Tonino Guerra (1920-2012): A Sad Loss for World Cinema

23 03 2012

Screenwriter Tonino Guerra (1920-2012)

I just received news today that Tonino Guerra passed away this past Wednesday after some months of illness.  A storyteller and screenwriter of the highest degree, Guerra’s work with directors ranging from Michelangelo Antonioni to Federico Fellini to Andrei Tarkovsky have provided the backbone and structure to a wealth of wonderful films in World Cinema.

Born in Santarcangelo di Romagna, Italy on March 16, 1920, Guerra was a survivor of an Italian concentration camp during the second World War.  It was here that he began writing, which after the war, blossomed into a successful career in film and television.  Guerra fashioned himself as a tool for the directors with which he worked, often times helping them structure and pen their own concepts and stories, rather than presenting a completed script of his own accord for production.  Working in this manner is quite different from how most screenwriters prefer to work, many wanting as little bother from the director as possible.  However, in Guerra’s method, the beautiful stories and ideas of such iconic directors as Fellini and Antonioni were able to fully come to fruition and soundly transfer from mind to celluloid image.

Among Guerra’s noted works were Antonioni’s L’avventura, La notte, L’eclisse, Blowup and The Red Desert; Fellini’s Amarcord (a personal favorite of mine); Theo Angelopoulos’s Landscapes in the Mist and Eternity and a Day; and Tarkovsky’s late entry Nostalgia, among many others.  Well awarded during his long and prosperous 50 year career, Guerra received three Academy Award nominations, those being for Amarcord, Blowup and Casanova 70.

I try not to write posts about every celebrity who passes, as many get more than their fair share of Rest in Peace articles in the news and blogosphere; however, for Guerra, whose work is largely in foreign cinema and possibly lesser known to many American audiences by name, I wanted to pay dues to a true icon in the motion picture industry.


Barbara Kent: Last of the Silent Film Stars

21 11 2011

Barbara Kent (1907-2011)

With all the commotion in my personal life and relatively little amount of coverage it received, I just recently heard of the passing of Barbara Kent at the age of 103.  Her passing signifies the last living connection we had to the dawn of cinema, an era defined solely on the visual content of the medium.  There are a few child actors still alive as of this writing, as well as screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas who turned 111 this year, but Kent was the last adult silent actor still living, at least in regards to American cinema.

Born Barbara Cloutman in Gadsby, Alberta, Canada, on Dec. 16, 1907, she graduated high school from Hollywood High School and, subsequently, got involved in motion pictures after winning the 1925 Miss Hollywood beauty pageant.  Under contract to Universal Pictures, she mad a few appearances in uncredited roles, before making a strong impression as the protagonist, Hertha, in the 1926 Garbo vehicle Flesh and the Devil.  No Man’s Law followed in 1927 and created a bit of an uproar with a scene that looked like she was swimming in the nude, though it was later revealed that she was wearing a flesh colored bathing suit.

Also in 1927, she was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of that year and would eventually make a smooth transition into sound films with the 1929 Harold Lloyd comedy Welcome Danger.  She further appeared with Lloyd in Feet First in 1930 and would continue to appear in various films sporadically until 1935.  Never wanting to become an actor, her interests in the profession waned dramatically in the 1930s and she would make her final appearance on film in Guard That Girl in 1935.

Kent married Hollywood agent Harry Edington in 1932 and remained married until his death in 1949.  She met and married Lockheed engineer Jack Monroe in the mid-1950s and would remain with him until his death in 1998.  She became an avid golfer and even received her pilot’s license following her film career.  For the past decade, she made her home in an assisted living facility in Palm Desert, Calif., and was mentioned by many on various forums online to be in good mind and spirits even well into her 100s.

Never glamorizing her career or having much of an interest in the past, Kent rarely gave interviews or even acknowledged her time in motion pictures.  In the end, I guess it is ironic, yet fitting that one of the last remaining stars of that era remained, for lack of a better word, mostly silent of her time in the industry.

R.I.P. Gunnar Fischer (1910 – 2011)

12 06 2011

Gunnar Fischer (1910 - 2011)

Legendary Swedish cinematographer Gunnar Fischer passed away yesterday at the age of 100.  Fischer’s lighting and camera techniques brought to life some of Ingmar Bergman’s most iconic films from the director’s early period.  Though not as well known as future collaborator Sven Nykvist, Fischer’s style and visual eye has dazzled cinema-goers for nearly 60 years, though his general recognition remains mostly silent.

