than the natural double-feature of Incident at Oglala and Thunderheart. The former is a thought-provoking documentary about shootings and subsequent trials at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. The latter is Hollywood mystery thriller with Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, and Graham Greene, among others, oh so clearly inspired by the real events, but distinctly different.

There are always bits worthy of note in all of his films. For instance, in 2001’s Enigma, you get a good breakdown of how codebreaking actually works versus the typical “hack the Internets” silliness sometimes on display in films.

Still from 2001’s Enigma (cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey)

So while my biggest disappointment is how the Up series will continue or end (something several people are now wondering), there are plenty of other films, big and small, I was hoping might pop up there.

Time to revisit some films…

Video

2020 Emmys: In Memoriam

TCM usually gets my nod, but the graphics in this one were very well done… (and these are grim times, so I suppose it’s where my head is):

Ready for another adventure so soon? Farewell, Ian Holm.

As he was 88, I guess I shouldn’t ask “so soon?,” but news of Ian Holm’s passing is sad news for me this Friday. We collectively have seen him in so much.

You can read more about him and his career from articles and related material at:

I know many people, and the articles, cite his turn as Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings movies or his absolutely chilling performance as Ash in Alien, but for me, Ian Holm burst into my memory in 1981.

The first film, Chariots of Fire, is included in the montage below. He didn’t win an Oscar for supporting actor, but he did win a BAFTA and one from Cannes and the moment you see below is about a nice a quiet payoff moment as you can want as a character actor.

The second film, Time Bandits, was another family favorite and, perhaps being exposed to it in my formative years, Ian Holm’s portrayal of Napoleon remains one of my favorites (one of the three times he played Napoleon).

Ian Holm as Napoleon in Time Bandits

As the years went on, it was always a pleasure to see him pop up on screen. He had incredible presence in the moment, yet didn’t skew the scene or chew the scenery: a consummate character actor. Even where he plays a major role, he’s part of a team.

So let’s close with something that Ian Holm (as Napoleon) professed to like: little things hitting each other!

What’s the cure for boredom? Brian Dennehy (R.I.P.)

I just re-watched Never Cry Wolf the other week, so Brian Dennehy’s ability to fully inhabit characters was fresh in my mind.

Sadly, Brian Dennehy has passed away at the age of 81.

One of the nice things about his work was that his characters were perfectly at ease with who they were, be it an alien, a corrupt sheriff, or entrepreneurial pilot. If he turned out to be a villain, his character would metaphorically or literally shrug, as if to say, “Do you get surprised that a wolf is a carnivore?”

My all-time favorite scene with Brian Dennehy comes from Never Cry Wolf below:

The beauty of this scene is all the character and clues about motivation that Dennehy puts into Rosie. You think it’s just a fun, kooky scene when you first watch the film, but when Rosie turns up later in the film, you realize that everything he does is completely in line with what he told you in the beginning. His entire performance, as with so many of his others, is a kind of zen: totally in the moment.

That’s damn fine acting.

Life? Don’t talk to me about life! RIP, John Conway

I hope this doesn’t become too frequent, but I had to post something about one of the recent victims of the pandemic. As is being reporting in multiple outlets, John Conway has died at the age of 82.

Photo credit Thane Plambeck/via the Ars Technica article linked.

I know Conway the same way so many people know him: from his game of Life. No, not the family board game with the impressive spinner in the middle of the 3-D board. Conway’s game was abstract and far more mathematical (but it still has spinners!). It was like an endless civilization-building simulation.

I first tried my hand at it using graph paper, but found this to be very manual, so I took to using a Pente board, not realizing Conway himself had used a Go board when he was coming up with the game from the 60s. Thankfully, far cleverer people than I ported it over to the Interwebs, where you can test much vaster combinations much faster than I ever could manually. My favorite is over at Bitstorm.

So, take a moment at some point and play around with it. It’s very absorbing.

A proper sendoff via XKCD https://xkcd.com/2293/

(Note: not being a mathematician, I really can’t comment on what I understand are vast contributions in terms of other areas of mathematics, but I believe there are some links to that and some interviews in the Ars Technica article).

The Chess Game has Ended: R.I.P. Max von Sydow

A towering presence in cinema –literal and figurative– had died. Max von Sydow, an actor we’ve seen on screens since the 1950s, has died at the age of 90.

You can read (and listen) to accounts in the BBC, Variety, and NPR among many others.

What struck many of us moviegoers was the wide range of parts he would play… and could play with such quiet conviction. Here is a man who played the Son of God as well as the Eternal Adversary. But whether as tormentor or tormented, he would bring a bit of gravitas to whatever work he was in, even if the work was more than a little cartoony (I’m looking at you, Ming).

You never ask why Max von Sydow is in a film, but you may ask, “How much?”

His unequivocally prolific body of work means that audiences will find him in dozens of films for decades to come — and personally, that has always been a delight. Especially for some of his later work, where he moved from leading man to supporting character, his presence wasn’t always announced, so I adored his appearance in Intacto and wished for a few more scenes of him in Star Wars, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

It’s hard to wrap your head around him being gone.

As some have noted, he’s been a presence in our cinema lives for so long, it’s hard to imagine him not popping up again in this TV show or that movie, whether to be chilling or entertaining, but always affecting.

It’s been one amazing chess game, sir. Well played.

Video

TCM Remembers, 2019

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) does a wonderful remembrance of the film artists we lost in the past year. I’ve mentioned it before, but it always makes me wistful and reminds me to rewatch a movie or three.

I thought this year’s was especially good, perhaps because of the many quotes from the people they used.

Check it out when you’re ready to be verklempt.