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Entries in Obituary (2)

Sunday
Sep172017

VALE HARRY DEAN STANTON: AN OBITUARY

Sometimes he was known as Dean; sometimes he was Harry. Ultimately, it would be a combination of both, a three-word moniker as simple yet resonant as any spoken, that would come to define one of the most naturally gifted character actors to ever bless world of film. Harry Dean Stanton passed away at the age of 91 in Los Angeles on September 15, from natural causes. The work he leaves – in film, music, theatre, poetry and prose – represents a contribution to art and society as unique and authentic as has ever been…

THE BEGINNING: 1954-1961…: The Kentucky native slung hash as a US Navy cook in such fiercely staged World War II arenas as The Battle of Okinawa, before settling into a post-war life in California. Trained at the Pasadena Playhouse and honing his craft on long regional tours, he made his small screen debut in the horror anthology series Inner Sanctum in 1954; guest spots and small support arcs followed in Suspicion, Panic!, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Bat Masterson, The Texan, The Rifleman, Zane Grey Theatre and The Untouchables (pictured, right; , to name a few of his vast TV credits. His first feature film experience would be an uncredited bit part in the western Revolt at Fort Laramie (1956), starring John Dehner. In the decade that followed, Harry Dean Stanton did the ‘character actor shuffle’ between the casting offices of Hollywood, building a reputation on the back of work in films like Tomahawk Trail (1957), The Proud Rebel (1958), Pork Chop Hill (1959), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960) and Hero’s Island (1962).

THE REPUTATION: 1962-1978…: Those casting agents realised that the young Stanton was a reliable presence on set and asset to any production. The TV work was plentiful, as the heyday of the small screen was in full flight; he was earning guest star credits in hits like Combat!, Bonanza, Rawhide, The Fugitive and The Andy Griffith Show. His bigscreen career was progressing in smaller steps. He was securing minor support roles in major studio works for directors like John Ford (How the West Was Won, 1962), Frank Tashlin (The Man from the Diner’s Club, 1963) and Monte Hellman (Ride in the Whirlwind, 1966, with Jack Nicholson). 1967 represented a turning point in Stanton’s career, with a small role (ultimately uncredited) in the Best Picture Oscar winner, Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night; a second billing turn in Russell Doughton’s thriller The Hostage; and, most significantly, a small but standout part in the ensemble of Stuart Rosenberg’s Cool Hand Luke (pictured, left), opposite Paul Newman. Harry Dean Stanton was now in the running for the best character parts in Hollywood; he spent the 1970’s working with the likes of Brian G Hutton and Clint Eastwood (Kelly’s Heroes, 1970);Hellman and Warren Oates (Two Lane Blacktop, 1971); Sam Peckinpah and James Coburn (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, 1973); John Milius (Dillinger, 1973); Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather: Part II); Mike Nichols and Warren Beaty (The Fortune, 1975); Arthur Penn and Marlon Brando (The Missouri Breaks, 1976); Ulu Grosbard and Dustin Hoffman (Straight Time, 1978); and, John Huston (Wise Blood, 1979). By the time 20th Century Fox and upstart British ad industry whiz Ridley Scott were casting their new space thriller, Harry Dean Stanton’s name was already high on the list of potentials…

THE BREAKTHROUGH: 1979-1984…: Alien (1979) turned Harry Dean Stanton into an overnight star after 30 years in showbusiness. As ‘Brett’, the blue collar engineer on board the doomed spacecraft Nostromo, Stanton shared a rare chemistry with the diverse ensemble; his laconic contribution to any conversation, “Right…”, provided crucial moments of levity, while his demise is one of modern cinema’s most iconicsuspense sequences. That same year, his role as ‘Billy Ray’ opposite Bette Midler in Mark Rydell’s The Rose only strengthened his reputation, leading to memorable second- and third-tier characters in Bertrand Tavernier’s Death Watch (1980), Harold Becker’s The Black Marble (1980), Howard Zieff’s Private Benjamin (1980), John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981) and Christine (1983), Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart (1981), Garry Marshall’s Young Doctors in Love (1982) and Alex Cox’s Repo Man. It would be German director Wim Wenders, working from a script by the late Sam Shephard, who rolled the dice on Harry Dean Stanton’s leading man potential in 1984, casting him as ‘Travis Henderson’ in Paris, Texas (pictured, right). Stanton was mesmerising in a role that would emerge as one of the most compelling of the decade. Remarkably, it earned no award nomination anywhere for the actor, despite the film taking out three top honours at Cannes and a slew of trophies worldwide.

THE WORK: 1985-2017…: The next two decades solidified Harry Dean Stanton as the most admired character actor of his generation and one of the great personalities to grace the industry (captured with stark honesty in Sophie Huber’s 2013 documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction). He would effortlessly enliven studio gigs (Red Dawn, 1984; Pretty in Pink, 1986; The Fourth War, 1990; Down Periscope, 1996; The Green Mile, 1999), then disappear into the booming indie-cinema scene, emerging in unforgettable performances (UFOria, 1985; Fool for Love, 1985; The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988; She’s So Lovely, 1997; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1998; The Pledge, 2001). Stanton found his kindred spirit in auteur David Lynch (pictured, left), together creating such characters as ‘Johnnie Farragut’ in Wild at Heart (1990), ‘Lyle’ in The Straight Story (1999), and ‘Freddie Howard’ in Inland Empire (2006); ‘Carl Rodd’, a character first introduced in Lynch’s 1992 feature Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, would be the penultimate part played by the actor, revived for the recently aired third season of the series. John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky, featuring Stanton in the title role, is set for a US release on September 29; the actor’s last role, in Michael Oblowitz’s Frank & Ava, is due for release late in 2017.

