Thursday, September 15, 2005

Directing Great Passes Away

This week my wife and I received one of my favorite movies in the mail from Netflix. With great joy I opened the envelope and pulled out The Haunting, one of the greatest classic ghost stories in the history of film, and discussed plans with my wife about when we would view the film.

Let me make an aside here for a moment. My wife and I like to play a "fantasy game" that can only be called "write a letter to a celebrity." When we were getting married we fantasized about writing William Shatner a letter inviting him to our festive wedding day. We laughed about the puzzled look Mr. Shatner's assistant, or possibly even he, would have upon reading the invitation. "Just who are these people?" he might say. "Should I send them a gift, or should I attend in person?" We had a great deal of fun with this and other such imaginings. There are a number of celebrities I have imagined writing letters to, thanking them for the ways in which they had entertained me. But I never actually send the letters, or even write them, because I know that people value their privacy.

But I wish that I had written Robert Wise, who died of heart failure Wednesday, to tell him of how much he has entertained me as a film viewer (a very good obit can be found here). I love the Sound of Music and The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. I was even stunned recently at how well the special effects in Star Trek: The Motion Picture hold up even by modern standards. I may jokingly, and half seriously, refer to the movie as Star Trek: The Slo-motion Picture, but the visuals are stunning and his use of effects remarkable. The model of the Enterprise looks better in this movie than the space ships in the most recent Star Wars films, now that is saying something.

My favorite of his uses of special effects is in the movie The Haunting, when Russ Tamblyn (Riff of West Side Story, another Wise masterpiece) breath crystallizes in a hallway. The localized special effect is remarkable, you see him blow out his breath in one part of the frame, but no "fog" in any other part of the frame.

So...Thank you Robert Wise for a wonderful collection of films. May people be entertained by them for decades to come.

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