Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Curtis Hanson R.I.P.

Curtis Hanson, who directed L.A. Confidential (1997) and Wonder Boys (2000), died yesterday, September 20 2016, at the age of 71. He died of natural causes. He had been suffering from a rare condition called Frontotemporal Degeneration.

Curtis Hanson was born on March 24 1945 in Reno, Nevada. Not long after the end of World War II his parents, both natives of Los Angeles, moved back to that city. During his senior year Curtis Hanson dropped out of high school. Despite not attending classes there, he became a movie critic for the California State University, Los Angeles newspaper. He later became its entertainment editor. His uncle, Jack Hanson (owner of the Jax women’s clothing shops), bought the magazine Cinema, where Mr. Hanson initially served as office help. Eventually Curtis Hanson became editor and art director of the magazine.

Curtis Hanson's film debut as a screenwriter was The Dunwich Horror (1970), which he co-wrote with Henry Rosenbaum and Ronald Silkosky. He made his directorial debut with the thriller Sweet Kill (1972), whose screenplay he also wrote. He closed out the Seventies directing Evil Town (1977) and The Little Dragons (1979), as well as writing the screenplay for The Silent Partner (1978).

In the Eighties Mr. Hanson wrote the screenplays for White Dog (1982), Never Cry Wolf (1983), and The Bedroom Window (1987), as well as the teleplay for the TV movie The Children of Times Square (1986). He directed the films Losin' It (1983), The Bedroom Window (1987), and Bad Influence (1990), as well as the TV movie The Children of Times Square.

In the Nineties Curtis Hanson saw mainstream success with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), which proved to be a major box office hit. It was followed by The River Wild (1994). What is probably his most successful film critically and financially was L.A. Confidential (1997). He both directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Brian Helgeland. L. A. Confidential was nominated for nine Oscars, and won the awards for  Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). Mr. Hanson closed out the decade with another critically acclaimed film, Wonder Boys (2000).

In the Naughts Curtis Hanson directed 8 Mile (2002), In Her Shoes (2005), Lucky You (2007), and Chasing Mavericks (2012), as well as an episode of Greg the Bunny and the TV movie Too Big to Fail (2012).

Mr. Hanson served on the Director Guild of America's  Creative Rights Committee, the President’s Committee on Film Preservation, and the Film Foundation board.

Curtis Hanson was a very talented director, but I think he may have been an even better writer. He wrote some particularly strong scripts during his career besides L. A. Confidential, including The Silent Partner, Never Cry Wolf, and The Children of Times Square. As it was he was a fairly strong director as well. Even when a particular film was not very good (The Cradle Will Rock being a perfect example), Curtis Hanson's direction was still solid. Indeed, I consider L. A. Confidential to be one of the few films that is nearly perfect. Following L. A. Confidential Mr. Hanson made Wonder Boys, which also remains one of my all time favourite films of recent years. He was nothing if not versatile, directing everything from neo-noir (L. A. Confidential) to women's films (In Her Shoes) to comedies (Wonder Boys).

If Curtis Hanson directed some truly great films, much of it was because he simply loved movies. His films are laced with references to the classics in ways that never feel forced. As a member of the DGA he tirelessly campaigned for film preservation. In many ways Curtis Hanson was a film fan like so many of the rest of us, simply one who got to make movies. He was also from all reports a very nice and very humble man. Those who worked with him always spoke of him kindly. Those few lucky enough to meet him always said that he was a very kind and very approachable. A great director and a truly good human being, his passing is then very sad indeed.

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