Tuesday, February 12, 2008

So It Goes -- February 2008 Edition

The past couple of days have brought depressing news of the passing of three extremely talented people.

On Sunday, Roy Scheider passed away. Scheider was one of thoes actors who seemed to be in every movie in the '70's. Turn on "Marathon Man," he was there. "French Connection?" Check. "Jaws?" Duh. If he wasn't in the movie, one of his co-stars -- Hackman, Hoffman, Dreyfuss -- would be in it.

Most obits are focusing on his role in "Jaws"; but to me his greatest performance was as Joe Gideon, Bob Fosse's avatar, in "All That Jazz." Not only was Gideon unlike any other character Scheider ever played, not only did he carry off the singing and dancing with aplomb, but he also turned in a marvelously multi-layered performance. He played Gideon as a total sunovabitch; yet he was so charming that you could understand why every woman in his life stayed with him, with full knowledge that he would eventually hurt them over and over.

Also on Sunday, comics and animation writer Steve Gerber passed away from pulmonary fibrosis. Gerber was one of the young, smart and angry writers who hit Marvel Comics in the early-to-mid 70's, along with Steve Engehart and Don Macgregor. Gerber's scripts were ferociously intelligent. He never sneered at superheroes, and seldom post-moderned them; instead, he somehow made the join between the Lee/Kirby/Ditko gosh-wow world and his deeper, more textured Marvel Universe seamless. When I read his work as a kid, I knew his work was much smarter than the average comic; looking back at his work as an adult, I feel the same.

The work he was best known for was his creation Howard the Duck (which was far, far, far better than that abysmal mid-eighties movie) -- an amalgam of Woody Allen humor, Disney iconography, and seventies satire that really should not have worked as well as it did. (And when Gerber tried to return to the character in the eighties and the zeroes, he never could recapture the lightning in the bottle.) But many on the web appear most fond of his work on The Defenders, a superhero team comic that Gerber made resolutely noncoformist.

Unfortunately, I found most of his later comics writing, in the eighties and beyond, to be too mean-spirited and nihilistic for my tastes. On the other hand, when he transitioned from comics to TV animation writing in the eighties, he produced some wonderful stuff -- particularly his collaboration with Jack Kirby, "Thundarr the Barbarian"; and the touches of satire he brought to even such straight-laced pieces of licensed material as "GI Joe."

Even as his life neared its end, Gerber kept writing; just six days before his death, he posted an entry in his blog relating that he had stayed up all night working on a comic book script about the magician Dr. Fate.

Finally, on Monday, Congressman Tom Lantos, a friend of my father, passed away. In his youth, Lantos escaped twice from Nazi camps; and his congressional record made clear that he did not care for dictators of any nationality.

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