Tag Archives: Remembrance

Video

TCM Remembers, 2022

TCM does a great montage every year of the film folks we’ve lost. It never fails to make me want to rewatch a film or three. This year, we lost a couple actors particularly dear to my cinemania, David Warner and Angela Lansbury.

They’ve gotten better about making sure their videos are on YouTube, so you can check out past editions, including the recent 2021, 2020, and 2019 — the last of which I find particularly artful.

R.I.P. Angela Lansbury: A Grand Dame for the Ages

Dame Angela Brigid Lansbury has died at the age of 96.

You can read obituaries and appreciations of her career in:

And if you want to celebrate her many parts singing memorable songs, Playbill has a wonderful video compilation. Amazing that she simply termed her voice “serviceable.”

Angela Lansbury’s career spanned over 70 years… and not just as a friendly matriarch

Indeed, if you find many folks feeling blue, it’s not only the longevity of her career resulted in so many memorable roles, but the fact that she was an icon, role model, and graceful force to be reckoned with in film, on stage, and on television.

Lansbury as the petulant and lethal Princess Gwendolyn in The Court Jester

I know many of the remembrances point to her amazing performance in The Manchurian Candidate. If you haven’t seen the film, its worth seeing for her alone (I picture Lady Macbeth seeing Lansbury’s machinations and saying, “No notes.”). However, my favorite villain role for her is probably 1955’s The Court Jester, where her petulance as a pampered princess is only matched by the peril she poses.

Lansbury having an American meat pie -er- hamburger with co-star Basil Rathbone in the Paramount Studio commissary

Of course, there’s also the wonderfully caring yet callous (and, at least for quality control, cannibalistic) Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd.

All this before she was Mrs. Potts or Jessica Fletcher.

So 96 years is a damn fine run, especially because she spent so many of them working, but it’s sad to see her go. What a Dame.

May her memory (and balloons) be a blessing.

“You could be a David Warner!”

The indefatigable actor David Warner has died at the age of 80.

David Warner as Hamlet, 1965

You can read remembrances, obituaries, and appreciations from:

While plenty of the headlines mention The Omen and Titanic, many of my generation were first introduced to him as the scene-stealing Evil One in Time Bandits (or simply “Evil” which is very dangerous in concentrated form).

This performance made me a fan of Warner for good, even if he was Evil…

And that was not Warner’s only appearance in work adored by speculative fiction fans of a certain age. He was wonderful in Tron, criminally underused in Star Trek V, well-used in Star Trek VI, and absolutely phenomenal in the justly-lauded “Chain of Command” a two-parter for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Besides that, there’s Doctor Who (both audio and visual), Babylon 5, and shows like Wallander and the Hornblower series. And, for anyone who hasn’t seen the 1979 Time After Time (which, this far into the 21st century is likely a lot of you), you get not only a great David Warner performance, but a surprisingly fun turn by Malcolm McDowell not being the villain.

So David Warner holds a special place in my film-loving heart as a “character actor” whose appearance was always welcome. It could be that my dad gave us an appreciation of the supporting players that add that essential zest to any good film. Other kids my age had no idea who Victor McLaglen, Thelma Ritter, or Martin Balsam were, but thanks to my dad’s classic movie education, I did. Growing up, I naturally starting spotting those same sorts of actors in our generation’s movies, like Dabney Coleman, Edi McClurg, and, yes, David Warner. And, possibly owing to being the third kid, character actors were always an underdog of sorts to root for. That guy? Who was in that thing? Yeah, I want to know their names. They’re awesome.

I likely need to expand on my working theory of third/third-plus/youngest kids. I hinted at this with my fandom of Moon Knight some months back, but those of us who were the third or fourth or youngest kids would compare notes. And I don’t know if my sample size is wide enough or if times have changed, but back when I checked with my fellow non-firstborns, we found that we gravitated to That Guy and That Gal. Our older siblings had laid claim to the Luke Skywalkers and Supermans, the Captain Kirks and the Batmen. Being fans of the “A” list pop culture icons was thus copying our older brothers and sisters and, at some point, you want your “own thing.” Also –and this could definitely be a generational thing– our parents weren’t about to get multiple copies of the same comic/record/what-have-you. They’d even look askance if we were using are own money, because thrift! And we could generally listen or read our siblings’ copies (because thrift! Now put it back!). So, my working theory is that my appreciation of character actors, introduced by my dad, was deepened by being the youngest and getting my “own things.”

And then I pursued being an actor myself in college… and “character actors” took on a whole new meaning.

At some point, several directors and acting teachers made sure I understood that I was not a “leading man” type, I was a “character actor.” I was Kent, but not King Lear. For some reason, several of them said, identically, “You’re not Tom Cruise.”

I mean, I remember high school. I was under no illusions I was Tom Cruise.

Fast forward after college and I’m working in regional theaters in various parts: often enjoyable and always “supporting.”

Walking out of the theater after a rehearsal, a visiting director du jour was in an advice-giving mood.

