Deathlog 2017 – Part 1

 

© Eon Productions

 

The Grim Reaper seemed to cull a record number of big-name celebrities in 2016: David Bowie, Prince, Umberto Eco, Muhammed Ali, George Michael, Carrie Fisher.  2017 has seen less carnage, but nonetheless some people I admired have passed away.  Here’s a post about them.  Links are provided to those people whom I’ve already written about on Blood and Porridge.

 

January 19th and 21st saw the deaths of British writers Hilary Bailey and Emma Tennant, who by a sad coincidence were friends and occasional collaborators.  I read some of Bailey’s work in the New Worlds Quarterly paperback series that she’d edited in the 1970s – the series was a reincarnation of the famous science-fiction magazine New Worlds that her one-time husband Michael Moorcock had edited during the previous decade.  I’m unfamiliar with Tennant’s work but have a tenuous link with her.  She belonged to the aristocratic Glenconner family who owned the Glen, a mansion in the hills a few miles southeast of my Scottish hometown of Peebles.  I’ve hiked past the Glen many a time and, according to Tennant’s Wikipedia entry, she lived there as a child and remembered it as “the strangest place possible.”

 

January 27th saw a further literary demise, of novelist and filmmaker William Peter Blatty.  He authored The Exorcist (1971), which was made into the ground-breaking and massively successful horror movie of the same name two years later.  In 1990 Blatty directed the film’s second sequel, Exorcist III, which has its admirers; and in 1980 The Ninth Configuration, a movie ignored on its release but now viewed as an offbeat classic.   Film critic Mark Kermode described Configuration as “a breathtaking cocktail of philosophy, eye-popping visuals, jaw-dropping pretentiousness, rib-tickling humour and heart-stopping action.”

 

© Warner Brothers

 

Also checking out in January were American character actor Miguel Ferrer – Albert Rosenfield in Twin Peaks (1990-91, 2017) – on February 19th; acclaimed English actor John Hurt on January 25th; Scottish politician Tam Dalyell on January 26th; and, on January 25th, the American film and TV actress Mary Tyler Moore.  Through her sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), she was instrumental in getting American television to portray women in a more proactive and empowered fashion.

 

January 26th saw the death of a more conventional American TV performer, Mike Connors, who played tough-guy private investigator Mannix from 1967 to 1975.  Mannix fans presumably included a young Quentin Tarantino, who named a character after the P.I. in 2015’s The Hateful Eight.  Two days later saw the passing of keyboardist and guitarist Geoff Nicholls, who played in legendary Brum heavy-metal band Black Sabbath from 1980 to 2004.

 

February was had a relatively low death toll, although on February 17th we said goodbye to another Twin Peaks alumni, Warren Frost, who played the kindly Doc Hayward in its first two series in 1990-91 and briefly in its 2017 revival series.  And the much-loved movie character actor Bill Paxton died on February 26th.

 

March 14th saw the death of veteran American film producer Jack H. Harris, who’ll surely be remembered as ‘Father of the Blob’.  Not only did he produce hoary sci-fi monster movie The Blob in 1958 (starring Steve McQueen as an unfeasibly old teenager) but he masterminded its 1972 sequel Beware! the Blob, which was directed by none other than J.R. Ewing himself Larry Hagman and thus became known as ‘the movie that J.R. shot.’  Furthermore, Harris produced the 1988 remake, directed by Chuck Russell, and at the time of his death was trying to get a second remake off the ground.  On March 18th seminal rock-and-roller Chuck Berry passed away, and the following day the masterly American illustrator and comic-book artist Bernie Wrightson died too.  Checking out on March 26th was actress Darlene Cates, splendid as Johnny Depp and Leonardo Di Caprio’s mother in the 1993 movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

 

© MGM / United Artists

 

