Archive for the Obituary Category

Obituary: IRVIN KERSHNER

Posted in Obituary with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

© 1990 MGM Studios

The trouble with being a film director is that they very often get little in the way of acknowledgement for the work they do. Yes, there are some superstar directors, of the stratospheric status of  James Cameron, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg et al, and some who are better known in some circles than others (for instance the likes of David Lynch and George A. Romero), but most are just names that appear in the credits at either end of the film.

I suspect that Irvin Kershner was just one of that set of directors categorised as “I’ve seen their films but I don’t know who the actual director is”. I can guess that most of my readers will have seen at least one of his films, either Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, Robocop 2 or Never Say Never Again (the 1983 ‘unofficial’ Bond film, starring Sean Connery). In total he was the director of 15 films, acted in two (Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and Steven Seagal’s On Deadly Ground) and also directed episodes of the TV series SeaQuest DSV.

Kershner originally came from a musical background (being able to play the violin and viola) and studied music at Temple University – Tyler School of Fine Arts, based in Philadelphia. He then went on to study painting in New York and Provincetown with Hans Hofman, and then to Los Angeles to study photography. He went on to teach at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and eventually ended up in the United States Information Service making documentaries on various countries.

After working in television, Kershner found himself in the world of Hollywood, where he directed films like The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964), A Fine Madness (1966), The Flim-Flam Man (1967), S*P*Y*S (1974), The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976), the TV movie Raid on Entebbe (1977) which was nominated for nine Emmys, and The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978).

His next next film as director was 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, which inevitably, given the success of the first film in the Star Wars franchise, catapulted his name into the popular consciousness. Apparently Lucas told Kershner he chose him because he knew “everything a Hollywood director is supposed to know, but [he wasn’t] Hollywood.” Which is high praise indeed, acknowledging his craft rather than his obeisance to the Tinseltown Film Factory’s way of doing things. (Although not a great fan of Star Wars myself, I do remember reading of the innovations that Phil Tippett brought to Empire, specifically techniques to make stop-motion animation more realistic, plus of all the SW films I enjoyed this one the most.) Following on from there, Kershner brought cinema-goers Never Say Never Again (1983) and then his last film, Robocop 2, in 1990.

He was a faculty member of the Master of Professional Writing programme at the University of Southern California and was working on photography at the time of his death.

Irvin Kershner was born April 29th, 1923 in Philadelphia. He died, aged 87, on November 27th, 2010, after a three and a half year battle with lung cancer in Los Angeles.

Obituary: LESLIE NIELSEN

Posted in Obituary with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

© 1956 MGM Film Studios

I’ve been a sci-fi fan all my life, right from the very moment I learnt to read. Additionally, cinematic sci-fi always held my attention more than any other form of entertainment. The natural fall-out of that is that, as soon as I was aware that there was a greater universe out there beyond the clouds and skies of blue, I became passionately interested in stargazing, the planets of the solar system and astronomy.

So, it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that I only made the connection that Leslie Nielsen, who died aged 84 on Monday, played the spaceship captain in Forbidden Planet AFTER I’d watched the hilarious Airplane!. It’s easy to judge in hindsight, but even then it should have been obvious that he made a much greater impression in comedic roles than he did in straight drama, although that it isn’t to say that Nielsen didn’t have a few successes in serious acting. He appeared on Broadway (Seagulls over Sorrento) and made his film debut in 1955’s The Vagabond King, a musical in which he played a nobleman involved in a plot against King Louis XI.

After his role in that film, he was offered his first (and probably his most notable serious) leading role, in Forbidden Planet, as Commander John J. Adams. By all accounts, the director Fred Wilcox took the whole thing extremely seriously and, according to the obituary in yesterday’s Independent newspaper, told the actors that they should treat it as such. It’s well-known that the premise of the film is a sci-fi riff on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and that it was clearly an attempt to bring a literacy and critical seriousness to the science fiction genre which was lacking somewhat, the general public of the time coming to see it as being represented by pulp magazines and paperbacks with lurid covers, films with preposterous plots and outlandish alien creatures, and humanoids in tight-fitting spandex with ridiculous sounding names and sporting laser-spouting rayguns.

