Forthwith are the names of Hollywood luminaries who passed in 2020 or early ’21. I’m assuming all or most will be included in the Oscar telecast death reel, but you know the Academy — they always cut or ignore at random. Who’s safe and who might not be? And who am I missing?
Sean Connery, Chadwick Boseman, Kirk Douglas, Kelly Preston, (not Eddie Van Halen), Orson Bean, (not Kool & the Gang co-founder Ronald Bell), Honor “Pussy Galore” Blackman, Wilford Brimley, Kobe Bryant (his Dear Basketball won Best Animated Short Film Oscar), Edd “Kookie” Byrnes (not Pierre Cardin), Robert Conrad, (not Mac Davis), Olivia de Havilland, Brian Dennehy, (possibly not Rhonda Fleming), Buck Henry, Ian Holm, (possibly not Terry Jones), Irrfan Khan, John Le Carre, James Lipton, (possibly not Terrence McNally, who was primarily a playwright), (possibly not Ken “Eddie Haskell” Osmond), (possibly not Regis Philbin), David “Darth Vader” Prowse, Carl Reiner, Diana Rigg, John Saxon, Joel Schumacher, Jerry Stiller, (probably not Alex Trebek), Max von Sydow, (possibly not Lyle Waggoner, Dawn Wells or Fred Willard), Bertrand Tavernier…a total of 25 solid inclusions, give or take.
Add-ons: Michael Apted. Allen Daviau. Alan Parker. Michael Chapman, Lynn Stalmaster.
One of the reasons Geoffrey Wright‘s Romper Stomper (’92) works as well as it does — an anti-racist, anti-skinhead film that isn’t afraid to dive right into the gang mind and pretend-revel in the fevered currents — is John Clifford White‘s score.
The main theme, in particular, seems to simultaneously channel skinhead rage and, at the same time, deftly satirize it. I don’t even know what kind of brass instruments White used on these tracks — tuba? trombone? French horn? trumpet? But the sound and mood are perfect. Just a clever instrumentation of a melodic hook and obviously less than complex, but once you’ve heard the theme you’ll never forget it.
The exceptionally gifted George Segal was a necessary, nervy, highly charged actor for over 50 years (early ’60s until 2014). In his heyday he was an explorer of urban Jewish neurotics with underlying rage…half superficial, half pained and always guilty or bothered about something…at other times Segal was a smoothie…an amiable grinner with sandy brown hair and an eye for the ladies.
Segal’s two best roles were in Paul Mazursky‘s Blume In Love (’73) and in Robert Altman‘S California Split (’74).
Segal worked hard and dutifully and never stopped pushing, but honestly? His leading-man peak period lasted only nine or ten years. Or if you want to be cruel about it, he was The Guy Everyone Understood and Related To for only about five years, between ’70 and ’75.
The golden period began with Segal’s breakout performance in Ship of Fools (’64), and then as a crafty prisoner of war in King Rat (’65). This was followed by his career-making performance as Nick, the ambitious and randy biology professor who beds Elizabeth Taylor but can’t get it up, in Mike Nichols‘ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (’66). Segal’s streak ended with his lived-in performance as compulsive gambler Bill Denny in California Split, opposite the wonderfully on-target Elliot Gould.
Segal didn’t catch serious fire until neurotic Jewish guys became a hot Hollywood commodity in the early ’70s. His first serious breakout came when he played a vaguely unhappy cheating commuter husband in Irvin Kirshner‘s Loving (’70). This was followed by his guilty, lovesick moustachioed Jewish attorney in Carl Reiner‘s Where’s Poppa? (’70).
After this Segal starred in six winners — The Owl and the Pussycat, Born to Win (drug addict), The Hot Rock (Kelp the locksmith), Blume in Love, A Touch of Class, The Terminal Man and finally California Split — my favorite of all his films.
