Saturday, 15 March 2014

Godspeed Alain Resnais

Legendary French filmmaker Alain Resnais died on 1 March 2014 at the age of 91.

Alain Resnais was born on 3 June 1922 in Vannes, Morbihan, Brittany, France. As a child he was a voracious reader, reading everything from classic literature to comic strips (a particular favourite being Milton Caniff's Terry & the Pirates). As a boy he also developed an interest in the cinema. For his twelfth birthday he was given an 8mm film camera, with which he began to make his own movies. He was only 14 when he made his first film, L’Aventure de Guy (which is sadly lost). When he was 17 he went to Paris with the intent of becoming an actor. He studied acting at the Cours René-Simon. When L’Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques, France's first film school, was founded in 1943, Mr. Resnais enrolled there. He became part of the school's first graduating class.

It was in 1946 that he directed his first feature film as an adult, Ouvert pour cause d'inventaire. It was in the Fifties that Alain Resnais hit his stride, making such films as the documentary "Nuit et brouillard" (1955--"Night and Fog") and the Oscar nominated Hiroshima Mon Amour. He would see more success in the Sixties with such films as L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961--Last Year at Marienbad), Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour (1963--Muriel, or The Time of Return), and Je t’Aime Je t’Aime (1968). Over the years he would make several more remarkable films, including Stavisky (1974), Providence (1977), Mon oncle d'Amérique (1980), La vie est un roman (1983),  I Want to Go Home (1989), and Smoking/No Smoking (1993).

Among French filmmakers of his generation, Alain Resnais was unique. While Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut looked to American and British films for inspiration, Alain Resnais took inspiration. Indeed, in many respects his films could be considered the cinematic equivalent of the literary nouveau roman movement. Indeed, Mr. Resnais worked with noveau roman writers Marguerite Duras (who wrote the screenplay for Hiroshima Mon Amour) and Alain Robbe-Grillet (who wrote the screenplay for L'année dernière à Marienbad).

Of course, arguably contemporary director Éric Rohmer was also inspired by literature. What set Alain Resnais apart from Mr. Rohmer is that while Mr. Rohmer's films were often fairly straightforward, Mr. Resnais' films often were not. In the hands of Alan Resnais time and memory were malleable things. Not only were flashbacks a feature of many of his films, but so were what can only be described as "flashfowards"--scenes set in the future. At the same time Alain Resnais' films were often touched by imagination, fantasy, and outright surrealism. In many ways his films were much more about the subjective reality experienced by human beings within their own heads than any sort of objective reality.

There should be little wonder why Alain Resnais was a legendary filmmaker. He was a director of great skill who was not afraid to experiment. What is more, he was very versatile. He could make everything from documentaries (Night and Fog remains one of the greatest documentaries of all time) to comedies (I Want to Go Home, with a script by cartoonist Jules Feiffer). What is more, he was entirely singular as a director. No one made movies like Alain Resnais.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Godspeed Film Trailer Voice Artist Hal Douglas

Hal Douglas, a voice artist well known for his voice overs of film trailers, died on 7 March 2014 at the age of 89. The cause was complications from pancreatic cancer. Alongside Don LaFontanie and Don Morrow, he was among the best known voice-over men in the industry.

Hal Douglas was born Harold Cone on 1 September 1924 in Stamford, Connecticut. His mother died when he was only 9 years old and as a result he was raised by his maternal grandparents. During World War II he served as a pilot in the United States Navy.  Following the war he attended the University of Miami where he majored in acting.

It was after he left college that he began work a television and radio announcer. He moved from announcing on TV and radio to producing television commercials for the Madison Avenue advertising agencies. After around ten years in advertising he returned to working as a voice artist. Over the years Mr. Douglas would narrate thousands of movie trailers, although he also did voice over work in other media. He did thousands of commercials, as well as promos for television shows and commercials for stage plays. Among the trailers he narrated were Philadelphia, Con Air, Forrest Gump, and Men in Black. Among the cable channels for whom he narrated promos were A&E, the Disney Channel, HBO, and the History Channel, as well as the now defunct broadcast network the WB. He narrated commercials for such companies as Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, and Trojan. He also narrated the film Waterworld (1995).

Hal Douglas appeared in the  trailer for Jerry Seinfeld's documentary Comedian (2002), parodying the various cliché phrases of film trailers ("in a world...," When your life is no longer your own . . .," “When everything you know is wrong . . .," and so on). Like Don LaFontaine, Hal Douglas was identified with the phrase "in a world", and it has been a matter of debate as to which one actually coined the phrase.

There was a good reason that Hal Douglas was one of the top voice-over men in the business. His voice was absolutely massive, and could quite easily fill a room. At the same Mr. Douglas' voice had considerable range. He could do nearly any sort of trailer given to him, using a more booming voice for action films, a lighter voice for family films, and a more whimsical tone for comedies. What his more he was not limited in the emotions he could evoke in a trailer, everything from horror to humour. He also had perfect timing. In many respects Hal Douglas had the ideal voice for film trailers, so that there should be little wonder as to why he was one of the best in the business.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Sheila MacRae Passes On

Actress, singer, and dancer Sheila MacRae died on 6 March 2012 at the age of 92.

Sheila MacRae was born Sheila Stephens in London on 24 September 1921. In 1939 her family left England for Long Island, New York. It was in 1941 that she married actor and singer Gordon MacRae. The two of them would become a team, performing on stage and on television in the Fifties and Sixties. Mrs McRae made her film debut in the film Backfire in 1950 under her maiden name Sheila Stephens. The same year she appeared in Caged (1950) and Pretty Baby (1950).She went onto appear in the film Katie Did It (1951). She made her television debut in an episode of Hollywood Opening Night in 1953. In the Fifties she appeared on such shows as The Jackie Gleason Show, I Love Lucy (in the famous episode "Fashion Show"), Lux Video Theatre, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Garry Moore Show, and Here's Hollywood.

In the Sixties she assumed the role of Alice Kramden in the "Honeymooners" sketches on The Jackie Gleason Show. She also appeared on such shows as The Red Skelton Show, The Bell Telephone Hour, Tonight Starring Jack Paar, To Tell The Truth, The Jack Paar Programme, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Ed Sullivan Show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, The Dean Martin Comedy Hour, The Trials of O'Brien, and What's My Line. She appeared in the films Bikini Beach (1964) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965).  She appeared on Broadway in a revival of Guys and Dolls.

In the Seventies Sheila MacRae had her own short lived show, The Sheila MacRae Show, alongside her daughters Heather and Meredith. She also appeared on such shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Mike Douglas Show, The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, and The Love Boat. She appeared on Broadway in Absurd Person Singular.

From the Eighties to the Nineties she appeared in the films as The Naked Cage (1986) and The Perils of P.K. (1986). She was a regular on the short-lived 1990-1991 show Parenthood. She also appeared on such shows as Search for Tomorrow, General Hospital, Vicki, and Murder, She Wrote.She toured with her own show, An Evening with Sheila MacRae.

Sheila MacRae was an extremely talented woman. She was a gifted singer and skilled in dancing as well. She was also a very good actress when it came to comedy. Her timing was perfect and she could deliver a line as well as any stand up comedian. Indeed, among her many skills was that of celebrity impressions. Sheila MacRae was one of those rare people with multiple talents. What is more, she was extraordinarily gifted in all of them. There should be little wonder, then,  that she appeared in so many media (stage, film, television).