Tag Archives: Remembrance

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 east 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.

Inconceivable! William Goldman Dies at 87

I’m still reflecting on all I got out of the characters created and championed by Stan Lee and now another epic storyteller, novelist and screenwriter William Goldman, has died at the age of 87.

Goldman was, and will continue to be, enormously influential for writers and his book, Adventures in the Screen Trade, is one I’ve given as a gift to several fellow writers, not only for its insights about writing and the writing process, but of that crazy fantasy land known as Hollywood.

There’s a nice piece in the New York Times and also CNN about him. I know there’s more, but I need to go and watch The Princess Bride just now.

Stan Lee: The Once and Future Pop Culture King

Stan Lee has died at the age of 95. Tributes, remembrances, and obituaries have come from the New York Times, the Hollywood Reporter, NPR (and a longer piece here), Variety, a nice one from Marvel, and even one from The Onion.

Like countless others, my connection to “The Man” now best known for cameos in the films of a billions-dollar film franchise came early on. He represented my “ur-fandom.” Before Star Trek or Doctor Who, there was Stan Lee.

Me and Stan Lee, 2011

I am given to understand I am but one of many billions who met Stan. It was still wonderful to do so.

Even though films dominated my childhood, trips to the movies were not as frequent as trips to the library. And more often than not I would go straight to a well-remembered section of the Cherrydale branch library and check out Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, and, the perennial favorite: Bring on the Bad Guys.

Within those tomes were just not the stories of heroes and villains, but insight into Stan Lee’s origins as well. In his writing, he created the accessible yet aspirational persona of “Stan Lee” as surely as he conjured any of a seemingly infinite number of characters that appeared in Marvel Comics. “Stan Lee” was the indefatigable image of a creator and a writer: someone who used all the history and mythology and tales they’d grown up with and channeled them into his own stories. What kid couldn’t help but love that?

This persona became bigger for me and a whole Saturday morning cartoon generation with his narration of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. And “Stan’s Soapbox” in comics. And all the other small ways we fans were able to piece together information back when Chrome was a 50s car characteristic and before Netscape navigated a single web page. Okay, I’ve lost the younger folk.

Long story short: the character of Stan Lee was like a slightly dignified, but just goofy enough cousin of Uncle Grandpa. His passion was pure, his heart was consistently in the right place, and his enthusiasm was infectious. One of his superpowers was validation: you were right to be a fan, you were right to enjoy these stories, and for scores and scores of us, you were right to be an aspiring creator. That’s a hero to look up to. All the entertaining alliteration helps too.

Of course, the human Stan Lee had more nuance and shades of grey. As much as I and the all the remembrances of the past day cast the Stanley Lieber himself as a hero, that’s not ’nuff said. This long-form exploration of Stan Lee’s legacy from early 2016 by Abraham Riesman in Vulture nails some of the complexity behind Lee’s legacy. I promised myself when I read it, I’d include it in the remembrance I knew I’d one day write. It’s important to know that the creator of so many iconic heroes had flaws of his own. So do we all. In a sense, that’s the Marvel way, isn’t it?

Stan Lee was and is a legendary creator, but he didn’t create alone. As Mark Evanier points out, “Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw” does not mean that Clayton Kershaw is the only Los Angeles Dodger. But you can still have Kershaw’s poster, if you follow the example. And Stan Lee, in so many ways, is an extraordinary example to follow. May his memory be a blessing.

Magic Chef No More: RIP, Neil Simon

Neil SimonJust as the fictional Felix Unger asserted his inability to do impossible cooking tasks, so too would Neil Simon probably protest any prowess at writing, but let’s be honest. If writing were cooking, Neil Simon was the magic chef of scriptwriting.

(The idea of Neil Simon being a figment of his fictional creation’s imagination seems like the fun neurotic thought to occupy one of Neil Simon’s characters.)

And if you recall my piece on Sam Shepard, Neil Simon certainly casts as large or larger of a shadow.

(Cue another monologue about someone obsessing about relative shadow size.)

I never had the opportunity to be onstage for a Neil Simon production, but I certainly was involved in many productions in an offstage role. And even if I hadn’t been treated to night after night of Simon’s marvelous gift for marrying angst and banter, I see his words come alive just about every time I attend a mass audition. His monologues are impossible for many actors to resist.

From “The Goodbye Girl”

So, it probably comes as no surprise that the entertainment world is full of remembrances. The New York Times has a good synopsis of his life and career. The Los Angeles Times, not surprisingly, focuses a bit more on his film work, but has some great anecdotes. You can also check out the piece in the Hollywood Reporter. And, of course, Mark Evanier has a story or two about meeting Mr. Simon.

So, rest in peace, magic chef. Or at least be a bit less angsty about it.

@#$% yeah I’m going to post about Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison, a writer with a more than active imagination and an activist for writers, died peacefully in his sleep yesterday. he was 84.

You can see write-ups in Variety and the Los Angeles Times.

A brief, but excellent remembrance is from Mark Evanier, who knew him for almost 50 years. I think he put it best when he said:

Harlan was a writer who made other writers proud to be writers.

He goes on to… not go into how Harlan Ellison turned “cranky” into an art form. Indeed, in the past decade or so, I’ve read numerous anecdotes lauding Ellison’s influence, but noting that he could switch from congenial to cantankerous depending on when you approached him.

But time and again in those anecdotes you will see how Harlan Ellison stood up for himself and other writers. He was not about to let writers be disrespected, dismissed, and above all, be unpaid. And he backed up this attitude in word and deed: do not underestimate the writer.

Seriously, in D&D terms, Harlan Ellison is the person you bring up when someone muses whether bards could ever be dangerous.

Dungeon Master (DM): You see a bard standing in your way. He has pulled out his lute.
Player One: A bard?!?
Player Two: I unsheathe my sword
Player Three: Seriously, DM? We’re ready for a Tiamat-level monster and you–
DM: The bard starts playing his lute. He steps into the light. It’s Harlan Ellison.
Player One: @#$%!
Player Two: I lower my sword and back away slowly
Player Three: I toss him a couple gold coins and say, “Semper reddere scriptor.”

If you’ve only known Ellison for his excellent work in television (Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits), I urge you to seek out some of his other works. The short stories ” “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman” and “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.”

I also have a certain fondness for his 1987 graphic novel anthology with Ken Steacy, Night and the Enemy.

 

I’ll leave with the author in his own, not-safe-for-work words, regarding paying the writer:

R.I.P. Harlan Ellison. I mean, I don’t think it’s your style, but R.I.P.