Friday, September 29, 2006

Two More Celebrity Deaths

As I said in yesterday's entry, there are times that I worry that this might become "the Death Blog." It seems as if this week several artists have died and today I am eulogising two more. The first of these is actor Robert Earl Jones. Robert Earl Jones is an actor famous for his stage roles. He is also the father of actor James Earl Jones. Jones died at September 7 at age 96.

Robert Earl Jones was born February 3, 1910 in Coldwater, Mississippi. He dropped out of grade school to work for sharecropper. He later worked for the railroad until the Depression cost him his job. Jones was also a boxer, and was even a sparring partner with the famous Joe Louis in 1937 (he would later play Louis in the movie Spirit of Youth). Jones made his debut on Broadway in the play The Hasty Heart in 1945. He would go onto appear in Set My People Free, All God's Chillun Got Wings, Of Mice and Men, a revival of Death of a Salesman, and Mule Bone. Among other things, Jones worked with Langston Hughes at the Harlem Suitcase Theatre.

Robert Earl Jones also had a career in movies, making his film debut in Lying Lips in 1939. He is perhaps most famous for his role in The Sting, as Luther Coleman, the older con man. He also appeared in such films as Trading Places, The Cotton Club, and Witness.

For at time in the Fifties Jones was blacklisted when he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. During the Thirties he had been involved with what some then considered leftist causes. The National Black Theatre Festival gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Although most famous as the father of James Earl Jones, Robert Earl Jones was a considerable talent on his own. James Earl Jones inherited his full, deep voice from his father, and Robert Earl Jones could put his magnificent voice to great use in the roles he played. This can be seen in The Sting, where Jones plays con man Luther Coleman very convincingly. If James Earl Jones is one of the top actors of our time, much of it is due to his father.

The other famous artist to die lately was cinematographer Sven Nyqvist. He passed on at the age of 83. He had been treated for aphasia.

Nykvist was born December 3, 1922 in Moheda, Kronobegs lan, Sweden. Fascinated by the movies while still young, he bought his first eight millimeter camera at age 15. At age 19 he started in the Swedish film industry as an assistant camera man. His first cinematographer credit came on the 1952 movie Under the Southern Cross, wher he received credit as co-director and co-cinematographer.

Of course, Nykvist's greatest claim to fame is as cinematographer to legendary Ingmar Bergman. He first worked with the director on the 1952 film Gycklarnas afton (Sawdust and Tinsel in the UK, The Naked Night in the U.S.); however, he would not work with Bergman together until the two made Jungfrukallan (The Virgin Spring). From that point on Nykvist worked on most of Bergman's important films--Såsom i en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly), Nattvardsgasterna (Winter Light), Scener ur ett aktenskap (Scenes From a Marriage), and Fanny and Alexander.

Nykvist would also work with other directors on such films as The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Star 80, Sleepless in Seattle, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Besides Bergman, his most notable work beyond that with Bergman was perhaps the films he made with Woody Allen. He photographed Allen's films Crimes and Misdemeanours, Another Woman, and Celebrity. Nykvist also directed a few films of his own, including En Och En(One and One) and Oxen (The Ox).

Kyvist won Oscar for Best Cinematography twice, once for Viskningar och rop (Cries and Whispers) and again for Fanny and Alexander. He was nominated for the same award for his work on The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers, the BAFTA award for best cinematography on Fanny and Alexander, and the British Society of Cinematography award for best cinematography for Fanny and Alexander.

Nykvist was well known for his simple, naturalistic approach to cinematography. His camera work was generally straight forward with no unusual angles or fancy shots. His approach to lighting was subtle and natural. It is for this reason that many of Bergman's classic films (and many of the films Nykvist made with other directors) tend to look more realistic, as if one is watching scenes from the real lives of characters than a movie. His simple, naturalistic cinematography was proof that the maxim "Less is more" can sometimes be true. With his approach, Nykvist could create moods through light without sacrificing a softer, more natural look. He was definitely one of the greatest directors of all time.

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