A Year of Loss
2016 has taken its toll on cinema.
January 1. Vilmos Zsigmond (85). Day One, and we lose the great Hungarian-American cinematographer who'd worked with Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma.
At the Talkhouse Film, James Marsh (Man on Wire) looks back to the 80s when, as a young editor, he spent a few days with Bowie, working on the final edit of a concert that'd be broadcast on the BBC: "He was—hold your breath—absurdly normal. Friendly and warm, quick to laughter and an obsessive but good-humored perfectionist in his work. And very, very English. He even liked the rancid, sickly sweet tea from the BBC canteen. As he worked, he chain-smoked Marlboros. He was flatteringly curious about me—and specifically curious about what music I listened to, what movies I could recommend. He even took me out for dinner to continue our conversation—which still feels like the memory of a dream with the sort of wish-fulfillment that only a dream can provide."
"In 1975 David Bowie was in Los Angeles pretending to star in a film that wasn’t being made, adapted from a memoir he would never complete, to be called The Return of the Thin White Duke." So begins Ian Penman's essay on four recent volumes for the London Review of Books. "He left spaces for his followers: not just the hierarchy of stardom and fandom but a strange, astute, uncanny folding of one into the other. From album to album there was a strange, light, almost mocking dialectic: he taught us to be critics of our own enthusiasms."
#766 on Colson Whitehead's list in the New York Times Magazine: "Grateful, too, for The Hunger. You and Catherine Deneuve as a dissipated swinger vampire couple, picking up club kids and draining their blood while the director, Tony Scott, intercuts footage of Bauhaus performing 'Bela Lugosi’s Dead.' All those names in one sentence, adding up to a single entity: Skinemax."
January 26. Abe Vigoda (94). "Can you get me off the hook, Tom? For old times' sake?"
January 29. Jacques Rivette (87). "Out 1—a 12-hour film, completed in 1971 and all but impossible to see in its entirety until very recently—begins with an extended sequence that combines artlessness and high artifice," writes A.O. Scott in the NYT Magazine. "The members of an experimental theater troupe (one of two such entities in the film) participate in an exercise that consists of writhing and squirming on the floor while wordlessly moaning and keening. It’s the primordial soup from which the film’s elaborate and elusive narrative will evolve, a reminder that every story begins in chaos and noise. Cinema, like other art forms, imposes a capricious kind of order on the mess of human experience, and Out 1 illustrates this principle with a characteristically Rivetteian blend of intellectual rigor and anarchic whimsy."
February 17. Andrzej Zulawski (75). In the mid-80s, Nicolas Boukhrief worked as an assistant to Zulawski, who "shared a lot of insights that served me while I was making my first film, and that I still find useful today." At the Talkhouse Film, Boukhrief passes along "10 choice pieces of advice that seemed essential to me for anyone who wants to get into this business."
February 19. A one-two punch, Harper Lee (89), author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960; the adaptation appeared two years later) and Umberto Eco (84), author of The Name of the Rose (1980; the adaptation was released in 1986).
February 22. Douglas Slocombe (103). The British cinematographer shot several Ealing comedies and three Indiana Jones movies.
March 8. George Martin (90). The renowned Beatles producer also composed, arranged and produced film scores in the 60s and 70s.
March 18. Jan Němec (79). The "Enfant Terrible of the Czech New Wave" (Peter Hames).
March 22. Phife Dawg (45). On November 12, the day after We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service was released, A Tribe Called Quest performed two songs on Saturday Night Live in front of a giant painting of Malik Taylor.
March 22. Three coordinated bombings in Brussels kill at least 32 and injure at least 250.
March 24. Garry Shandling (66). His "contribution to television comedy cannot be overestimated," wrote Sean Axmaker here in Keyframe. "Like Lucille Ball and Ernie Kovaks before him, he challenged convention with invention and ingenuity and intelligence at the same time that he made us laugh."
