Friday, December 17, 2010

The Late Great Blake Edwards

Director and writer Blake Edwards passed December 15, 2010 at the age of 88. The cause was complications from pneumonia.

Blake Edwards was born William Blake Crump in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 26, 1922. When he was four years old his mother married an assistant director and movie production manager Jack McEdwards, so that the young Blake's name became Blake McEdwards. After graduating from high school. Mr. Edwards enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. He also went into acting, initially on radio. He supposedly worked on The Mercury Theatre of the Air's production of War of the Worlds, among other radio productions. He also broke into writing for radio. Indeed, in 1949 Blake Edwards created the radio show Richard Diamond, Private Detective, for which he also wrote several scripts.

Eventually, as an actor Blake Edwards moved into film, making his debut in The Gentleman from West Point (1942). After his stint in the Coast Guard, Blake Edwards went into acting. He was even briefly under contract to 20th Century Fox. From 1942 to 1948 Mr. Edwards appeared in bit parts, often uncredited, in such films as A Guy Named Joe (1943), Marshall of Reno (1944), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Big Town (1948).

It was in 1948 that Blake Edwards broke into writing for film. His first script was for Panhandle (1948). Over the next few years he wrote screenplays for such films as All Ashore (1953) and Cruisin' Down the River (1953). It was in 1953 that Mr. Edwards entered television, writing episodes of Four Star Playhouse. In 1954 he did his first directing for that show as well. Over the next few years Blake Edwards wrote such screenplays as Drive a Crooked Road (1954), My Sister Eileen (1955), Operation Mad Ball (1957), and That Happy Feeling (1958).  On television he created The Mickey Rooney Show and wrote many of its scripts. When Richard Diamond, Private Detecive was brought to television in 1957, he wrote many of the show's teleplays.

While Blake Edwards would later famous for his film comedies, in television his crowning achievement was the private eye series Peter Gunn. Mr. Edwards would not only write many of the show's episodes, but he would also direct several episodes. He also served as the show's executive producer. Peter Gunn centred on a noirish detective of the same name, played by Craig Stevens. Although he had a good deal in common with the hard boiled detectives of the Thirties, he was very much a creature of the late Fifties. Peter Gunn was an untracool hipster who loved jazz and was as smooth as a con man. The show proved to be a hit, running from 1958 to 1961. Blake Edwards also adapted Milton Holmes' story "Bundles for Freedom" as the TV series Mr. Lucky. Although it shared its name with the 1943 film of the same name (also based on the same story), the two were quite different. The show centred on a professional gambler with extraordinary luck.

In 1955 Mr. Edwards broke into directing film with Bring Your Smile Along. Over the next few years he would direct Mister Cory (1957), That Happy Feeling, the classic sex comedy The Perfect Furlough (1959), and Operation Petticoat (1959). It was in 1961 that Mr. Edwards entered the height of his career, with the classic Breakfast at Tiffany's. Over the next several years he directed such classics as Days of Wine and Roses (1962), The Pink Panther (1963), A Shot in the Dark (1964), The Great Race (1965), Gunn (1967-based on the show Peter Gunn), and The Party (1968). He also wrote the screenplays for most his films.

Mr. Edwards' career would falter in the Seventies, when his most remarkable films would be sequels to The Pink Panther such as The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978). His career was revitalised in the Eighties after the success of 10 (1979). He directed such films as S.O.B. (1981), Victor Victoria (1982), The Man Who Loved Women (1983), A Fine Mess (1986), Blind Date (1987), and Skin Deep (1989). His last film was Switch (1991). For television he directed a telefilm of the same title based on the series Peter Gunn. It aired in 1988.

Blake Edwards was immensely talented as a director and writer. He is best known for his comedies, and with good reason. Mr. Edwards had a gift for timing and the ability to mine the faults an foibles of humanity for humour. While very talented at comedy, however, he was also adept at drama. Indeed, what may be his most famous film, Breakfast at Tiffany's, was a drama. Mr. Edwards also had a talent for good detective stories. First on the radio show Richard Diamond, Private Detective and later on the TV show Peter Gunn, Mr. Edwards could generate great mysteries with plenty of atmosphere as well. He had a particular gift for characters, having created some of the most memorable characters in film history. In doing so, he contributed so much to modern pop culture.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Peter Gunn Episode in Honour of Blake Edwards

Film and television director, writer, and producer Blake Edwards passed yesterday. I do not have time tonight to write a eulogy that would do him justice, so I am simply going to post a video courtesy of YouTube in his honour. This is part one of three parts of the episode "The Kill," written directed by Blake Edwards, from the ultracool private eye series which Mr. Edwards created, Peter Gunn.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Bad Romance with Lady Gaga

Okay, I hated Madonna. I never liked Beyonce. I could not stand Britney Spears. Over the years I have concluded that most female pop singers are absolute rubbish. Some of them may be nice to look at (and Madonna wasn't even that), but they have nothing to offer musically. Why is it then, in the last years of the first decade of the 21st Century, I have found a new guilty pleasure? That's right. I must confess. I listen to Lady Gaga.

Okay, let's face it, she is different from most female pop stars of late. Madonna seemed to be performing a resurrected version of disco when she started out. Britney Spears drew upon pop stars like Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson. In contrast, Lady Gaga draws heavily on glam rock, particularly Queen (she takes her stage name from their song "Radio Gaga") and David Bowie. Her music also shows traces of German house techno music and Eighties synthpop. Indeed, her sound reminds me more of The Pet Shop Boys and The Human League than Janet or Michael Jackson.

Of course, my comparison to the synthpop groups of the Eighties points to another way Lady Gaga differs from Madonna, Britney, and their ilk. The lyrics of her songs actually have an edge to then. Let's face it, "Bad Romance" basically offers up a scenario in which the singer would prefer a bad romance to merely being friends with a guy (even citing three different Alfred Hitchcock movies in the process). "Paparazzi" seems to be about stalking (in the process condemning the paparazzi as, well, stalkers) and veneers of stardom. Okay, "LoveGame" seems to be more about sex and dancing, but then its musical style owes more to The Pet Shop Boys than Donna Summer. I have to admit. Even the songs I don't like by Lady Gaga can be pretty sophisticated. I don't like "Telephone," but it has a pretty complex idea behind. As I see it, the song is about a performer who continues performing rather than talking to her boyfriend on the telephone. The same sophistication can be even be seen in "Poker Face," a song I despise (although I like the card game innuendoes).

Now don't get me wrong. I am not going to rush out and buy every Lady Gaga CD out there. I am not going to say that she is the greatest artist of all time or even one of my favourites. What I am going to say is that, while I am a bit embarrassed to say it, I actually do like quite a few of Lady Gaga's songs. Unlike most previous female pop singers, she actually appears to have some talent. While I could never take pleasure in anything Madonna or Britney did in their early days, I must confess that some of Lady Gaga's are a guilty pleasure of mine.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"All I Want for Christmas is You" by My Chemical Romance

Okay, I've had a bout with the flu yesterday and today, so I do not quite feel up to posting a long blog entry tonight. Instead I will leave you with one of my new, favourite Yuletide songs. It is My Chemical Romance's version of "All I Want for Christmas is You." It is also probably the only version I like!