 

Tuesday
Jun132017

REMEMBERING FRED J. KOENEKAMP

One of the great journeyman cinematographers of the last half-century, Fred J. Koenekamp passed away on May 31, aged 94. At a time when Hollywood was opening its doors to continental artists like Vittorio Storaro, Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond, Koenekamp was a local craftsman who graduated from television (Gunsmoke; The Lieutenant; The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; Mission Impossible) to become a master of bigscreen spectacle.

Debuting as an assistant on the Jane Russell vehicle Underwater! (1955), Koenekamp would work the studio roster, shooting such films as the Sandra Dee/George Hamlton romp Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding? (1967), Elvis Presley’s trippy Live a Little Love a Little (1968) and the western comedy The Great Bank Robbery (1969). When 20th Century Fox asked him to meet with director Franklin J Schaffer and discuss a project that would become an American cinema classic, a career of high-profile projects was set in motion…

PATTON
“Frank asked me how I worked on a set. ‘Do you like multiple cameras?’ ‘Yes, I’ve always liked multiple cameras, and I like a handheld camera on the set all the time. You never know when you’ll need it.’ We probably talked for an hour, and it seemed to go very smoothly. About a week later I got a call, and they said they wanted me for Patton.” – Interview, American Cinematographer, February 2005

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
Koenekamp signed on for his first film after Patton, convinced (as was much of the industry, including 20th Century Fox) that bad boy Russ Meyer’s sinful and sordid shocker would be the new decade’s cause celebre. The DOP clashed badly with the director, who was used to lensing his own low-budgeters; Koenekamp found himself framing X-rated scenes that were unlikely to make the final edit. He ultimately dodged many of the bullets critics aimed at the notorious film, and reaffirmed his post-Patton/pre-Dolls buzz with films such as Billy Jack (1971), Skin Game (1971) and the Raquel Welch hit, Kansas City Bomber (1972).

PAPILLON
"To this day, I still think Papillon is one of the best pictures I shot. I think it had a good look, the actors were terrific. There were no battling egos on the set, which I thought might have happened, but it didn't. They would talk to each other, off to the side, then come and talk to the director. I think Dustin made Steve work harder and, I think, that made Steve do one of the best jobs he has ever done." - Cinema Misfits, October 2011. 

THE TOWERING INFERNO
“I got a call saying Irwin Allen wanted to talk to me at Fox. Oddly enough, I’ve been a fire truck buff all my life. I don’t know why, I just love them. I talked to Irwin, and he said he wanted me to do Towering Inferno. They already had Joe Biroc on it, and Irwin said, ‘Joe’s going to do the second unit with you, but you’ll do the first unit with director John Guillermin.’- Interview, American Cinematographer, February 2005. Koenekamp shared the Academy Award for Cinematography with Biroc, and would go on to work with Irwin Allen on the Swarm (1978) and When Time Ran Out… (1980)

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
Koenekamp (who had the Sydney Poitier/Bill Cosby comedy smash Uptown Saturday Night in cinemas alongside …Inferno) parlayed Oscar glory and his strong commercial instincts into years of top-tier US studio work. His directorial collaborators throughout the 1970s included Michael Anderson (Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975); Kirk Douglas (Posse, 1975); Jonathan Kaplan (White Line Fever, 1975); Ralph Nelson (Embryo, 1976); Ted Kotcheff (Fun with Dick and Jane, 1977); his Patton partner, Franklin J. Schaffer (Island in The Streams, 1977); Stanley Kramer (The Domino Principle, 1977); Charles Jarrot (The Other Side of Midnight, 1977); Stuart Rosenberg, (Love and Bullets, 1979); and, Franco Zeffirelli (The Champ, 1979). The decade ended with his biggest hit since The Towering Inferno, the horror classic The Amityville Horror (1979, for Rosenberg).

THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION
Koenekamp kept working thoughout the1980s, although the projects he aligned with found all manner of notoriety. He shot a clearly unwell Steve McQueen in his final film, Buzz Kulik’s The Hunter (1980); Buck Henry’s little-seen satire First Family (1980), with Bob Newhart; the racially-themed comedy Carbon Copy, featuring a young Denzel Washington; and, Ronald Neames’ First Monday in October. He helmed two critically mauled star vehicles – the reteaming of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, Two of a Kind, for John Herzfeld; and, once again for Schaffer, the Luciano Pavarotti showpiece, Yes Giorgio. Cult film devotees will always hold Koenekamp in high regard for his work on W.D. Richter’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a project that allowed him a rare opportunity to experiment in the early days of genre film special effects technology.

FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER
His final work would be John Milius’ gung-ho military actioner, Flight of The Intruder, in 1991, retiring at the age of 67. “When I walked off the set that last night, it was a real sad night. My wife was out of town, and I went home and sat there and had a drink. I thought, ‘Is it really over?’ For six or eight months after I retired, I’d get calls every once in awhile, and finally everyone realized I wasn’t working anymore. I didn’t miss a lot of things, but what I did miss, and still miss, is the camaraderie of the crew.” - Interview, American Cinematographer, 2005. (Pictured, right; Milius and crew farewell the DOP on his final shooting day. Photo copyright: American Cinematographer, 2005)