It’s amazing to see how many lives Robin Williams touched, and how devastating his loss has been to so many, yours truly included. I memorized every one of Adrian Cronaur’s monologues from ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ (“Fool - it’s so hot I saw a guy in an orange robe burst into flames! Damn!”) and reveled in the quiet, tender moment when he saw young men off into battle. But perhaps the most meaningful moment in Mr. Williams’ filmography for me was the most innocuous.
My mom was a fan of ‘Mork and Mindy’ (it was impossible not to be a fan as the show was set in Boulder) and in the grocery store video section she saw a Robin Williams film and brought it home. “It’s got Mork!” she exclaimed, and after a nice dinner the family settled around the tv, and dad popped in the cassette. The movie was ‘Moscow on the Hudson’ and it was NOTHING like Mork from Ork. It was dirty, profane, and on a wire’s edge. I didn’t understand it, but I found its energy infectious. Then a scene in the film burned itself into my head forever. There was Robin Williams, naked and easily one of the hairiest men on the planet, cavorting in a bathtub with an equally naked Maria Conchita-Alonso, their tub flanked with American flag shower curtains. Mom shut off the VCR at that moment, realizing this wasn’t a family-friendly movie. But that scene stuck with me, and it did with every Robin Williams movie I saw thereafter.
As I grew older, as I lived in places all around the world, as I struggled with life and celebrated small victories, that image always came back into my head. It was happiness in America. It was simple pleasures, sex and Chinese take-out. It was raw power. And today I realize that it was everything that Robin Williams embodied. I still haven’t seen ‘Moscow on the Hudson’ in its entirety and for me the movie will always end on that bathtub scene, and I want it to stay that way. It will forever be my personal memory of a rare actor who became a part of an entire civilization’s DNA. Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. May your demons be calmed and I hope you find the healing power of love and laughter, the very same gift you gave to us all. You will be missed.
You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.
Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
If this is not the perfect distillation of what it means to be a political artist, a conscious artist, a counter-culture artist, an agent of change, then I do not know what is. Anger is so often shunned because we are either scared or made to feel ashamed of it, or led to believe it is illegal. It is not. Anger is a fundamental, universal human right. Anger is powerful, anger is beautiful, anger is real. As Dr. Angelou says, it is bitterness that is dangerous, it is bitterness that leads to cynicism and wrath. Anger is altogether something different. It is a shout against injustice, it is an expression of courage. It is, when couched within civility, the greatest agent of change in human history. It is our voices at their most naked and honest.
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted and endured.
The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.
History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.
Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
if there’s fire on the mountain
or lightning and storm
and a god speaks from the sky.
That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
I’d never met Tony Scott, nor would I consider myself an ardent fan of his films. But when I had heard of his tragic suicide last week, I read up on him, and realized that I’d seen every single one of his feature films. Every one. And for the most part I remember enjoying them immensely, and even quoting many of his films in my own life.
Even during the shooting of Lilith I remember making a reference to Tony Scott with my cinematographer, Faroukh Mistry. We used a lot of smoke in Lilith and it would take a long time to get the smoke just right. After each take, the smoke would dissipate and we’d have to smoke up the room again, and then fan out the new smoke to get to the exact right density. It looked beautiful but it was killing me (and more so my AD) because we needed every second of time to keep on schedule. One time Faroukh asked for more smoke and I quipped at him “Faroukh, we’re not making a Tony Scott film here!” We shared a good laugh, and my entire crew understood the reference because Tony Scott’s signature on contemporary filmmaking is just that strong.
Smoke upon smoke, from ‘True Romance.’
Reading Scott’s filmography is like jogging down memory lane of my enjoyment of summer blockbuster films, movies that were loud, obnoxious and garish, but all in good ways. But unlike today’s mindless blockbusters, Scott’s films always had genuine personalities, intriguingly flawed characters who were always charming. While I was never into “Top Gun’ the way my sister was (for obvious reasons), I always loved “Beverly Hills Cop 2” and “The Last Boy Scout” for their raw humor and electric pacing. Then came “True Romance,” which is the “Bonnie and Clyde” of a generation, a volatile mix of Tarantino’s words with Scott’s visual pyrotechnics. In any other directors’ hands the film would have been a violent music video, but Scott - contrary to what his visual style dictated - showed tremendous restraint in the film, and the result was one of the truly great romantic films of recent memory.
