Thursday, September 15, 2005

R.I.P. Robert Wise

The Oscar-winning director passed away at age 91. And another link to the era of classical studio filmmaking has been severed.

Wise began in the cutting room working alongside Orson Welles, and directed his first features for Val Lewton’s legendary B-movie unit. That training, which emphasized technique in service of narrative, would serve him well in one of the most remarkable careers in Hollywood history.

Consider the range of genres he tackled: noir (BORN TO KILL, THE SET-UP, ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW), science fiction (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN), horror (THE HAUNTING, proving he retained all that Lewton taught him). He also excelled at straightforward drama; I only recently discovered EXECUTIVE SUITE, still extraordinarily potent after 50 years.

And then, of course, there are the musicals that won him his Academy Awards, WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

That last film also opened him up for a great deal of scorn from the critical community. Perhaps they never forgave him for his role in recutting Welles’ THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. Or maybe they simply undervalued a director who made his gifts work for the movie instead of the other way around, who felt his first duty was to storytelling. We won’t see his like again.

Junk Mail Title of the Day

Enjoy Employee Discount + idolatry. I guess Lee Iacocca really is back at Chrysler.