American funny man Don Rickles died on April 6th.  I wasn’t a fan of Rickles’ humour (“Who picks your clothes?  Stevie Wonder?”) but as an actor he was memorably nasty in Roger Corman’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) and memorably pathetic in John Landis’s Innocent Blood (1992).  One day later, the English stage, film, TV and radio actor Tim Pigott-Smith passed away.  My juvenile self will always remember Pigott-Smith for playing: (1) Hotspur (to Jon Finch’s Henry IV, David Gwillim’s Hal and Anthony Quayle’s Falstaff) in the 1979 BBC production of Henry IV Part 1, which I was made to watch at school; and (2) Thallo in 1981’s Clash of the Titans.  Meanwhile, bowing out on April 12th was Charlie Murphy, elder brother to Eddie Murphy and a distinguished comic performer in his own right.  His Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories turn on Comedy Central’s Chapelle’s Show (2003-2006) was hilarious, perhaps most of all when he described an alleged encounter with Prince, where the diminutive funky singer-musician showed an unexpected flair for basketball.

 

We also saw the departures of American blues singer and guitarist Lonnie Brooks on April 3rd; hugely influential British comics artist Leo Baxendale on April 23rd; and American guitarist John Warren Geils Jnr, mainspring of the J. Geils Band on April 11th – how I loved the Geils song Centerfold when I was a fifteen-year-old.  American director Jonathan Demme, whose CV included Caged Heat (1974), Crazy Mama (1975), Melvin and Howard (1980), Stop Making Sense (1984), Swimming to Cambodia (1987), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Philadelphia (1993), died on April 26th.

 

And American character actor Clifton James died on April 15th.  James was best-known for playing redneck police officer Sheriff Pepper in two Roger Moore James Bond movies, 1974’s Live and Let Die and 1975’s The Man with the Golden Gun.  (In the latter film, Sheriff Pepper turns out to be less of a redneck than expected.  Holidaying with his wife in East Asia, he refuses to have his photo taken with an elephant: “Elephants!  We’re Demy-crats, Maybelle!”)  For a more nuanced Clifton James performance, however, check out his supporting role in Richard Lester’s Juggernaut (1975).

 

© 20th Century Fox

 

Another notable movie policeman passed away the following month, on May 10th: Michael Parks, who played Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dawn to Dust (1996), Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and the Rodriguez / Tarantino collaboration Grindhouse (2007).   Parks also played the villainous Jean Renault in the first two series of Twin Peaks (1990-91) – so yes, he was another Twin Peaks casualty of 2017.  Another man who was no stranger to violent action-thrillers, character actor Powers Boothe, died on May 14th.  Boothe’s career saw him perform in such gritty movies as Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort (1981) and Extreme Prejudice (1987), Oliver Stone’s U-Turn (1997) and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City (2005).

 

Other notable actors departing in May included the cinema’s longest-serving James Bond, Sir Roger Moore, who died on May 23rd; and English character actor Geoffrey Bayldon, who passed away on May 10th.  Bayldon appeared in British horror films like The House That Dripped Blood (1970), Tales from the Crypt and Asylum (both 1972) but will be remembered by British TV viewers my age for playing a medieval wizard transported by magic to the present day in the children’s fantasy show Catweazle (1970-71).  Meanwhile, the musical world took a hit on May 18th with the death of yet another grunge-band frontman, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell.

 

From Wikipedia

 

Before taking leave of May, we should raise a glass of vodka to the memory of Soviet Air Defence Forces officer Stanislav Petrov, who died on May 19th.  Petrov is credited with saving the world from nuclear destruction in 1983.  Suspicious of an early-warning report about an American missile approaching the USSR, he disobeyed an order to launch a retaliatory strike.  The initial report turned out to be false, the result of a malfunction in the satellite tracking system.  Phew.  Looking at the shitty state of international politics in the early 21st century, I suspect we’ll need a few more people of Stanislav Petrov’s calibre in the years ahead.

