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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.

An Inspector Calls (1954)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see some clips from An Inspector Calls.

Personal responsibility. It’s hard to figure out sometimes, and harder still to know the consequences of one’s actions. But for one upper class British family, their shortcomings as human beings and members of society are about to become readily apparent in this 1954 Guy Hamilton film of J.B. Priestley‘s 1945 play, An Inspector Calls.

The Birlings are an upper class industrial family, circa 1912, happily gathered around the dinner table to announce the betrothal of their daughter, Sheila, to Gerald Croft. Sheila’s younger brother, Eric, is drinking too much, and seems desperately unhappy about something, but Arthur and Sybil Birling, heads of the household, refuse to let anything spoil the festivities.

Until, that is, one Inspector Goole — in the film he is known as Poole — comes calling, with most distressing news; a young, lower class woman, one Eva Smith, aka Daisy Renton, whom all the family have mistreated in one fashion or another in the past two years, has just committed suicide by drinking a bottle of disinfectant. The Inspector, who clearly knows much more than he lets on at first, has some very definite questions for all the members of the dinner party. Questions that they won’t want to answer; questions that will shake the very foundations of their supposedly serene, blameless middle class existence.

As events unspool, in remarkably economical fashion — the complete film is only 77 minutes long — it becomes clear that each of the Birlings, and Gerald Croft, have contributed to the circumstances that led to Eva/Daisy’s death in a direct fashion. I won’t detail the specifics here, but suffice it to say that the word “hypocrisy” barely begins to cover the Birlings’ behavior towards the young woman. Sheila and Eric seem to take something of value away from the Inspector’s interrogation, but Gerald and the elder Birlings seem quite content to continue as they are, until events take a series of unexpected twists at the end of the film, which put everything in a distinctly different light.

Composed mostly of straight cuts, even in the flashback sequences — which are frequent, and have a distinct Rashomon characteristic, in that each member of the family, in recounting their interactions with the late young woman, have a different view of how they behaved, and how Daisy/Eva behaved — Guy Hamilton’s direction of An Inspector Calls is razor sharp, using the same spare technique he would employ on his later films, most notably the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964). As Eric, future director Bryan Forbes is both weak and sympathetic, but it is Alastair Sim, as the Inspector, who dominates the film from first frame to last, in a portrayal that is at once sinister and sympathetic, and climaxes with a series of genuine shocks.

First performed as a play in the Soviet Union in 1945, where the cultural authorities of the Stalinist regime were all too happy to present a stringent document detailing the shortcomings of the British class system, the play received a West End run in London in 1946, with Sir Ralph Richardson as the omniscient — in every sense of the word — Inspector. In 1947, the play crossed the Atlantic for a successful Broadway run, and was acclaimed as both a brilliant dramatic work, but also as a scathing indictment of the evils of the British class system.

I’d have loved to have seen the play on stage, but since we don’t have a time machine, and can’t go back to 1945, 1946, or 1947, this 1954 version, which is superb, more than suffices to bring Priestley’s timeless message home to us. Whether we want to hear it or not; we are all responsible for each other, and if we forget this simple fact, we do so at our peril. The film is available on DVD, but only in a Region 2 British version, which is a shame. An Inspector Calls deserves the widest audience possible, and is just as timely today as when it was written, if not more so.

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.

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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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