Between the mid to late ’60s Segal starred in five films that were somewhere between interesting and pretty good but at the same time not great — The Quiller Memorandum (’66), The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
(’68), Bye Bye Braverman, No Way to Treat a Lady (’68), The Bridge at Remagen (’69) and…well, that’s it.
Segal’s last decently written role was as Ben Stiller‘s dad (and Mary Tyler Moore‘s henpecked husband) in David O. Russell‘s Flirting With Disaster (’96).
John Herbert Gleason was 44 years old, give or take, when he played Minnesota Fats in Robert Rossen‘s The Hustler (’61). He was absolutely mythic in that film…a portly, chain-smoking Greek God in a three-piece suit…chubby fingers, carnation in his lapel, light on his feet. By the same token I felt embarassed for the poor guy when he costarred in the Smokey and the Bandit series as Buford T. Justice…loud and coarse and painful to be around…constantly fuming, a genuinely boring performance. A shame.
Update: It just hit me that by 21st Century standards, the Jackie Gleason of 1961 isn’t even “fat”. Yes, he was hefty, ample, a guy with a gut. But he was no Jabba, and couldn’t hold a candle to the garden-variety sea lions we see shuffling around shopping malls today.
…won’t help us much if (forgive my language) the none-too-brights won’t get with the program. Only 35% of the African American population intends to submit (or has already submitted) to the stab. Not to mention the anti-Vax idiots who recently tried to interfere with a vaccination dispersal at Dodger Stadium. A November 2020 Pew poll revealed that 60% of respondents said they would “definitely or probably” take the coronavirus vaccine, which was up from 51% in September. Nothing works on a mass social scale if the moron effect is too widespread.
Right now we’ve got two hotties making the rounds — Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna. Plus England’s Oxford–AstraZeneca in the wings. Plus the forthcoming Johnson & Johnson one-stab vaccine. Plus the Russian “Sputnik”, the Chinese BBIBP-CorV plus a dozen or so emerging candidates. But if people are too stupid to line up and submit…
HE to Demian Bichir (sent on 1.15.21):
Greetings, bruh. Long time, hope you’re good. I was very moved by your sad Deadline essay about poor Stefanie. I’m so sorry for what befell her. Very few of us seem to acknowledge, even privately, how tenuous and fragile our hold on stability or safety is, much less happiness. I’m so sorry.
By the way I liked you a lot in Robin Wright‘s Land, which I saw last night. I’m glad Robin chose you, believed in you. Your humanity came through. I didn’t think it was dramatically satisfying or appropriate for your character to [spoiler info]. I liked your character and valued his presence, and so I felt irked and cheated by [spoiler info].
But I also have to say that while I respect Wright’s attempt to offer some kind of comment about soul-cleansing isolation and to carve out some kind of naturalist ethos, I really didn’t care for her character, Edee Mathis, at all. Robert Redford‘s Jeremiah Johnson was human and relatable — Edee isn’t. What a profoundly stupid, self-involved, slow-to-awaken woman…she loves her isolation and her general disdain for other people too much. She doesn’t even keep her SUV near her cabin in case there’s an emergency? Idiot!
When you and your sister (Sarah Dawn Pledge) found Edee lying on the floor of her cabin, starved and half-frozen and near death…I’m sorry to share this but on another level I’m not. When you found her like that I was thinking “this idiot did this to herself out of flat-out stupidity and arrogance, and so by the laws of nature and natural consequence”…I probably shouldn’t say this but I was thinking that if she passed it would be more interesting than if she’d lived.
There’s a moment in which Edee looks at your character and says with a slight tone of suspicion, “Why are you helping me?” After you and your sister have literally saved her form the jaws of death, she looks you right in the eye and asks why, and with a vaguely snippy tone to boot. When a viewer feels this negatively about the central character in a film…well, it’s not a good thing. Even a nominally “bad” character can enlist audience sympathy if the film is handled right. I felt more emotionally supportive of Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II than I did for Edee Mathis. I felt more compassion for Boris Karloff‘s monster in The Bride of Frankenstein.