March 27. A suicide bombing in Lahore kills 75 people and injures around 340.
March 29. Patty Duke (69). An Oscar for Best Supporting Actress her performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker (1962)—she was all of 16. Her own show and Valley of the Dolls (1967) would follow. So would Emmys and Golden Globes.
April 3. The Panama Papers, 11.5 million files "from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca,… show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes," as Luke Harding explained in the Guardian.
April 19. Ronit Elkabetz (51). In the New York Times, William Grimes remembered her as "an Israeli actress and director whose searing performances as a disturbed woman with magical powers, a restaurant owner in a lonely desert town and a divorced woman mired in a hopeless love affair, earned her three Ophir Awards, the Israeli equivalent of an Oscar."
April 20. Guy Hamilton (93). Among the 22 films he directed are four James Bond movies.
April 21. Prince (57). For Jake Cole, writing for Musings, "despite the enduring entertainment value of [Purple Rain (1984)], it arguably loses something of Prince’s essence in smoothing out his kinks…. To get a cinematic sense of the true Prince, in all his baffling, maddening contradiction, one must turn to his own directorial efforts: 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon and 1990’s Graffiti Bridge." Both "are undeniably baffling and scattered, but in their contradictions lie an unpolished, unprotected view of Prince’s personality, artistic worldview, and his well-cloaked self-awareness."
"To this day, the structure of a standard hiphop video is not at all like the structure of a Prince video or album cover," writes Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "He did not want to be the subject of envy, like the masculine rapper; he wanted to be the destination of the gaze, like a rump-shaking woman."
Writing for the NYT Magazine, John Jeremiah Sullivan makes note of "how all the writing on Prince so far has paid such scant attention to his deepest and most important gift, his feel for pop melody…. Everything else that made Prince special—style, virtuosity, movement, guts, beauty—all of it could be removed piece by piece like body parts in a game of Operation, and there would still be Prince on the table. But if the man had not been able to write a song like 'When You Were Mine' or 'Raspberry Beret' (by write it, I mean put the notes and vowels in an order that made them hard to forget), we would never have heard of him. Because he could, though, we have, and people will, for hundreds of years."
May 1. Madeleine Lebeau (92). As William Grimes wrote for the NYT, she was the "French actress who attained movie immortality with one scene, when the camera zoomed in on her tear-stained face as she sang 'La Marseillaise' in Casablanca."
May 9. Rodrigo Duterte is elected President of the Philippines; he'd take office on June 30.
June 3. Muhammad Ali (74). "The one constant in Ali’s life—from the 12-year-old boxer passing out fliers for his own fights to the man who withdrew from public life as Parkinson’s took hold—was his unyielding, nigh-oblivious self-belief," writes Greg Howard for the NYT Magazine. "It was there in 1964, when a 22-year-old named Cassius Clay called himself 'The Greatest' before his championship bout against Sonny Liston, and it was still there when he was ultimately dismantled by [Larry] Holmes. It wasn’t just that his confidence informed his speed, skill, wit and beauty. It was that his confidence made him a beacon. People in need of strength could affix to him whatever symbolism they needed: black pride, the strength of protest, the senselessness of war. In turn, Ali could energize them."
June 19. Anton Yelchin (27). He can currently be heard in Guillermo del Toro's Trollhunters and seen in Gabe Klinger's Porto, currently making the festival rounds. And he'll appear in three more films to be released in 2017.
June 23. Brexit.
June 25. Peter Hutton (71). Max Nelson for Film Comment: "Even when he was filming an American city in or near which he’d lived, as in his early movies set in the Bay Area, his two films shot in Massachusetts or his four about New York, Hutton handled his camera like a curious outsider, lingering on the flow of water or the movement of clouds, taking in people in brief, penetrating but oddly distant portraits, not staying in any one place too long."