But I have to say of all his films, Scott’s 2005 film ‘Domino” starring Keira Knightley made the greatest impression upon me. I can’t say the film is a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, in fact it’s one of Scott’s poorest performing films, and was trashed critically. But for some reason in my mind, ‘Domino’ simply exists alone - another film like it has never been made. It to me is the pure expression of a director, and it’s a very subversive, personal arthouse film masquerading as big budget action potboiler. The images are blown out and super saturated, the contrast is insane, and the editing beyond hyperkinetic, all to the point of almost abstract incoherence. It almost felt avant garde to me, and I felt like I was watching something akin to Phil Solomon, Stan Brakhage or Ken Jacobs directing “Die Hard.” It was then that I realized that Tony Scott was simply telling stories that existed in the moment, a transcription of the tales told between the gaps of synapses. It was a profound realization of what films can mean; not all films need to be deep, introspective and philosophical to be meaningful, they can simply exist in the now. The difference however between the now of a Michael Bay film and the now of a Tony Scott film is the insistence of rooting it all in human condition. Where Michael Bay simply finds excuses to blow things up, Tony Scott showed the person behind the explosion, moments before and after pressing the detonator. He embraced the Hitchcockian adage of the anticipation being far more powerful than the bang.
It’s interesting how we don’t really realize how much someone has impacted us until it is too late. As Joni Mitchell once sang in ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got / Till it’s gone. I never treasured Tony Scott the way I did a Tarkovsky, Kubrick or Kieslowski, but upon his death I realized that his work is ingrained within my film DNA as much as those aforementioned filmmakers. Tony Scott was a true practitioner of the craft, a filmmaker through and through. He’s left a legacy of entertainment that rivals that of Spielberg, Zemeckis or Lucas, and rightfully belongs in the company of those artists. A truly tragic loss to film. Rest in Peace, Mr. Scott.
A special edition of SOS in honor of Adam Yauch, aka MCA of the Beastie Boys. Yauch’s passing is a monumental loss to the worlds of music, film, politics and the texture and beauty of life as a whole. One of the true voices of a generation, Yauch was a pillar of independent art and freedom of expression. He will be missed, but his legacy will live forever. Today we honor him.
Adam Yauch, August 5, 1964 – May 4, 2012.
Movies:Beastie Boys Video Anthology, directed by Various Artists , 1981-2000, United States.
Adam Yauch was far more than a visionary musician in a pioneering band, he was also an exceptionally talented director, creating music videos and feature films under the pseudonym of Nathanial Hörnblowér. Yauch, along with directors like Evan Bernard, Adam Bernstein, Tamra Davis, Spike Jonze, Ari Marcopoulos, and David Perez crafted a canon of work that redefined the music video as we know it, combining cinephilia with a sharp and intelligent sense of humor. This canon was immortalized by the Criterion Collection, the only music videos to be in the library. Essential viewing.
This was the second hip-hop album I ever owned, and it remains in my Top 10 Albums of all time. With sample-heavy production by The Dust Brothers, Paul’s Boutique represents a watershed moment in hip-hop, a collision of texture and density that was started by pioneers like Hank Shocklee and DJ Premiere. But the album is where all of these ideas came together brilliantly, and the rhymes match the brilliance of the production. I’ve gone through four copies of this record and it refuses to age, in fact with each consecutive listen it still sounds like the future of music. The crown gem of the Beastie’s body of work, and easily one of the greatest records ever made.
You can buy the entire album here. Trust me, if you haven’t experienced this album before, you will not be disappointed and your life will forever be changed for the better.
Adam Yauch was a Buddhist who followed the most beautiful tenets of the religion with authenticity and heart, and he used his fame and influence to spread the word of peace and mutual respect. An ardent supporter of the freedom of the people of Tibet, Yauch tirelessly campaigned for the end of the brutal Chinese occupation of the territory. It was because of Yauch’s advocacy that I joined the cause almost ten years ago, and when I can’t attend demonstrations I make an annual financial donation to the Free Tibet organization. I ask that we all make a contribution in Yauch’s honor and ensure that his efforts did not go in vain.
Trailers:Wuthering Heights, directed by Andrea Arnold.
Adam Yauch and the Beasties’ love of cinema was channeled into a passion project called Oscilloscope Laboratories, an upstart film distribution and production company that has, for the past few years of its existence, championed the art of independent cinema and arthouse film. The company has released some of the most bold films that others wouldn’t dare to touch, films like Monogamy, Meek’s Cutoff, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Bellflower. Upcoming from Oscilloscope is one of my most anticipated films of 2012, an absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I had the great fortune of meeting some of the executives from Oscilloscope at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, and I know that they all share the same passion for cinema as Yauch, and the company will continue to expand his bold vision of cinema and his legacy to the artform.
Blogs / websites worth checking out (with Twitter links, if available):
Chuck D beautifully encapsulates what the Beasties mean to the hip-hop and music overall, beautifully calling them “a shot of Jackie Robinson in reverse.” Adam Yauch lives up to his beliefs by addressing what was, at the time, the first public denouncement of America’s war on Islam, spoken without vitriol or an ounce of self-servicing, but rather a heartfelt and genuine call for mutual respect and understanding. Amazing.
Remember, if you want to get a shout out, you gotta let me know!
Sundance Institute trained, journeyman molecular biologist with bonus producing, writing, editing and directing skills. Amateur film historian, unapologetic liberal Tarkovskite with fierce cooking skills and a penchant for unusual stories. I hope you like my writing and find it useful.