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Carrie Fisher – Actor, Writer, Script Doctor – 1956-2016

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Carrie Fisher has died December 27th, 2016 at the age of just 60.

As readers of this blog may know, I don’t usually do obituaries here, but the death of Carrie Fisher puts the capper on a truly awful year for the arts, with one death piling up after another to the point where it simply can’t be ignored. Fisher, for example, was much more than just an actor in the Star Wars films. In addition to Fisher’s credits as an actor and author, she was also one of Hollywood’s most sought after script doctors, working on existing screenplays and punching them up to make them just that little bit better – a tough profession, and she was very good at it.

As Wikipedia notes, she worked on the scripts for “Hook (1991), Lethal Weapon 3 and Sister Act (1992), Made in America, Last Action Hero and So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993), My Girl 2, Milk Money, The River Wild and Love Affair (1994), Outbreak (1995), The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), The Wedding Singer (1998), The Out-of-Towners and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Coyote Ugly and Scream 3 (2000), Kate & Leopold (2001), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005).” And yet none of these films give her any on-screen credit, and by 2004 she had moved on from script doctoring.

Carrie Fisher thus joins the long, long list of irreplaceable talents who have left us – many, like Fisher, far too soon – in 2016, including (and this is just a partial list) David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, George Kennedy, George Martin, Patty Duke, Lonnie Mack, Prince, Guy Hamilton, John Berry, Alan Young, Billy Paul, Burt Kwouk, Scotty Moore, Kenny Baker, Raoul Coutard, Leonard Cohen, Robert Vaughn, Leon Russell, Florence Henderson, George Michael, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Abe Vigoda, Doris Roberts, Jacques Rivette, Abbas Kiarostami, Lita Baron, Andrzej Wajda, Michael Cimino, Bill Nunn, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin – a terrible loss to us all.

So, this day, we take a moment to think about, and thank, all the artists who have contributed so much to the cinema and related arts – many of them crossover artists, such as Prince and David Bowie, and the great directors, like Rivette, Kiarostami and Hamilton – who are now no longer with us. But it is now for us, the living, to continue their work as best we can, and to remember and honor their work, which they gave their lives and talents to, and which will live on through the cinema and its allied disciplines, to continue to inspire, enlighten, and entertain us.

You can see the 2016 “TCM Remembers” video – an excellent tribute – by clicking here.

Classic Comedies: Young Frankenstein

Monday, August 1st, 2011

An affectionate spoof of the Universal Frankenstein series of horror films from the 1930s and early 40s, appropriately shot in period-style black and white, Young Frankenstein (1974) is writer/director Mel Brooks’ tribute to the undying legend of the Frankenstein monster, played for laughs with a superb cast that wrings every ounce of parody out of the source material. The film almost immediately became a cult hit, and is frequently revived today; what makes the film so effective is its combination of visual stylization, coupled with Brooks’ irresistible Borscht belt humor. This, in short, is slapstick comedy at its finest, and one of the funniest films produced in American during the 1970s.

Actor Gene Wilder, who collaborated on the screenplay of Young Frankenstein with Brooks, plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, who continually insists that his name is properly pronounced “Frahnkenstein,” and avoids any mention of his infamous ancestor. As Young Frankenstein opens, Frederick Frankenstein is working as a lecturer at an American medical school, but soon news arrives that he has inherited his grandfather’s ornate castle in Transylvania. Arriving to claim his birthright, he meets Inga (Teri Garr), who will become his assistant; Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), a stern taskmaster who urges him to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps; and Igor (Marty Feldman), a hunchback whom Frankenstein soon presses into service in his experiments.

In short order, Frankenstein and his motley crew of associates have whipped up a new monster (Peter Boyle), assembled from the body of a recently executed criminal, but handicapped by an “abnormal brain” that makes him unpredictably violent. Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars, in a parody of a role made famous by actor Lionel Atwill in the original films) is suspicious of the activities in Frankenstein’s laboratory (which used the original “mad lab” equipment designed by Kenneth Strickfaden for the original 1931 film, and its subsequent sequels). When the monster escapes, he is briefly befriended by a blind hermit (Gene Hackman), but is soon recaptured by Frankenstein, who dresses him in white tie and tails and teaches him to sing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” for a group of amazed fellow scientists.

More plot complications lead up to an obligatory happy ending, but the film’s real strength lies in its deep respect for the original Frankenstein films, starting with director James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), and continuing on though Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and director Rowland V. Lee’s Son of Frankenstein (1939). Brooks’ film borrows plot elements, characters, and situations from all of these films, and yet manages to remain both fresh and funny entirely on its own terms.

Much later, Brooks would transform Young Frankenstein into a successful Broadway musical, but the 1974 film version is easily the better production, and is often screened at “midnight matinees” in film theaters around the world. Brooks parodies the Frankenstein legend, but at the same time, he is faithful to it, resulting in a film that even purists can enjoy, and one of the most successful comedy films of all time.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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