June 25. Bill Cunningham (87). As quoted by Jacob Bernstein in the NYT: "Fashion is as vital and as interesting today as ever. I know what people with a more formal attitude mean when they say they're horrified by what they see on the street. But fashion is doing its job. It's mirroring exactly our times."
June 27. Bud Spencer (86). The Telegraph remembered the "burly Italian Olympic swimmer turned actor who was best known for his partnership with Terence Hill in spaghetti westerns; they were sometimes called the Laurel and Hardy of the Italian west."
July 1. Robin Hardy (86). He "made only one film of note," wrote Ryan Gilbey in the Guardian. "But as this was The Wicker Man (1973), which terrified audiences without showing so much as a drop of blood being spilt, his place in British cinema history was always going to be assured."
July 2. Michael Cimino (77). "I loved him, of course," Isabelle Huppert told the Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Galloway last month. "He was extraordinary, probably one of the greatest living American filmmakers."
July 4. Abbas Kiarostami (76). The great Belgian publication photogénie has moved to a new home, where we find Tom Paulus's two-part essay on Kiarostami. Regarding The Wind Will Carry Us (1999): "The truth is that an authoritarian regime prevents growth, but also that cinema, even as ‘mere’ observation, cannot but share in some of the mechanisms of power it denounces. Kiarostami’s ‘presence’ will be a crucial concern in the films to follow that stage the role of the man with the camera in a way that is not dissimilar from what Godard and Rouch were attempting with their ‘cinéma verité’ in the early sixties. It is only at the beginning of a new, more experimental period in his work with the films shot on digital video that Kiarostami will start to stage his absence rather than his presence."
Cinematographer John Bailey: "Kiarostami was not only a filmmaker; he was foremost an artist in every way you can define that term." And the NYT's A.O. Scott: "He was both a pioneer—a mentor and influence for filmmakers from Iran to Thailand, from Mali to Argentina—and something of a terminal figure. 'Film begins with D.W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami,' Jean-Luc Godard once remarked, suggesting that the grand experiment begun in Hollywood in the early 20th century was wrapping up in Tehran on the eve of the 21st."
July 14. Bastille Day. A 19-ton truck roars down the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, killing 86 people and injuring 434.
July 15. A faction within the Turkish Armed Forces attempts—and fails—to stage a coup.
July 19. Garry Marshall (81). Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on TV, Pretty Woman (1990) on the big screen. And he turned in marvelous performances in Albert Brooks's Lost in America (1985) and Louis CK's Louie (2012).
July 24. Marni Nixon (86). Her "career—devoted to 'ghost-voicing' the songs such stars as Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, and Audrey Hepburn were unable to sing themselves—required the audience to listen to her while looking at someone else," wrote David Ehrenstein here in Keyframe. "Thus she created a special sort of image-sound rapport—as singular as Bresson’s, even if it never was seen as such."
August 17. Arthur Hiller (92). Love Story (1970) would lead to Silver Streak (1976) with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, The In-Laws (1979) with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, The Lonely Guy (1984) with Steve Martin and Outrageous Fortune (1987) with Shelley Long and Bette Midler.
August 29. Gene Wilder (83). Well, we just mentioned Silver Streak, but the first films to come to mind would be Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and two he made with Mel Brooks in 1974, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.
August 31. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is impeached and removed from office.
September 1. Jon Polito (65). He'll be remembered for his performances in five films by Joel and Ethan Coen: Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), The Big Lebowski (1998) and The Man Who Wasn't There (2001).
September 9. North Korea conducts its fifth and, as far as we know, biggest nuclear test.
September 20. Curtis Hanson (71). L.A. Confidential (1997) would be the big one. But no one will be forgetting The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), Wonder Boys (2000) or 8 Mile (2002), either.
September 26. Herschell Gordon Lewis (90). The "godfather of gore."
October 7. Wolfgang Suschitzky (104). Cinephiles will remember the photographer and cinematographer for his work with Mike Hodges on Get Carter (1971).
October 9. Andrzej Wajda (90). For over half a century, no one would have a greater impact on Polish cinema.
October 14. Pierre Etaix (87). The comedian, director, screenwriter and designer who'd worked with Jacques Tati and Jean-Claude Carrière was on the verge of being forgotten until his films, tied up for two decades in rights disputes, were revived in 2012.
November 7. Leonard Cohen (82). Rob Sheffield for Rolling Stone: "In The Best of Leonard Cohen, which has some of history's funniest liner notes, Cohen sets the scene by itemizing the exotic locales for each song ('I began it in a Polynesian restaurant in Miami in 1971 and finished it in Ansara, Ethiopia') and the first-name-only muses: 'Yafa was doing tricks with her silver bangles. I owe her the last verse.' But he made You Want It Darker entirely in the dining room of the house he shared with his daughter in L.A., because he could no longer walk, rasping his vocals into a laptop from his orthopedic medical chair—that's all he needed to create this majestically badass farewell. He turned that chair into his Tower of Song."
November 8. Trump.
November 13. Leon Russell (74). The songwriter and performer who worked with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, the Rolling Stones and Elton John is the subject of Les Blank's A Poem Is a Naked Person (1974).
November 25. Fidel Castro dies at the age of 90.
December 12. E. R. Braithwaite (104). Author of the 1959 novel To Sir, With Love. The 1967 adaptation starred Sidney Poitier—and Lulu made the title song a #1 hit.
December 18. Zsa Zsa Gabor (99). "Zsa Zsa went straight from nonentity to celebrity (that modern destiny) and she did it years before the rest of the world had caught on to the trick," writes David Thomson for the Guardian. "Given that she turned her life into a one long, glorious performance, it’s easy to forget that Zsa Zsa Gabor also made movies," writes David Parkinson for the BFI. Throw in the TV appearances, and you're looking at 79 acting credits at the IMDb, the last being, oddly enough, A Very Brady Sequel (1996)—without Florence Henderson.
December 20. Michèle Morgan (96). Ronald Bergan in the Guardian: "One of the quintessential images of pre-war French cinema was the almond-eyed Michèle Morgan, dressed in trench coat and beret, trying to grab some happiness together with the doomed army deserter, Jean Gabin, in a sombre fogbound port in Le Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows, 1938). 'You have beautiful eyes, you know,' Gabin tells her. 'Kiss me,' she replies. It was the first film in which the distinctive melancholic 'poetic realism' of the director Marcel Carné and the screenwriter Jacques Prévert expressed itself."
December 22. Aleppo falls to the Syrian army.
December 25. George Michael (53). From Maura Johnston in the Guardian: "Michael Jackson had the moves; Madonna had the moxie; Prince had the spry, shifting sexuality. George Michael had the voice, an instrument that balanced the smoothness of Sade Adu with the ebullience of Whitney Houston and supercharged any pop song it encountered, a voice that sounded relatable even as it leapt octaves." And Owen Jones: "No sanitizing or erasing who Michael was. He was a gay man, a gay icon, and being gay was central to his identity and his music."
December 27 and 28. Carrie Fisher (60) and Debbie Reynolds (84). A year could hardly end more cruelly. The entries gathering remembrances and tributes for both daughter and mother are still being updated. Meantime, note that HBO will be airing Wishful Drinking, Fisher's autobiographical one-woman show on Sunday (January 1) and debuting Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds on Saturday, January 7.
When Bright Lights screened at the New York Film Festival, the NYT's Manohla Dargis wrote that its subjects "don’t pull you in; they yank. Directed by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens, this very funny, engrossing movie couldn’t be more mainstream or more delectable. Intensely, at times squirmingly, intimate, it trots and sometimes meanders down twinned memory lanes as it revisits Ms. Reynolds’s and Ms. Fisher’s lives, their ups and downs, scandals and tchotchkes. The movie has too many dog reaction shots, but its glamour, drama, bedazzled soul and Hollywood history make objections irrelevant."