Born in Ljungby Vasternorrlands Lan, Sweden, on November 18, 1910, Fischer originally studied painting at Otte Sköld.  Following his education, he enlisted as a chef with the Swedish Navy, before turning to a career in cinema at Svensk Filmindustri. His first film credit was as assistant camera on Smålänningar in 1935, and his first feature as a director of photography came in 1942.  He worked with several international directors including Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer and British director Anthony Asquith.  However, his most endearing and remembered artistic partnership was with Bergman from 1948 to 1960.

The fruits of Bergman and Fischer’s collaborations include such films as Harbor City, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Magician and their final collaboration, The Devil’s Eye.  Like many fellow Swedish cinematographers of the era, Fischer was a master of practical lighting and operated his own camera on all his films.  Such classic images as Max von Sydow playing chess with Death or the wide dancing chain on the hill side from The Seventh Seal still move and touch viewers of all generations.

Bergman and Fischer went their separate ways after The Devil’s Eye in 1960.  Bergman went on to form another strong artistic partnership with cinematographer Sven Nykvist which lasted through almost the rest of the director’s professional career.  Fischer continued shooting feature films until 1979 when he retired.  In retirement, he continued to be close to his craft by serving as an instructor of cinematography at several prestigious Scandinavian universities.

An interesting article and interview regarding Fisher’s time working with Bergman from the Washington Post in 2008 can be found here:

Yvette Vickers and the Dark Side of Fame

4 05 2011

Vickers from a 1950s Photo Shoot

Hollywood is legendary for red carpet events, epic parties, glitz and glamour, but it has always been the underbelly of this faux front that has in some ways interested me.  Hollywood, like the film industry itself in many ways, is very plastic and fake in so many ways; one day you are a star, the next you are forgotten.  The old phrase still rings true in so many ways, “You are only as good as your last picture.”

Why this type of post today?  Well, I recently read an article on the death of actress and former Playboy pin-up Yvette Vickers.  These are stories that you don’t hear as much about, the ones that show the sad, lonely side of fame.  Vickers, who was born on August 26, 1928, is probably best remembered for her lead role as Honey Parker in the Sci-Fi/Exploitation classic Attack of the 50 Foot Woman in 1958.  However, her career also included bit parts and other work in such classic films as Sunset Blvd., Hud and a host of guest roles in a variety of television programs.  In addition, she was Playboy’s Miss July in 1959, with photos by B-movie trailblazer Russ Meyer.

In her prime, Vickers was about as beautiful as they get: blue-eyed, blonde haired and very shapely.  As time went by, however, her roles became less and less and, by the mid-1960s, her career had squandered to only sporadic appearances.  According to IMDB, her final role was as “Neighbor” in a low budget horror film entitled Evil Spirits from 1990.

Largely forgotten by all but the most dedicated of science fiction and horror fans, Vickers body was found in her Benedict Canyon home last week.  Coroners were unable to pinpoint exactly how long she had been dead, as her body had mummified.; sources say it could have sat in her upstairs bedroom for as long as a year.

She had lived in the 1920s-era home in which she was found for decades, but over time, the home had fallen into a state of disrepair and even been exposed to the elements in some areas.  Noticing cobwebs and yellowed mail spilling out of the mailbox, neighbor Susan Savage decided to investigate further.  Savage looked in through the windows and could see blonde hair, which turned out to be a wig.  She entered the home which was purportedly filled with boxes of old mail, clothes and junk and maneuvered her way upstairs.

Copyright 1958 Woolner Brothers Pictures, Inc.

In a small room, cluttered as the rest of the house was, Savage found Vickers body next to a small space heater that was still running.  The body was unrecognizable and completely mummified.  According to Savage, she remembered her neighbor as a kind, older women with a warm smile who had friends.  Where were all these friends though to allow a death to go unnoticed for so long?  Everyone wants to make excuses, but in reality, poor Yvette Vickers was just a forgotten soul that few people outside of some fans across the nation remembered.

On a small scale, this is truly the bad side of fame, the part that forgets you after you are no longer in the spotlight.  On a large scale, this is the sad truth that likely much of our geriatric population without children go through, famous or not.  It hurts to see someone forgotten, someone no one seems to remember or care about anymore.

As for filmmaking as an industry, why don’t we take care of our own?  If you didn’t know already, the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital that had long been a service of the Motion Picture and Television Fund, is closing down.  No one new has been admitted for several years and after the passing of those currently occupying, the facility will close for good.  Many former staples of the industry have spent their last days in this facility and some would have had no where else to go but a demise such as Vickers had they not had this facility to rely on in their old age.

Maybe I’m biased because my father is older and always has been a senior citizen since I’ve been alive, but these people deserve to be cared for and treated properly.  If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have many of the things we take for granted today.

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