I must have watched the film sometime in the early seventies, or in my early teens at the very latest – certainly at a period when my critical faculties were nowhere near as sharp or as developed as they are now (if indeed I possessed any at all). That would probably account for the fact that I didn’t actually take much notice of the people playing the parts – I was purely focused on the action. It’s a right old rollicking tale, set on an island in space where the only inhabitants are Dr. Morbius (Walter Pigeon) and his daughter Altaira Morbius (Anne Francis), plus Robbie the Robot.

It was only after watching David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker’s disaster-movie spoof Airplane! in the early 80s that I found out that the actor who played the leading characters in both were one and the same man. It would be very true to say that Nielsen’s aptitude for comedic timing, plus absolute deadpan delivery, made him a natural for the part of Dr. Alan Rumack, the medic on the airplane in question (he was, apparently, well-known as a bit of a prankster on the set of films). Its success went on to spawn the television series Police Squad, which in turn gave us three brilliantly funny film vehicles for Nielsen, the Naked Gun trilogy (The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad, The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear and The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult), in which he plays hapless police officer Frank Drebin. These three are, in combination, probably his finest cinematic hour, although he went on to star in further comedy roles in films such as Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Repossessed (with an appearance from Linda Blair, star of the original Exorcist film), Spy Hard and 2001: A Space Travesty. By all accounts these were not as successful, although I have to say I did enjoy the Dracula spoof immensely, despite what the critics thought of it.

Nielsen’s success is due entirely to his ability to deliver the funniest lines without even a facial twitch and in complete seriousness. The resigned look of bemusement, the willingness to plough on regardless, and the absolutely thorough lack of awareness of the chaos left in his wake while Drebin goes after his man, simultaneously delivering one-liners capable of reducing adults to helpless laughter, is what I’ll remember him most for. Having said that, I think it’s high time that I located a copy of Forbidden Planet and gave it a critical reassessment. Even now, images from that film are playing across the screen of my memory. And then, of course, I’ll follow it very closely with the belly laughs of all three of The Naked Gun series.

Leslie Nielsen was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, of a Danish-born father and a Welsh mother, on February 11 1926. He died on 28th November 2010, aged 84.

Obituary: PETER ‘SLEAZY’ CHRISTOPHERSON

Posted in Obituary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Back in the dim, murky depths of the late 80s, I came across a band that was to practically change my life forever (in terms of musical perception, anyway) – Psychic TV. Through them, I discovered a whole new world of independent, underground music, material that truly challenged the definitions and boundaries of what could actually be considered ‘music’. In some senses, Psychic TV answered a question that I didn’t even know I was asking: were there people out there pushing the envelope, breaking through the creative straitjackets that musical genres of the time were being constrained in, and piercing the staid narratives that had become the acceptable face of ‘popular music’ in the late 20th century?

The answer was most definitely a resounding yes. Punk, of course, enacted the blitzkrieg strike at the heart of the ‘dinosaur’ music industry in the late seventies, allowing smaller entites, both bands and labels, to emerge out of the woodwork and evolve a self-sustaining ecosystem of their own. After the initial outburst, not to say furore, created by punk, came other groupings, of which COUM Transmissions was one.

This was a performance art group, the nucleus of which was Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Later on, along with Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter, they were to morph into probably the most influential band of the emergent industrial music scene, if not the founders of the whole movement itself – Throbbing Gristle. Despite the superficially ludicrous name, TG established the parameters that were to define the early iterations of industrial music – in essence, that there were no parameters. Despite those early subterranean beginnings, industrial music is now a permanent fixture in the lexicon of popular culture, in its turn spawning other subcultures in its bastard wake (goth and cybergoth, gabba and dark ambient, to name far too few).

Peter Christopherson, who died peacefully in his sleep yesterday at his home in Thailand at the young age of 55, was a part of three of the most pivotal projects of the industrial era, at least for me – Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and, perhaps my favourite, Coil (founded with his partner Jhonn Balance, who also unfortunately passed away in 2004, a man who used to send me signed CDs of their’s on a regular basis). All three of these entites liberated and inspired me in ways that are still being felt even now, even if in recent years it was more of a subconscious influence. In 1989-90, I launched my very first foray into publishing, FRACTured fanzine, a publication devoted entirely to the fledgling industrial scene and which lasted for all of three glorious issues, only coming to an end because of a combination of youthful fecklessness and personal issues. Then, in 2008 (after rediscovering the scene thanks to Justin Mitchell of Cold Spring Records, one of the original FRACTured ‘zine correspondents), I was inspired to renew my ties with the scene by starting up FracturedSpacesRecords – this time its demise was through factors outside of my control rather than through want of hard work.

