Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Into The Palace Of The Winds

It’s difficult when someone with a high public profile unexpectedly passes away, especially one connected with the arts. After the shock and utter incredulity dissipates there comes an almost selfishness and sense of disappointment that not just they are suddenly gone but they’ve taken the promise of any further work with them.

The death of Nobel Prize-nominated science fiction author, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, at the age of ninety, didn’t seem to be that surprising, especially from the man himself. The video of his 90th Birthday Reflections, recorded late last year, had the finality of someone knowing they were on the way out. The sudden, and shocking, death of writer/director Anthony Minghella was something altogether different.

Point a camera at anyone and they’ll come up with an easy platitude to mark someone’s passing. With Minghella, industry people seemed utterly bewildered by the fact that, still in his early fifties, he was suddenly gone. Newsreaders seemed unable to conduct coherent discussions about him, whether it was with Lord Puttnam on BBC News 24 or with Alan Parker on Channel 4 News.

Even some of the obituaries felt somehow rushed, with a blurring around facts that hadn’t been fully ascertained by the deadline, as opposed to the kind of tributes of people well into their dotage, prepared well in advance and regularly updated before the day they would eventually see print. The obituary in The Independent stood out as the best from the broadsheets.

When the tributes appeared they revealed a loved filmmaker who loved film, whether it was Sydney Pollack’s remembrance in the Los Angeles Times website or actress Juliet Stevenson’s very personal tribute on The Times’ website. In an industry that attracts more than it’s fair share of toxic individuals looking to make a fast buck, and with the bad news coming on a day where a lead item involved the judge’s ruling in a divorce case where one of the plaintiffs was not just a few sandwiches short of a picnic but a whole picnic hamper short of a picnic, such purity and dedication is altogether rare.

The disappointment for people who only knew him through his work was that there would be no more films to watch, save The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, made for television and premiering this Easter Sunday. From the half-dozen to his credit, I’m still astonished by the quantum leap from creating the perfect chamber piece in Truly, Madly, Deeply to channelling David Lean out in the desert of North Africa.

It requires a talent to take a wonderful but supposedly unfilmable novel by Michael Ondaatje and join forces with Saul Zaentz, Walter Murch and Gabriel Yared to create one of the most emotive films of the 1990s, if not in the history of cinema. People go but the work remains.

Earlier this year Roy Scheider’s long and varied career was reduced to simply identify him as the “Jaws actor”. Being remembered as the screenwriter and director of The English Patient certainly can’t be a bad thing.


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