 

June 2017 wreaked havoc in the world of children’s TV entertainment.  On June 9th it claimed Adam West, square-jawed star of the campy old Batman TV show (1966-68); on June 19th Brian Cant, narrator of the revered British stop-motion-animation shows Camberwick Green (1966), Trumpton (1967) and Chigley (1969); and on June 5th, the venerable Peter Sallis, who provided the voice for Gromit in Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit quintet.  Sallis also played Norman Clegg in all 295 episodes of the BBC’s seemingly never-ending sitcom Last of the Summer Wine (1973-2010) and appeared in a couple of Hammer horror movies.  I love the fact that he was in both the Hammer film Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and the Wallace and Gromit epic Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).

 

© Aardman Animations

 

Anita Pallenberg, 1960s icon, actress and muse to the Rolling Stones died on June 13th and Dave Rosser, guitarist with the reformed American alternative-rock band the Afghan Whigs, died on June 27th.  Finally, June 30th saw the passing of Barry Norman, English movie critic and host of the BBC’s long-running Film… review show from 1972 to 1998.  I disagreed with many of Norman’s opinions – he could be annoyingly conservative and prissy in his tastes – but he performed his duties with undeniable wit, charm and aplomb.  And a long time before the Internet, when the UK media didn’t seem particularly interested in films as an artform, his weekly show was an invaluable lifeline for cinephiles like myself.

 

To be continued…  Alas.

 

© BBC

 

The FBI guys

 

© CIBY Pictures / New Line Cinema

 

Ask me at least two days of the week what my all-time favourite TV show is and I’ll say Twin Peaks, the weird, whacky and wonderful crime drama / mystery / soap opera / offbeat comedy / horror series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost and sometimes directed by Lynch that ran for two seasons from 1990 to 1991.

 

Admittedly, I agree with the consensus opinion that the show dropped in quality during its second season after the big question that’d propelled its plot until then was answered – i.e. we found out who’d murdered Laura Palmer back at the start of episode one.  But I’m still awfully excited about the news that Lynch and Frost have recently been working on a third season of Twin Peaks, set a quarter-century after the events of the original, which is scheduled for broadcast in May this year.

 

I’m saddened, though, by the recent death of actor Miguel Ferrer, who appeared regularly in the 1990-1991 Twins Peaks and was one of many old cast members recruited again for this year’s revival.  It now looks like Ferrer’s return appearance in the new Twin Peaks, filmed last year, will prove his swansong.

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

The son of the legendary Hispanic-American stage, film and TV actor José Ferrer and the American singer Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt), Miguel Ferrer played a character called Albert Rosenfield in the show and made his debut in its second episode.  Albert is an FBI forensic expert summoned to the town of Twin Peaks by his colleague Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to help him investigate the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).  The testy, cynical and frequently obnoxious Albert is the yin to the yang of Cooper, who’s a decent, honest and almost psychotically cheerful fellow.  Cooper also seems the only person on the planet who’s capable not only of tolerating Albert but of treating him as a friend.

 

Still, Cooper is mindful enough to advise town sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) about Albert being an acquired taste: “I gotta warn you.  Albert’s lacking in some of the social niceties.”

 

Initially, those social niceties aren’t so much lacking in Albert as non-existent.  He denounces the town as a “slipshod backwater burg” and a “forgotten sinkhole”, to which he’s “travelled thousands of miles and apparently several centuries”, and one that’s full of “morons and halfwits, dolts, dunces, dullards and dumbbells”.  He calls Truman to his face a “chowder-head yokel” and “blistering hayseed.”  Truman responds by punching him so hard that he ends up sprawled on top of the mortuary slab bearing Laura Palmer’s corpse.

 

But, as the show progresses, Albert is allowed some character development.  By the second season, when Truman’s ready to punch him again following another jibe – “You might practise walking without dragging your knuckles on the floor” – he responds to the threat of violence with an impassioned speech explaining that he’s happy to be a knob-end if it helps him in the greater scheme of things, i.e. in the struggle against evil.  And by the way, he’s a committed pacifist.  “While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I’m a naysayer and hatchet-man in the fight against violence.  I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King.  My concerns are global.  I reject absolutely revenge, aggression and retaliation.  The foundation of such a method is love.  I love you, Sheriff Truman.”  No wonder Cooper tells the dumfounded Truman afterwards, “Albert’s path is a strange and difficult one.”