If Edee had died in her cabin I would have said to myself “tough break but just desserts…this is the law of life and survival…now Edee will never have to deal with another human being ever again.”
In the comment thread for “Mid Clinton-Era Romcom,” “filmklassik” suggested that George Clooney‘s finest films were relatively few and far between. Let me gently explain something. The legacies of the greatest stars are always about a relative handful of films. That’s just the way it shakes out. Clooney, whose peak period lasted longer than most (almost 20 years), more than measures up alongside anyone you might want to name (James Stewart, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, James Cagney, John Wayne, Paul Newman, Robert Redford).
MICHAEL CLAYTON is Clooney’s mythical summit. Followed by THE DESCENDANTS, UP IN THE AIR, OUT OF SIGHT, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY and BURN AFTER READING. Six bona fide classics. Not to mention GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK (Clooney’s best-directed film), SYRIANA and HAIL, CAESAR. Plus THREE KINGS. I would go further and include THE PERFECT STORM. I would even include the first two OCEAN’S films. Six goldies and five silvers and two bronze.
It’s a basic creative and biological law that only about 10% to 15% of your films are going to be regarded as serious creme de la creme…if that. Most big stars (the smart ones) are given a window of a solid dozen years or so** in which they have the power, agency and wherewithal to bring their game and show what they’re worth creatively. We all want to be rich, but the real stars care about making their mark.
In ‘02 or thereabouts I gave Tony Curtis (whose peak period started with Sweet Smell of Success and ended with The Boston Strangler) a list of all his films & asked him to check off those he truly admired and respected. He checked off about 10%, if that.
Same with Kirk Douglas when I offered the same during a set visit with him in ‘82 — just a handful (basically confined to his 15-year peak period between ‘49 and ‘64) but he felt VERY good about those few.
** Some enjoy 15- or even 20-year rides. Grant peaked from the late ‘30s to late ‘50s. Cagney between Public Enemy and White Heat, Stewart between Destry Rides Again and Anatomy of a Murder. Clark Gable’s hottest years were between It Happened One Night (‘34) and The Hucksters (‘47), Bogart’s between High Sierra / The Maltese Falcon (‘41) and The Harder They Fall (‘56) — a 15-year run. Wayne was fairly aflame between Stagecoach and North to Alaska. Redford peaked between Butch Cassidy (‘69) and Brubaker and Ordinary People (‘80). I’m talking about the years when they had serious heat.
How real is John Goodman‘s “Charlie Meadows” (John Goodman) in Barton Fink (’91)? It never mattered much to me, and I suspect it wasn’t a matter of great concern to Fink creators Joel and Ethan Coen. I think they just enjoyed fiddling with Charlie’s amiable, common-man personality (he’s like John Candy‘s Del Griffin), but at the same time without a clear idea what to do with him.
John Turturro’s Fink is a Clifford Odets-like playwright who’s agreed to write a Wallace Berry wrestling movie for an MGM-like Hollywood studio. After arriving in Los Angeles and checking into an oddly grim-feeling hotel, Fink meets Charlie, a fellow resident who seems friendly and folksy and easy to talk to. Later, of course, Fink learns from a pair of hard-boiled detectives that Meadows is actually “Mad Man Mundt”, a mass murderer.
But in the final act Mundt’s hellfire insanity seems a little over-the-top, and we’re led to wonder if he’s flesh and blood or perhaps some kind of demon from Fink’s creative unconscious.
Joel and Ethan, the director-writers of Barton Fink, allow us to wonder about Mundt without tipping their hand. He might be an actual killer or a weird creation of some kind, or maybe a mixture of the two. (Real Charlie, imagined Mundt.) We’re never quite sure, and that’s intentional, of course.
Just as writers are condemned, in a sense, to live in their thoughts, instincts and imaginations, Fink is enslaved to anxieties and nightmares that course through his system, partly about where modern urban society is heading as far as “the common man” is concerned, and partly about whether or not a kind of irrational madness may be afoot.
Fink’s greatest concern may be about that ultimate bugaboo and destroyer of worlds — writer’s block. What seems certain is that there’s a kind of madness in Fink’s creative brain, and a corresponding madness in the behaviors of “Charlie Meadows” as well as Judy Davis’s character, the unfaithful wife of that alcoholic, William Faulkner-like writer who goes on benders from time to time.
Nothing is stable or settled in Barton Fink — everything that transpires feels a bit skewed or bent or…overly imagined?
Likewise, Anton Chjigurh (Javier Bardem), the deranged hit man in No Country For Old Men (’07), may also be a ghost of some kind, at least as far as Sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is concerned.
Like Fink, Sheriff Bell frequently meditates about the moral tempo of society and how a kind of madness seems too be spreading like a plague. As he slowly tracks the destructive Chigurh, Bell is more and more convinced that this murderer with a mid ’60s Ringo Starr hair is the culture and vice vera, and that it’s all changing for the worse. Chigurh, he believes, is the ultimate manifestation of this growing moral rot. It almost seems, in fact, as if Bell is more focused on the omens than in actually catching Chiguh.
Posted this morning by David Handelman (aka wittiebanter): “Forty years ago today, John Lennon was killed. The next morning, 19-year-old college-sophomore me had a radio show to do. All the other Boston stations were playing ‘Give Peace a Chance’, ‘All You Need is Love’ and ‘Imagine.’ I felt darker than that. I played ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, ‘Run for Your Life’ and ‘Help!’
“Forty years later, I see Above Us Only Sky on Netflix, the Yoko-driven documentary about the making of the Imagine record at an English country house in the summer of 1971. The proceedings are shaggy and fun, George Harrison dropping by, Phil Spector at the helm, and then suddenly this unkempt, clearly troubled Vietnam Vet named Claudio shows up and insists on meeting Lennon because he believes Lennon wrote all his songs for Claudio.
HE interjection: Claudio and Mark David Chapman were more or less the same unhinged loon.
“The John-Claudio encounter is on film, and Lennon patiently hears Claudio out and tries to reason with him — ‘How could I know you?’ — and that he, like Bob Dylan, just writes things hoping people will relate. The encounter ends with Lennon telling Claudio he looks hungry and bringing him into the house for a meal.
“I read up on Claudio (here) and he worked on farms and then at a Ford auto plant. When it closed he bought himself an ultra-light airplane, flew it too low and slow and the plane stalled. It landed in a tree and tore his aorta from his heart. Dec. 22, 1981 — dead at 33.
“In light of what happened a year earlier, when another obsessed fan came with the same kind of delusional narcissistic energy and took John away from everyone else, the Claudio scene was so moving and chilling and I don’t even know what.”
In The Queen’s Gambit, Anya Taylor-Joy‘s adoptive mother, played by Marielle Heller, is a Chesterfield smoker. In one scene mom sends daughter to the local drug store to pick up three packs of the damn things. She gives her a note so the pharmacist will hand them over to a minor.
Until fairly recently Chesterfields (sold in regular and king-size starting in the ’50s) were unfiltered. I thought Chesterfields had been deep-sixed years ago but nope. In 2018 Phillip Morris discontinued Chesterfield non-filtered in this country. Today they come in three modes — Reds (full flavor), Blues (lights) and Green (menthol).
How many hundreds of thousands met cancer doom in the late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s with the roundabout encouragement of Kirk Douglas, Loretta Young, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, Jack Webb, Humphrey Bogart, Glenn Ford, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum?
