In the mid-90s I saw Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, one of those foreign classics that it’s assumed everyone will like. Well … I gave it a try, and it just didn’t do anything for me, though I later liked Godard’s Alphaville and Pierrot le Fou. And I found that Godard in general had a fantastic sense of absurdity, atmosphere, and was of course very good at editing. I just got off to a patchy start with Breathless. But I did think that the lead actor in that movie had some quirky star power and wondered if he was in anything else.
As I found out before long, Jean-Paul Belmondo was a major movie star in France. I’m not sure what I saw him in next, but I soon understood the extent of his stardom, and that his career was long and varied between commercial and experimental movies. While he often played conventional leading man parts, Belmondo had range and I can’t recall him ever seeming fake in anything. Among his lesser known roles, one of Belmondo’s most interesting was for Jean-Pierre Melville, frequent director of crime films who also made one of the greatest religious dramas of all time with Leon Morin, Priest.
France used to produce a bushel of serious movies about Catholicism and the tensions between hope in the next world and life in the present one. Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, from a novel by Georges Bernanos, is probably the most famous, but Leon Morin, Priest deserves much more attention. (It used to be a Criterion title. Many thanks to Kino Lorber for bringing it back to Blu-Ray in the U.S. a couple years ago.) Cast as far from a ladies’ man as possible, Belmondo is utterly convincing and engrossing as a sincere young priest, engaged in a part spiritual battle, part platonic relationship with a young windowed mother (Emmanuelle Riva, soon after Hiroshima, Mon Amour).
Leon Morin, Priest is a great movie and maybe, all these years later, I should give Breathless another try too.
An accomplished actress, of course, but much more than that, and this spring she has left us. By all accounts, a person who lived a life rich in making others happy, with many friends and family. More about Claudia and her life here.
The music of Rush is supposed to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing, but somehow I managed to fall in the middle. Long-term, devoted fans don’t always love their early ‘80s material but I think the Permanent Waves-Moving Pictures-Signals era was magnificent. Alex Lifeson’s guitar had a lovely chorus pedal sound which meshed with the synthesizers that the band was experimenting with, and brought out the best in some of their best songs.
It’s thanks to Neil Peart that I learned something about music. A couple of high school jazz band friends had whatever the current Rush concert video was at the time, and could not say enough about Peart’s drumming. One of these guys was a drummer, and the other a serious Rush fan, and I realized that some folks like music not for any song by that artist, but because of the sheer musicianship.
And I hope Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson keep going in some form.
Leading lady of so many westerns, and of course Creature from the Black Lagoon. Not to mention being an all around working actress with many credits and an always classy presence in the public eye. Rest in peace.
I meant to comment on Harlan Ellison’s passing. A writer who influenced so many people, and probably as much for his never dull, frequently entertaining personality displayed in many public appearances. I was more of a fan in my teen years than when older, but I always enjoyed his comments and just knowing that he was out there.
And, of course, he wrote one of Star Trek‘s greatest episodes:
Also, Steve Ditko. When I was a whippersnapper, I found a torn copy of Doctor Strange Classics in a comic shop, getting it from a reject bunch for something like four-for-a-dollar along with a beat-up Silver Age Tales to Astonish. Ditko’s surrealist, psychedelic art was mind-boggling, and led me to further joy reading his original Spider-Man stories in Marvel Tales.
Here’s a book-themed (and groovy) look at the weird wonder of the art of Ditko:
And . . . Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. The voice of otherworldly nineties Celtic pop music, and a band that was one of the best things about the nineties:
A big, big part of my childhood and those of so many others.
I know I’m not the only one who read “Stan’s Soapbox” in the Marvel Comics “Bullpen Bulletins” and hung on every word like it was cosmic wisdom, at least up to a certain age. And there was the narration he did for that Spider-Man cartoon in the early ’80s, and all the other appearances.
Since I was such a nerd about reading credits in the comics, I knew that he didn’t write them all by the time I was reading the comics of the late 70s and early 80s, but he was still this benevolent presence in the background of everything Marvel. And then I found the reprints of old Amazing Spider-Man and others more interesting at some point, and then really discovered Mr. Lee’s talent for cranking these stories out, month after month. Anyone who can write at that level–regular, little time in between, always entertaining–is a great writer.
And this video takes me back to those days when Stan was Marvel Comics (and see the very insightful writing question from an audience member at 1:30). Rest in peace, Stan, and Excelsior!
Anyone who saw All Creatures Great and Small almost had to love it, and anyone who loved it had to think the best character was played by Robert Hardy. Siegfried Farnon was a fictional version of a real person created by James Herriott, pen name of a real life veterinarian who wrote fiction based on himself and his friends.
Siegfried was not the main character, but he was the dominant one. Employer of James and big brother of Tristan, his dominant, boisterous, hotheaded and contradictory personality was basically just hilarious and endearing. Veteran actor Robert Hardy brought him to life and made Siegfried unforgettable, a performance that no one could have improved on. Rest in peace, Mr. Hardy, and thank you for Siegfried.
One of the most enjoyable aspects for me in researching Robot Monster was discovering that writer Wyott Ordung had some talent behind the camera and was a good actor. He directed (at least officially) Roger Corman’s first creature feature Monster from the Ocean Floor, while the film was mostly carried onscreen by its female lead, Anne Kimbell. Hers was the main character, and she more than ably pulled it off. From this write-up of her life, she loved the stage most as a performer, as many actors do, and stayed active in theater and the arts all around. Rest in peace.