TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS
A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...
TEN SOARING SPIRITS
In a year that saw the passing of so many greats from the world of cinema, there were many more who weren’t afforded the farewell they richly deserve…
ALICE DRUMMOND, Actress (pictured, above; with Awakenings co-star Robin Williams); died November 30, aged 88.
Alice Drummond’s most beloved bigscreen moment amounted to barely 3 minutes of screen time, most of which was spent pushing a trolley around the basement archives of the New York Public Library. But Alice Drummond’s encounter with the vaporous apparition that kicks off Ghostbusters sets the tone for what would become the biggest comedy of all time. Her character didn’t even have a name in Dan Aykroyd’s and Harold Ramis’ script, so Bill Murray, as Dr Venkman, improvised, “Alice, I’m going to ask you a couple of standard questions, okay…?” From her debut in Carl Reiner’s Where’s Poppa? (1970), she carved an invaluable character actor niche for herself, which also included roles in Hide in Plain Sight (1980), Eyewitness (1981), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Awakenings (1990) and Ace Ventura Pet Detective (1994).
We’ll never forget… her deadpan delivery, turning lines like “My uncle thought he was Saint Jerome” (in Ghostbusters) or “Dan Marino should die of gonorrhoea and rot in hell” (in Ace Ventura Pet Detective) into pure gems.
DON CALFA, Actor; died December 1, aged 76.
With his distinctive looks and great character actor presence, Don Calfa spent a career stealing scenes, however small, from some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. The Brooklyn native quit high school to acquire his SAG card and began a career in front of the camera with 1968 underground oddity No More Excuses for director Robert Downey Sr. It was the first of 88 film and TV credits, working with directors such as Peter Bogdanovich (Nickelodeon, 1976), Martin Scorsese (New York New York, 1977), Blake Edwards (10, 1979), Steven Spielberg (1941, 1979) and Warren Beatty (Bugsy, 1991).
We’ll never forget… the two vividly realised comedic roles that became fan favourites - bumbling hitman Paulie in Weekend at Bernies (1989) and mortician Ernie Kaltenbrunner in Return of The Living Dead (1985).
PAUL SYLBERT, Production Designer; died November 19, aged 88.
Some of the most beautifully composed frames in Hollywood film history have been the work of Paul Sylbert, the New Yorker who designed and dressed sets during the early days of television before a distinguished film career. Following active service in Korea, he relocated to Los Angeles and was soon crafting the visual texture of such films as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Kramer Vs Kramer (1979), Blow Out (1981), Ishtar (1987) and Biloxi Blues (1988). His beautiful work was twice recognised by the Academy; he won his only Oscar in 1978 for Heaven Can Wait then, 13 years later, earned a nomination for The Prince of Tides (1991).
We’ll never forget… the combined body of work left by Paul and his twin brother, the late Richard Sylbert, also one of Hollywood’s greatest ever production designers (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Shampoo; Chinatown; Reds; The Cotton Club).
SONIA BORG, Scriptwriter, Producer; died February 4, aged 85.
Many hours of great drama during the formative years of Australian television can be credited to Sonia Borg. The Viennese immigrant landed at Crawford Productions after her Shakespearean touring troupe had brought The Bard’s work to Hong Kong, India and beyond; once in Melbourne, she produced, directed and acted in such landmark series as Homicide, Division 4, Matlock, Rush, Power Without Glory and I Can Jump Puddles (pictured, right; with actor Leonard Teale). The Australian film industry will always remember her as the writer of the classic film adaptation Storm Boy, family pics Blue Fin and Dusty and, exhibiting her versatility, the Tarantino-endorsed killer-croc pic Dark Age.
We’ll never forget… “Birds like him, never die.”
MARGARET WHITTON Actress; died December 4, aged 67.
In an acting ensemble that included Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Wesley Snipes, somehow the ballsiest cast member of them all was Margaret Whitton, as hardbitten club owner Rachel Phelps in David S. Wards’ Major League. So indelible was her impact on the testosterone-fuelled comedy, it would be the role that defined her character actor career, despite years spent on stage (she debuted on Broadway in Neil Dunn’s acclaimed Steaming) and television (The Doctors; Miami Vice). An inauspicious debut in 1975’s Teenage Hitchhikers led to a Hollywood career that included The Best of Times (1986), 9½ Weeks (1986), The Secret of My Success (1987), Ironweed (1987) and Man Without a Face (1993).