“You know Bjorn, you need to understand that you’re not a leading man. You’re not Tom Cruise.”

Does Tom Cruise know he’s the go-to definition of “leading man?” He probably does. He’s Tom Cruise.

I sighed inwardly, but kept listening. He was 50-something. I was 20-something. So many of my instructors and directors had been 50 or 60-somethings at this point and they usually had some good insight gleaned from the decades of experience they had over me.

“You’re a character actor, like me.”

This was a change. When people invoked Tom Cruise, Lord High Leading Man, the insight usually ended there. They certainly didn’t associate themselves with me.

“It can be frustrating, I know. Because you’re as much an actor as the guys who get the leading roles — maybe more so as a character actor because you’re going to do all different types of parts.”

This was leading somewhere.

“So what’s going to happen is you’re going to put in the time. 20 years. 25 years. And then, all of a sudden, the phone starts ringing. You’re getting auditions. You’re getting gigs. Because you’ve built a body of work as a character actor.”

He provided some examples of the diverse work he had been getting, which, I had previously learned from other instructors, is what you do: you get work from every which where.

“So that’s what I’m saying. Stick with it and you can be a Dabney Coleman. You could be a David Warner!”

Now, tormenting Mathew Broderick and harassing Dolly Parton were not top of my acting bucket list. But trying to take over the world or simply making Patrick Stewart question his light-counting abilities? Talk about actor motivation.

I’ve never forgotten that moment… because it was the time David Warner went from being an actor I admired to an actor I aspire to emulate. Actually, I think that’s the moment where I realized he had been a subconscious role model for the work I wanted to do as an actor. And I’ve thought of that moment each time I’ve watched his performances since and I quite consciously study them.

I could be a David Warner?

That’s an impossible dream, but a dream worth dreaming.

(I mean, I don’t think I can ever pull off playing a character named Spicer Lovejoy, for one).

Thank you for your prodigious body of work, David Warner. May your memory be a blessing.

Spare an Obol for Charon as you Shed Tears in the Rain: RIP, Vangelis

The ferryman guided a special soul across the river earlier this week. Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, known to professionally as Vangelis, died this past Tuesday at the age of 79.

“… close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings on our heels.”

You can read remembrances, appreciations, and obituaries from:

Many a cinephile will know Vangelis immediately, but for many of us, we came of age and found our love for both film and film music right when Vangelis gifted us with what are arguably his two most iconic film scores: Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner. He released an impressive number of studio albums and did other work (his theme for the original Cosmos is a personal favorite), but for many of us, our connection will remain his film scores.

Many friends are thinking of his scoring for Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in the Rain” monologue near the end of the film, which is exceptional. But I find myself coming back to the expansive opening sequence where the music completely transports you into another Los Angeles:

I can’t think of a score of his that didn’t move me: not a single one did not make the film it supported exponentially better. His music was “just right” in so many film genres and periods, it’s timeless in a way that doesn’t make sense. But you listen and you watch and you know.

Thank you for contributing to so many moments of pure cinema. R.I.P.

Video

TCM Remembers, 2021

Once again, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) does an artful job of honoring the film artists lost in the past year. When you’re ready to be wistful, or perhaps outright verklempt, give it a watch.

For those interested, here are the editions for 2020, 2019, and 2018.

Something for Everyone, but Specifically Just for You: Remembrances of Sondheim

As the New York Times obituary put it, a “Titan of the American Musical” has left the stage. Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91.

The whole article is a long and excellent read — and I tend to agree with Mark Evanier in that there doesn’t seem to be much for me to individually add about my own personal connections to Sondheim’s work.

However, one thing that has become evident to me with the outpouring of articles and anecdotes this past weekend is how many people have such specific connections to Sondheim and his work… as if each and every one had their own personal relationship with him.

We can talk about a central goal of art being to touch people — and for great artists being able to touch a lot of people, but for an artist to make such a singular impact to so many individuals with such specificity?

That’s an artist who has given the world gifts on a scale that cannot be understated.

Fred R. Conrad took this great photo of Sondheim for the New York Times back in 1990

Besides the New York Times piece, there’s a fun list from Linda Holmes over at NPR covering 10 Stephen Sondheim songs you probably know even if you don’t define yourself as a fan. PBS News Hour’s piece has some great clips from an earlier interview where Sondheim reveals how he thinks of lyrics and songs.

And for specific, personal connections to Sondheim, it’s hard to top Helena Fitzgerald’s memoir of an essay displaying how Sondheim taught her about life. One section sticks with me:

Sondheim lived a long and enormous life, died old and accomplished and loved at ninety-entire-one years of age. His death should feel neither cruel nor unexpected. But it does. I am still living in the world that he built, and cannot imagine it without him. What a hideous thing it is to live in a world without Stephen Sondheim. What an enormous piece of luck it was to have been alive at the same time as him.

Finally, I’ll link to this video of frequent Sondheim collaborator Bernadette Peters singing one of his best-known songs that, once you’re watching the show it’s in, you realize contains multitudes.

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 Hergé 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…