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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.