Faster and more Intense

Carrie Fisher began her last book with a run down of some of the significant events of 1976 — the year the filming of Star Wars began (and never really ended) — and she mentioned that, “as always, a lot of accomplished and famous people died.” Nowadays the same things are going on, “only faster and more intensely.”

That line was almost the only direction George Lucas gave to the original cast, almost, he did also give Carrie the judgement that there was no underwear in space (Jabba’s palace was another matter). These anecdotes and more are being passed about at lightspeed on the Internet with Carrie Fisher’s death causing anguish and tributes from all over the place.

Now her mother, Singing in the Rain star Debbie Reynolds, has died of a stroke. A tragedy compounded, is there something in the air? 2016 is being continuously lamented on Facebook, Twitter, and all the platforms that make up the vast catalogue of connectivity. But it is sadly likely that these miseries will only intensify, and overwhelm the most dedicated obituarist. 

A bitter thought! I reason that with the post-war generation moving to the geriatric zone, and even the most stalwart members of the pre-war generation feeling the terminal tug of time, the daily harvest of notables will continue. In short: more are becoming less much faster. 

So many people have written touchingly about The Princess Leia, and about the other recent dead as well, I’ve wondered if it’s all a bit trite, a tad false, the bite of celebrity culture. This whole bearing of the soul online thing. However, Facebook is collegial, and the fact that people can genuinely feel sorrow and grief at the expiry of someone they only knew of, but not knew properly, is a testament to what is good in people. 

Then of course there is the bad, the hounding of Steve Martin for a ‘sexist’ tribute to Carey on Twitter, comes to my mind (because I only just read about it and have the patience of a caffeinated seagull). This sums up the idiocy of the twitter trolls rather well. Martin wrote: 

“When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well”

That tweet has since been deleted. Trolls will be trolls even if they don’t quite know it for themselves. They condemned Martin for putting the sex symbol before the actual person. How dare he mention that he found Carrie Fisher an incomparable beauty in the context of him (Steve Martin) being a young man. And his nerve in praising her wit and intelligence afterwards, as if the dimensions of someone’s personality become more apparent as you get to know them. My, my, how awful. 
(If my point in the above paragraph is unclear, please read it again while imagining the sound of every eye in the galaxy rolling about)

I can’t bear my soul any further, and who cares, right? Carrie Fisher is as alive to me today as she ever was, and yet stunningly not at the same time. I’m reading her book The Princess Diarist (based on journals she kept during the 1976 shoot) and it’s very good. Wittily written with no regrets, a final tribute to the franchise she is indelibly part of, that immortalised those hair buns and that metal bikini. Now, as she said herself, she has drowned in moonlight–strangled by her own bra. 

All I want to say right now, instead of tripping over a long, unwieldy tribute to Carrie Fisher, is that she’s an indispensable ingredient to something that continues to dominate the lives of those like me (child-adults who never really grew up and share our clichéd existence with legions online and nobody present). Take away Leia and what are we left with? Just boys with blasters and sabers. Jedi without the force. Add Carrie Fisher and we have Star Wars. Farewell your highness, so sorry about the bra!

Goodbye David Bowie

I had something else to write last night, but when I learned the news I just couldn’t do it. David Bowie dying seems so strange. He was a figment of pure fantasy, something other, something more than human; if he was human at all. If he could die then everything is truly on the table.

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I don’t want to babble out a eulogy that will just join the thousands being ejaculated onto the internet by fans. Those that knew him well write more tenderly than I can manage, and in pushing vanity by scribbling thoughts of grief I may fall into the trap I have already seen collect others. That is the tribute being more about the writer than the subject. Kanye West has said that Bowie was one of his biggest influences. Instead of nesting like a parasite in the legacy of the truly great — like Bowie’s spirit should be pleased that he affected the mind of the omnipotent West — Kanye should look up the word iconoclasm and apply it to himself.