 

Actually, the FBI as it’s portrayed in Twin Peaks is a strange and difficult thing too.  Apparently, it’s staffed by eccentrics and oddballs, admittedly ones with impeccable codes of conduct.  The abrasive-but-idealistic Albert seems almost normal compared to Cooper, with his compulsive habit of talking into a tape recorder, obsession with coffee and cherry pie, predilection for seeking clues in his dreams and generally bizarre investigation techniques, such as ‘the Tibetan Method’ (basically throwing rocks at bottles).

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

There’s also Gordon Cole, Albert and Cooper’s Regional Bureau Chief, who’s played by David Lynch himself.  He’s partially deaf, with the unfortunate side effect that he himself speaks much too loudly, which when you think about it isn’t a helpful characteristic for an employee of an intelligence agency.  In addition, Gordon is given to such odd behaviour as writing epic poems in honour of meals he’s just eaten and making obtuse statements like, “Cooper, you remind me today of a small Mexican Chihuahua.”

 

And then there’s Agent Denise Bryson (actually from the Drug Enforcement Agency rather than the FBI) who’s played by none other than David Duchovny and who turns up in Twin Peaks after having what we’d call today a ‘gender reassignment’.  Denise, who not-so-long-ago was called Dennis, explains to Cooper that she first donned woman’s clothing whilst working undercover on a sting operation and enjoyed the sensation so much that she decided to go the whole way and become female.

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC

 

As a transgender character entering the remote, rural town of Twin Peaks, Lynch and Mark Frost can’t resist wringing a few laughs out of Denise’s situation – for instance, stunned expressions when Duchovny first trots into the sheriff’s office in high heels, stockings, skirt and long hair.  But overall, she’s depicted with surprising empathy and respect by the standards of an early 1990s TV show.  She’s shown to be smart, likeable and professional and Cooper and the others immediately accept her as a member of the team.   And she saves Cooper’s neck when he’s being held hostage by the villainous Jean Renault (Michael Parks).  Disguised as a waitress, she smuggles to Cooper a gun that she’s hidden up her skirt.

 

Let’s not forget the additional agents we meet in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the Lynch-directed movie prequel to the TV show that appeared in cinemas in 1992.  We get Phillip Jeffries, an FBI man who’s been mysteriously missing for two years but who one morning suddenly pops out of a lift at FBI headquarters.  He proceeds to babble gibberish at Cooper, Gordon and Albert: “Who do you think this is, there…?  I found something.  And then there they were!”  Then he narrates a surreal dream montage involving dwarves, killers, masks, disembodied mouths and long-nosed spectres.  And then he vanishes into thin air again.  Making the experience even stranger for the audience is the fact that Phillip Jeffries is played by David Bowie, in the movie for all of three minutes.

 

© CIBY Pictures / New Line Cinema

 

Another musical talent playing an FBI agent and disappearing mysteriously in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is Chris Isaak, who had a big hit with the song Wicked Game.  Early in the sequel, Isaak’s character Chester Desmond is sent to another small town to investigate the murder of another young woman.  We last see Isaak reaching under a trailer to retrieve what looks like the murdered woman’s ring – and then, spookily, he fades out of view.  I find it unsettling that Isaak’s musical career seemed to vanish off the radar about the same time he vanished off the screen in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.  Maybe Lynch knows something about Isaak he hasn’t told the rest of us?

 

The reputation of America’s intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies isn’t exactly spotless.  Indeed, the FBI’s image was severely tarnished by the many years when it had the unsavoury J. Edgar Hoover as its director.  I can’t help but wish that David Lynch had been allowed to run the FBI in real life and he’d hired the likes of Dale Cooper, Albert Rosenfield and Denise Bryson.  It would have meant some very peculiar characters investigating crime in America.  But they’d have been both entertaining and ethical while they did it.

 

© Lynch/Frost Productions / ABC