I nearly went to see the reformed TG last year, at Heaven, in London, but again personal and financial issues prevented me. Like I felt after the news of Ingrid Pitt’s death, I now find myself wishing that I’d found a way to circumvent the problems and attend the gig. More recently, Peter was part of a successful tour by X-TG, essentially Throbbing Gristle without Genesis P-Orridge. Peter was never one to sit still for long, always being driven to push and reinvent and experiment.

Yes, he may have gone, but the legacy that he left behind is enormous and profound, and is still being felt. He and his collaborators were the progenitors of an entire movement, one that still exists today, albeit with less of the frisson of electricity and excitement that the early scene engendered back then. He might not have been as well-known as either Genesis or Jhonn, or even Stephen Stapleton of Nurse With Wound or David Tibet of Current 93, but that doesn’t matter. What he brought to the emergent scene and subsequently made deep and lasting impressions on many people, myself included. And, I have to say, I am enormously grateful for that – I wouldn’t be where I am now without that influence, however unseen it was.

Goodbye, goodnight, and RIP Peter.

Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, musician, artist, sonic provocateur, was born 27th February 1955, and died of natural causes in his sleep at his home in Bangkok, Thailand, on 24th November 2010.

Obituary: INGRID PITT

Posted in Obituary on November 24, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Yesterday, the world of horror cinema lost an icon – Hammer actress Ingrid Pitt, who has died at the age of 73. Earlier this year, many of my friends saw her at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, where apparently she was still able to wow people and, judging from photographs, had kept her bombshell looks right up until the end. I am sorry now that I missed the event.

Many will consider Ingrid as THE Hammer scream-queen, therefore the quintessential British actress, so it may surprise some to learn that she was born Ingoushka Petrov in 1937, to a German father and a Polish mother. She and her family were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War 2. After the war, she went to Berlin, where she met and married an American soldier (a marriage which eventually ended in divorce) and moved to California. After the marriage had been annulled she returned to Europe.

It was while she was in Europe that she got her first taste of the movies, when she landed a small role in a film. Subsequently, she returned to America, her ambition plainly being to break into cinema as an actress. In 1968, she made her debut proper in Dr. Zhivago, in a minor role, following it up by starring alongside Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare that same year.

However, it’s as a Hammer actress that she will be best remembered, beloved of the many fans of the studio’s output. Her face became well-known after appearing in The Vampire Lovers (1970), Countess Dracula (1971 – and arguably her most famous film), and the seminal The Wicker Man (1973). She went on to star in numerous films after her Hammer stint, including Who Dares Wins (1982), the Bond film Octopussy (1983) and Underworld (1985), an obscure British film written by Clive Barker and James Caplin (and starring Denholm Elliott, Miranda Richardson and Steven Berkoff). She even became a judge on the long-running 1970s TV talent show New Faces, hosted by Derek Hobson ( a role later taken on by Marti Caine when it returned in the 80s – Caine was herself a winner in the original run) and also had roles in many tv shows both here and in the US, including Ironside, Doctor Who (absolutely essential for any British actor/actress of the time), the Smiley’s People mini-series and Dundee and Calhane, a 1967 series starring John Mills and Sean Garrison.

Pitt also trod the boards for a while, including the successful Dial M for Murder. She returned to film in 2000 in The Asylum, and in 2006 for the Hammer/Mario Bava tribute Sea of Dust. Pitt even managed to get onto a Cradle of Filth album…. (Cruelty and the Beast, if you must know).

Ingrid Pitt was married twice, the first time to an America GI and then to actor Tony Rudlin. She had suffered a series of illnesses within the last two decades, and died in a South London hospital, on November 23rd 2010, just a few short days after collapsing, and sadly just two days after her 73rd birthday. She will be missed by many.