RIP Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013
RIP Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013
RIP filmmaker Les Blank, 1935-2013.
Les Blank served as director and cinematographer of dozens of films, mostly documentaries. He’s probably most famous for his 1982 film Burden of Dreams, which chronicles Werner Herzog struggling against nature and humanity alike to make Fitzcarraldo. For me, the two films are inseparable. Here is Blank talking about making that film:
(Les Blank also made Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe).
Blank was also famous for documenting blues, jazz, folk, and other types of roots music in a naturalistic, earthy fashion.
He also loved gap toothed women:
RIP Roger Ebert, 1942-2013
Roger Ebert had a tremendous impact on how I thought about criticism and how a review should be written, voiced, pitched. I didn’t always agree with the guy, but I loved watching his show (usually more than the films he and Siskel reviewed) and reading his reviews, and I loved following him on Twitter, where I’ll miss him most I guess.
RIP Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013
I will never forget the first time I read Things Fall Apart, Achebe’s famous novel that mixes elements of magical realism and postcolonial criticism into the story of brave, stubborn Okonkwo, a killer, an exile, a man too big for his world. I was a high school senior and the book was part of an AP Literature reading list. I found a tattered copy in my classroom library, and compelled by the cover and the book’s name (what a great name!) and the author’s name, I read it. I devoured it. I absorbed it. I read it again.
And I stole the book of course.
And then years later, a student of mine stole it from me, which is as it should be.
I used Things Fall Apart for years in the classroom, reading it aloud with my classes in the inner-city school where I taught. Few of my students were avid readers, especially the angry young boys, who often seemed to show up merely to escape the violent streets they roamed or the chaos at home. But they liked Things Fall Apart and they loved Okonkwo and they understood him, his anger, his pride, his fury. Over the years my class set experienced that special kind of attrition all well-loved books face: The books disappeared, secreted into knapsacks and lockers, loaned to students in other classes. Or they fell apart, fittingly, the spines cracked, the glue brittle and crumbling, the pages torn. This is love, of course.
Achebe was always thrust into a strange position. He had to defend writing in English, for example, and discourse about Things Fall Apart often dwells too much on the book’s final chapters, where British colonials begin systemically decimating traditional Igbo culture. It’s not that that final section isn’t important or meaningful to the book, but there’s so much more there—so much is preserved—and shared—of Igbo culture in the book’s first three quarters. (Achebe’s scathing attack on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness often overshadows his fiction).
If we’re being honest though, let’s admit that what makes Things Fall Apart a great work of literature, a strange, strong work of literature, isn’t merely its anthropological or folkloric or political values. It’s not a book we read again and again because of its allegorical values or its maddening critique of colonialism. The reason that we continue to read and reread Things Fall Apart is that it’s an excellent novel, an aesthetic achievement, a work that produces its own anxieties, that captures terror and pity and humanity. So much humanity.
RIP character actor Charles Durning, 1923-2012
RIP Ravi Shankar, 1920-2012
RIP Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012
RIP Tony Scott, 1944-2012
British filmmaker Tony Scott committed suicide by jumping off of a bridge in San Pedro, California yesterday. He was 68.
Scott’s films were rarely critical favorites, although they were generally big hits. Scott’s films share, for the most part, a frenetic energy and a highly stylized visual flair.
His biggest hit was probably Top Gun, although he was also the man responsible for Beverly Hills Cop 2, Enemy of the State, Days of Thunder, The Last Boy Scout, and Crimson Tide.
My favorite Tony Scott film is True Romance, which I sneaked into a theater to see in ninth grade, and which changed my life to a small degree. Quentin Tarantino penned True Romance, and I think Scott was at his best with an offbeat writer, as when he worked with Richard Kelly on the very weird and unfairly maligned film Domino, which I’ve always loved.
Tony Scott is brother to Ridley Scott. For years I’ve had a game with a friend about the two, a game where I stick up for Tony, insist Tony is the real talent in the Scott family.
His suicide makes me unduly sad.
RIP French filmmaker Chris Marker, 1921-2012
Like any kid who took way too many film studies courses in college, I was lucky to be introduced to the strange films of Chris Marker, who died at 91 yesterday in Paris. Marker is most famous for his film La jetée, a sci-fi post-apocalyptic meditation shot as a series of still photos (the film was later adapted by Terry Gilliam into 12 Monkeys). Marker’s film San Soleil had a particular impact on me: it’s a beautiful, strange film essay, or travel novel, or I don’t know what you call it. Just find it and see it. Here’s the intro: