So much to do at Christmas. Presents to buy. (Am I the only person not insulted to receive gift cards?) Christmas specials to watch. (And watch again, and again, if it’s Frosty the Snowman and your three-year-old daughter has developed a Frosty fixation.) Mellowmas posts to read. Taking the kids to Macy’s Santaland (go early on a weekday, get out in under an hour, and celebrate your own “Miracle on 34th Street”–I note that all evidence of the lame 1994 remake of the great 1947 classic has been removed from the building). Mellowmas posts to read.
I’m making my lists and checking them twice–stocking-stuffer DVDs and Blu-rays, best DVDs and Blu-rays of the year, a Christmas movie roundup, best movies of the year, all launching in the coming weeks. Just because I’m not here doesn’t mean I’m not preparing for my next spectacular (ahem) appearance. But before all this, a pause to consider the artists the film world lost this year.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like to write obits. As I lose more and more favorites each year the task gets too depressing. Fortunately, I don’t have to. Turner Classic Movies does a splendid job each year with its “TCM Remembers” video. I almost hate to say this but I look forward to its being broadcast and posted every year, as an evocative way to honor the dead, with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. Christmas is for that, too.
Have a look:
It’s always more thorough than the one the Oscars offers, and as timely as it can be, this edition getting in Harry Morgan (who, before co-starring in the politically poles apart Dragnet and MASH on TV was in every other Western, noir, or cop movie Hollywood churned out) and Deliverance‘s “squeal like a pig!” bad guy Bill McKinney. Bert Schneider, the producer who gave us the Monkees, Easy Rider (1969), and Hearts and Minds (1974), and who had the misfortune to die after the cutoff, can rest assured that TCM will remember him next year, or maybe sneak him into a reedit.
I always have one question after my first annual viewing: What’s the song? That’s an easy one to answer: “Before You Go,” by OK Sweetheart. Lovely.
Second: Who are these people? No, not, say, Peter Falk, Sidney Lumet, Jane Russell, John Barry, or Elizabeth Taylor, who you just knew was going to get the final farewell, just as she will at the Oscars. I admit I squeaked by on Hideko Takamine, recognizing her from Mikio Naruse pictures only as I saw her name. But: Miriam Seegar? Sybil Jason? Edith Fellows? Marilyn Nash? John Howard Davies? Barbara Kent? Margaret Field? Paulette Dubost? Norma Eberhardt? Leslie Brooks? Who said the silver screen guaranteed immortality? TCM does, anyway (and good to see you back, tanned, rested, and ready, Robert Osborne!). Consulting Wiki and the IMDb cleared up a few mysteries: Seegar retired in 1933; at age nine, in 1948, Davies was the star of David Lean’s Oliver Twist (later, as a TV executive, he fired Benny Hill); Dubost, the French actress, I should have recognized from The Rules of the Game (1939) and The Last Metro (1980); besides appearing in 1958′s The Return of Dracula (how did I not recall that?) Eberhardt also co-starred with the slightly more marquee-worthy Mary Murphy (The Wild One, 1953) in that same year’s Live Fast, Die Young. They didn’t (Murphy’s also in the tribute). “In 2007,” Wiki tells us, “Eberhardt’s image from Live Fast, Die Young appeared on T-shirts worn by Slash, the former guitarist for Guns N’ Roses and member of the supergroup, Velvet Revolver. Eberhardt was described as ‘highly amused’ when she discovered that her likeness appeared on Slash’s wardrobe.” Me, too.
A fond farewell to some of my cult stars: Yvette Vickers, a memorable tramp in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) and Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), whose abiding claim to fame may be her lonely end; Jimmy Sangster, who wore several hats for Hammer Films, notably the screenplays for the touchstone The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and 1958’s Horror of Dracula (the title of his autobiography, Do You Want it Good or Tuesday?, neatly encapsulates the writing life); and Dracula co-star Michael Gough, best remembered for sneering and raving through more downmarket credits like Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and Konga (1961) until his welcome renaissance as Alfred in the first run of Batman movies.
And who can forget Tura Satana in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)? How much wardrobe has she been on? “Alright, here’s how it works–everybody’s gotta go!”
With two weeks to go–and, ask any doctor, these next two weeks tend to be very bad for dying, as the grievously ill struggle to hang on through the holidays–here’s hoping death takes a holiday. But I really should elaborate upon Ken Russell, who was a pain in the arse of “classical” British cinema and a hellbent innovator, who worked in every mode (sometimes several at once) and delivered some fabulous movies. The Devils (1971) shocked this jaded college student at a midnight screening on campus and continues to vex Warner Brothers, which has never seen fit to release it in this country since a pan/scan VHS (which I own, along with a digital stream I had the rare good sense to purchase last summer when it turned up, briefly before being yanked, on iTunes). I love how, staring down a possible lawsuit by pseudonymous author Paddy Chayefsky and under orders not to touch a word of his screenplay, he simply instructed his actors (including a debuting William Hurt) to rattle off the incomprehensible dialogue at top speed and, fusing it with mindblowing audio and special effects, came up with Altered States (1980). Crimes of Passion (1984) offers an awesome showcase for Kathleen Turner, who is simply sensational as the moonlighting hooker “China Blue.” (And Anthony Perkins is pretty memorable, too, as her reverend nemesis.) How many times did my sister and I watch Tommy (1975) back in the day on HBO? Hundreds, maybe thousands. Russell in his element, turning out one amazing sequence after another, trailblazing the “rock video” years before MTV came on the scene–and who else would dare to bring hellions Oliver Reed and Keith Moon together and suffer the consequences for art? Goodbye, Ken Russell, and you, too, Sally Simpson: