Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Vagaries of Wonderfulness

Last night on the Pacific Coast Highway, long-time Hollywood director Bob Clark and his 22 year old son were killed by a drunk driver. This is not the kind of news that I would normally comment on, but his career caused me to think about fame and success, and how random it can be.
He had a feature film directing career of over two dozen films spanning 40 years. There were a few high points – a big commercial success in Porky’s (and Porky’s II); a genre success in the original Black Christmas, a couple of decent movies in Tribute (with Jack Lemmon) and Murder by Decree (Christopher Plummer and James Mason). Mostly though, his career featured some awful stuff – Rhinestone, Turk 182, and Baby Geniuses (and it’s sequel – Superbabies). Even if you liked those movies, you probably couldn’t name the director; when I heard his name, I didn’t connect it to anything, which is a shame.
It’s a shame because in the midst of that relatively anonymous (if economically successful) career, lies one very special movie. Bob Clark directed A Christmas Story, which, to avoid argument with Capra fans, I will refer to as the second-best Christmas film ever. Perfectly cast and written (by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Clark, from Shepherd’s book); it was so perfectly shot that some of its shots have been re-used in commercials as recently as last year, in order to evoke the same feeling they did in the movie. It was Clark’s eleventh feature, in 1983, the same year he directed Porky’s II. He would follow it the next two years with Rhinestone and Turk 182, two horrible, if major, motion pictures starring Sylvester Stallone and Timothy Hutton, respectively.
In the midst of that series of godawful dreck, who knows why it all came together on that movie? Maybe it was just a story Clark had a special affection for, maybe it was just movie magic. Whatever it was, next year at the Oscars, when Bob Clark’s picture flashes on the screen in the necrology, remember the one shining moment he had and the joy the movie gave you.
(There is a good Wikipedia entry on A Christmas Story that you might want to check out.)


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