Monday, November 29, 2010

The Big Screen in The Sky

Sadly here at Film  Gab we occasionally have to take off our hats and bow our heads to mark the passing of film greats who have made movies and lived lives worth remembering.
Today we say goodbye to two unique Hollywood talents.

Yesterday 11/28 marked the passing of actor Leslie Nielsen at the age of 84. Many people have spent their lives laughing at Nielsen's comic interpretation of the lovable, overly-serious buffoon since he appeared in the 1980 disaster-comedy classic Aiprlane! His career changed almost overnight into what any comic actor would give his eyes, nose and throat for with credits like the TV series Police Squad (1982) and the three Naked Gun movies that followed. Nielsen was a brilliant comic, but what makes his life even more interesting, is that until 1980, he wasn't always funny. Starting with his 1950 television debut on a program called The Actor's Studio (no, James Lipton was not involved) his resume was chocked full of genres. Dramatic parts like Ransom! (1956). Sci-fi terror in Forbidden Planet (1956). Westerns. Soap opera in TV's Peyton Place. And he even appeared in the grand-daddy of all disaster films, The Poseidon Adventure (1972). It took Hollywood 30 years to figure out that Nielsen was a comedy gem. Today, movie fans everywhere are grateful for the phrase, "Better late than never."

Flags on Planet Lucasfilm are also flying at half-mast today for 87 year-old director Irvin Kershner. Whenever the debate starts between Star Wars aficionados over which of the original Star Wars films is the best, chances are a majority of the time The Empire Strikes Back wins. The same year Nielsen was uttering the immortal line, "-And don't call me Shirley," Kershner directed the most anticipated sequel of all time. (Unless you count the release of the book Scarlett- which I don't.) Empire took the sci-fi fantasy world of the original Star Wars and brought it down to earth with melodrama we could all sink our teeth into. Love, betrayal, and the best "Who's Your Daddy?" scene of the era all came together to create a piece of pop sci-fi that grew beyond the boundaries of its fantastical genre into something even more universal. Clearly this was not due to Lucas, as he has sucked the life out of the rest of the Star Wars epic, so one must think that Kershner deserves a great big, "Thank you" for his direction of Empire. Not to mention that he made the 1978 fashion horror Eyes of Laura Mars with Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, and one of the screen's great effetes, Rene Auberjonois. So Mr. Kershner, Thank you.

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