We’ll never forget… that locker-room cool; her sexy, steel-willed persona that brought a sweaty, sweary bunch of manly men to their knees.
ALBERTO SEIXAS SANTOS, Director; died December 10, aged 80.
One of Portugal’s most respected filmmakers, Santos was elected President of the Portuguese Film Institute in 1976 at the age of 40. Beginning his career as a film critic, he studied film production in Paris and London before becoming an integral creative force in the ‘Novo Cinema’ movement of the late 60s. His first feature, the politically-charged drama Brandos Costumes, screened at the Berlin Film Festival. A committed advocate of his native film industry, he formed the film collective Grupo Zero, which encouraged free-spirited and socially conscious works.
We’ll never forget… his divisive 1999 drama Mal (Evil), a multi-strand narrative that examines gender roles and social ills in contemporary Lisbon; a Best Film winner at Coimbra Caminhos do Cinema Português and Golden Lion nominee at the Venice Film Festival.
TADEUSZ CHMIELEWSKI, Director; died December 4, aged 89.
Considered the godfather of post-war Polish comedy and one his nation’s most accomplished filmmakers, Chmielewski was shooting his breakout hit Ewa chce spac (Eva Wants to Sleep) only two years after graduating from the prestigious National Film School in 1954. When it earned Film and Screenplay honours at San Sebastian, Chmielewski became a national celebrity and outspoken advocate for his film industry peers. When not directing his own hits (Walet Pikowy, 1960; Pieczone golabki, 1960; How I Unleashed World War II, 1970), he would write for the likes of Andrzej Czekalski (Pelnia nad glowani, 1983) and Jacek Bromski (U Pana Boga za piecem, 1998). He was recognised for his unified approach to the national cinema when elected as Vice President of Polish Filmmaker’s Association (1983-1987) and was given the Medal for Merit to Culture in 2010.
We’ll never forget… his active service with the National Armed Forces during and after World War II while still in his teens.
DAVID HAMILTON, Director; died November 25, aged 83.
Ailing health and the sordid details of an alleged sexual assault kept British filmmaker and photographer David Hamilton a virtual recluse in his final years; he died from an apparent suicide in his Paris apartment. At the height of his fame, his controversial portraits of naked, often pre-teenage girls and young women were both celebrated and reviled by the mid-70s cognoscenti. Graduating from stills to film, he maintained his grainy, soft-focus aesthetic and artistic obsession with the nubile female form and blossoming sensuality. His narrative feature debut, Bilitis (1977) was an arthouse sensation; the follow-up, Laura (1979) a worldwide hit. Subsequent works Tendres Cousine (1980), A Summer in St Tropez (1983) and First Desires (1983) were more of the same and dwindled in popularity.
We’ll never forget… how he defined his subject matter when questioned in 1995: ““Nudity and purity, sensuality and innocence, grace and spontaneity; we made contradictions of them. I try to harmonize them, and that’s my secret and the reason for my success.”
SULABHA DESHPANDE, Actress; died June 4, 2016, age 79.
One of India’s most beloved character actresses, Sulabha Deshpande featured in over 73 Bollywood films and countless hours of television since her debut Silence! The Court is in Session in 1971. Much of her film work was to support her philanthropic arts, which included the groundbreaking experimental theatre group Rangayan and the establishment of new Marathi and Hindi theatre groups throughout the 70s and 80s. Her key film roles were in Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan (1978), Gaman (1978), Bazaar (1982), Ijaazat (1987) and English Vinglish (2012).
We’ll never forget… her undertaking to introduce children to the joys of live theatre, a goal that led to the establishment of the junior theatre company Chandrashala in the mid 70s.
FAN HO, Director; died June 19, aged 78.
Considered one of China’s most acclaimed photographers, Fan Ho graduated to feature directing in 1970 with the hit film Mei (Lost). He was oon signed to the Shaw Brothers stable, where he delivered such artistically pleasing and wildly popular works The Girl With The Long Hair (1975), Innocent Lust (1977) and Notorious Frame Up (1978). A split from the giant studio led to a lean period until, in 1982, he returned with the evocative works Expensive Tastes (1982), Two for the Road (1984) and Smile Again (1985). Late in his career, his tastes became increasingly provocative; his final films were the tasteful if fleshy I Desire (1987), Brief Encounter (1988), Erotic Nights (1989) aand Temptation Summary (1990).
We’ll never forget… that five of his films have been selected for preservation status, earning a spot in the ‘Permanent Collection’ of the National Film Archives of Taiwan and Hong Kong.