“From 1950 to 1990, the overall age-adjusted death rate for lung cancer increased from 13.0 to 50.3 per 100,000 population; for men and women, death rates increased approximately fourfold and sevenfold, respectively. Death rates for men were consistently higher than those for women. The rate of increase in lung cancer mortality was higher for black men than for white men, and death rates for black men first surpassed those for white men in 1963.” — from CDC.gov web page.
“In the early aughts screenwriter William Goldman (Marathon Man, All The President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) explained what a ‘drop-out’ moment is — i.e., when something happens in a film that just makes you collapse inside, that makes you surrender interest and faith in the ride that you’re on. You might stay in your seat and watch the film to the end, but you’ve essentially ‘left’ the theatre. The movie had you and then lost you, and it’s not your fault.” — from “Drop-Out Moments,” posted on 4.11.17.
After too much delay, Hollywood Elsewhere sat down last night and consumed the first three episodes of Scott Frank‘s The Queen’s Gambit. Now I know why it’s so popular. Then again three fucking hours on the couch and another four to go.
I don’t like binge-watching unknown quantities as a rule, although I’ll gladly and happily gorge myself on a longform series if I know and admire the creators (like with Joe Penhall and David Fincher‘s Mindhunter). Yes, I’ll definitely be watching the remainder of The Queen’s Gambit. And yet (and this is important) with reservations.
I went with it for the most part, and especially when chessmaster Anya Taylor-Joy began to defeat all those presumptuous and in many cases arrogant male opponents. It hooked me good and proper, partly because I love watching geniuses dominate the also-rans while re-ordering the known universe. I don’t like alcoholism or drug-addiction stories for the most part because they’re all the same thing, but I’ll tolerate them if the addicted protagonist is brilliant or clever or inventive enough.
But I dropped out at the very end of episode #1, and as a result stopped investing. And so my current attitude is “I like The Queen’s Gambit but I don’t trust it.” Because the stealing-the-sedatives scene is completely ridiculous.
As a young teenager, Taylor-Joy’s Beth Harmon may be emotionally uncertain or naive but she’s obviously a strategic genius in terms of outwitting her opponents. And yet we’re asked to believe that Beth is the world’s stupidest and clumsiest thief when it comes to ripping off handfuls of green-and-white pills from a locked office inside the orphanage.
She decides to make her move while kids and staffers are watching a 16mm showing of Henry Koster‘s The Robe (’53), which lasts 135 minutes. Beth may not know the exact running time, but most films are between 95 and 115 minutes, and any idiot looking to steal drugs during a movie knows that the smartest time to slip out would be around the halfway mark, at which point the audience is fully engaged (unless the film stinks) and less interested in the whereabouts of a young girl who’s gone to the bathroom.
So does Beth make her move around the one-hour mark? Of course not. She waits until the very last scene, when Richard Burton and Jean Simmons are being sentenced to death by Jay Robinson and the 16mm spool of film has nearly run its course.
You can say “but Beth is so addicted to sedatives that she’s lost her mind and all powers of reasoning.” Bullshit. Smart people might act foolishly or irrationally, but they never behave like morons. Addicts value getting high more than anything else in the world, and will use every clever gambit and connivance they can think of to score a good supply of whatever.
And then it gets even crazier. When Beth finally gets her hands on the big jar she wolfs down several pills (at least 10 or 15) while stuffing her pockets. And then she collapses from an overdose less than a minute later, even though it always takes at least five or ten minutes for drugs to enter your bloodstream. And then she drops the glass jar and it shatters on the floor and blah blah.
The scene is just absurd, and it told me that as good as the series is for the most part, Frank and co-creator Allan Scott are willing to fiddle around and flim-flam for the sake of fleeting impact, and so I couldn’t watch the rest with any sense of faith. And when faith goes, belief goes. And when belief goes, caring quickly dissipates. And that leads to alienation.
- All Hail Tom White, Taciturn Hero of “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Roughly two months ago a very early draft of Eric Roth‘s screenplay for Killers of the Flower Moon (dated 2.20.17,...More »