Bowie created characters that wowed, then slew them with ruthless efficiency. I was glad to see an exhibition of his costumes, memorabilia, and music at the Melbourne art gallery last year, and it was fascinating to track the progression of his art. Bowie as artist is how I prefer to define him. The legendary stage performances of the 1970s and 1980s were explorations of isolation, identity, paranoia, passion, the themes which never really changed, but were constantly looked at from another angle; through another prism. He largely left live performance in the 1990s and 2000s, saying in an interview that he didn’t really like it. It was always an exploration, a field he tended and harvested until it was barren and he moved on. Bowie the stage performer was just another character to kill.

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There had been rumours over the last 18 months that Bowie was not well, and he had been reclusive in the last decade. Every now and then he would flash out from the shadows, like he did in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige in 2006, or in music in 2013, and just a few days ago with Blackstar, his final album. He had been working hard on it while he had cancer, and his producer said it was his final gift to mark the end of his life. A true artist, he turned his final months into another exploration of the ultimate isolation.

I will take some time to listen to the album and quietly ponder the life of David Bowie. With so many people saying they love him very much, I’m sure he knows. But now his circuits dead, there’s something wrong. This week life itself is blue, and there’s nothing we can do.

Christopher Lee 27/5/1922 — 7/6/2015

It didn’t take a stake in the heart, nor a bullet from 007, but the sunset after a day lasting ninety-three years. The great Sir Christopher Lee has died.

He became late on June 7, and the news was released late so that the widow could contact the rest of the family before the obituaries started rolling out.

To say he was a screen legend is to badly understate things. He had a massive body of work. It was massive twenty years ago, and his status was secure with his portrayals of Count Dracula, Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun, and widely praised part in The Wicker Man. In the last twenty years he has gained new generations of fans with his roles in the Star Wars prequels, several Tim Burton pictures, and most famously The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

His deep voice was used in films, and on various tracks of Heavy Metal music. Looking over the things he put into his ninety-three years one can be drowned in the swelling digital ocean. He spoke five languages fluently, and was proficient in many more. He was once engaged to the daughter of Swedish Count Fritz von Rosen, and had to get permission from the King to marry her. They ended their engagement after he had decided that the financial insecurity of the shabby world of acting would be an insufficient support for such a noble woman.

Before acting, Christopher Lee had a shadowy role in the Second World War in RAF Intelligence, and was in the precursor to the SAS. He took his secrets with him, and his participation in Special Operations remains highly classified to this day. Sir Peter Jackson said that Lee was oddly specific about the behaviour of someone being stabbed in the back, when he was rehersing for the death scene of Saruman on the top of Orthanc in Return of the King. The scene was deleted from the theatrical film to his immense sadness. It was restored for the extended DVD, thus making the four hour version of the film the only one worth re-watching.

It is difficult to try and summarise a life of such complexity, and if one can’t do it right it is better not to do it at all. So I shall simply say what Sir Christopher Lee meant to me, in the hope that is might bear some resemblance to what he meant to others. A sinister man, with a voice belonging to a gothic cathedral on a stormy night, and a truly imposing stature (at 6ft 5inches he is tied with Vince Vaughn as the tallest leading man). And yet he could fit his characteristic style into a plethora of characters, some real and many literary; not always villainous, and be the stern cinematic grandfather of many generations.

The Hobbit trilogy, for all its faults in scrambling for a place in the shadow of The Lord of the Rings, was at its best for including Saruman, and giving Christopher Lee an appropriately magical send off. Despite his age he did not have the gradual winding down we have seen from other elderly ‘stars’, like Richard Attenborough. Lee was active until shortly before his death, and only a month ago signed on to make another film. He did slowdown of course, but the marvel of our time is that just as you can email, skype, check online banking etc. without raising your head from the pillow, the infirmities of age a getting less restrictive. Lee was clear that he couldn’t manage a journey to New Zealand to be in The Hobbit, so Peter Jackson took a crew to London and shot his scenes there. All the parts with Saruman taking part in the White Council (see the film, I’m not going to spell it out) were done first in NZ with the other cast, then Lee’s bits were put in with him before a green-screen. The technology for putting the face of one actor on the body of another is so seamless you wouldn’t know unless you were told.

Perhaps that should be regarded as part of Lee’s legacy, that he lived right up until he died. Bravo I say; now if you will excuse me, I have to catch up on the two-hundred or so films of his I haven’t seen yet.