Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: The Year in Review

Today is the last day of 2014. As far as years go, I cannot say it was overly remarkable, either with regards popular culture. It was neither an overly good year or an overly bad year, but like most years a mixture of both.

As for myself, I have to say that over all it was a good year. This blog, A Shroud of Thoughts, celebrated its 10th anniversary on 4 June. It still boggles my mind that I have been writing it this long! It certainly doesn't seem like it. I also have to point out that 2014 is on track to become the year with the third most posts in the history of the blog  Only 2010 and 2008 have seen more posts. With regards to myself I also got to be a guest on the radio show Hollywood Time Machine with Alicia Mayer. I got to talk about the 50th anniversary of various TV shows. That was very special to me as 1964 could be my favourite year in American television. It was a lot of fun and I could talk to both Alicia Mayer and Will McKinley (her esteemed co-host) all day about classic film and television. Of course, if someone had told me several years ago I would have been on the same show as Dateline host and Hollywood royal Josh Mankiewicz, I would have asked, "Whom did I kill or who killed me?". Anyhow, Hollywood Time Machine with Alicia Mayer is a marvellous show and you should check it out!

As far as classic film and television goes, sadly the big news this year was the deaths of many great stars. Perhaps the biggest star in film and television , at least in my opinion, to die was the legendary James Garner. He was a master of both media, having played two iconic characters on television (Bret Maverick on Maverick and James Rockford on The Rockford Files), as well as appearing in numerous classic films (my favourites being his Sixties sex comedies, such as Boy's Night Out and The Thrill of It All). Of course, James Garner was not the only major film star to die in 2014. Sadly, we also saw the passing of the truly legendary Lauren Bacall. James Garner was also not the only star to die who mastered both TV and film. Sadly, Robin Williams took his own life this year. Mr. Williams came to fame on TV's Mork & Mindy and then had a very successful film career. The year also saw the deaths of film star Maximillian Schell; director Gabriel Axel; actor, director, and screenwriter Harold Ramis; legendary classic movie star Mickey Rooney; centenarian Carla Laemmle; star of film, stage, and TV Ruby Dee; legendary character actor  Eli Wallach; the great actress  Elaine Stritch; legendary film star  Lord Richard Attenborough; comedian and director, the great British actress Billie Whitelaw; and Luise Rainer (the first actor to ever win two consecutive Oscars).

Many classic television actors also died this year. Comic Sid Caesar was a true pioneer of the medium, his Your Show of Shows paving the way for such sketch comedy shows as Rowan & Martin's Laugh In and Saturday Night Live. Although he might not be particularly well known in the United States, Rik Mayall was a British television legend. He may be best known for The Young Ones, but he also appeared in Filthy Rich & Catflap, The New Statesman, and Bottom. Russell Johnson left his mark as the Professor on Gilligan's Island, as well as playing the heavy in many episodes of Westerns. Lorenzo Semple Jr. developed the classic television show Batman and went onto work in film. Many classic television stars died in 2014, including   Efrem Zimbalist Jr. of Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip,  Ann B. Davis of The Bob Cummings Show and The Brady Bunch, beautiful character actress  Arlene Martel, legendary NBC announcer Don Pardo,   Richard Kiel (who played Voltaire on The Wild Wild West before appearing as Jaws in the James Bond films), Theodore J. Flicker (director of the film The President's Analyst and co-creator of Barney Miller), legendary comic actress Polly Bergen, Canadian character actor  Gerhard Parkes, the beautiful TV star Mary Ann Mobley, and Jeremy Lloyd (the co-creator of Are You Being Served?).

Music also saw the passing of some giants in 2014. In fact, three members of three of my favourite bands of all time died. Paul Revere was the leader and founder of Paul Revere & The Raiders, and perhaps the one constant in the band. Paul Revere & The Raiders would have a huge impact on power pop, garage rock, and punk. As one of The Ramones, Tommy Ramone would have lasting impact on everything from punk rock to power pop. Ian McLagan was the keyboardist for Small Faces, the greatest Mod band this side of The Who. He was one of the greatest keyboardists in the history of rock music. Possibly the biggest name in music to die was Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers. It is perhaps impossible to gauge the impact that The Everly Brothers had on rock music. They were a huge influence on the British bands of the Sixties, so that it is possible the British Invasion might not have happened without them. Because of this they also had a huge impact on the subgenre known as power pop; in fact, it would not exist without them. They would also have an impact on such diverse subgenres as folk rock and country rock. Other music celebrities who died in 2014 were legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, Bob Casale of Devo, legendary songwriter Gerry Goffin, guitarist Johnny Winter, and drummer Jack Bruce.

Of course, two deaths that had a huge impact on me owed their celebrity not to film, TV, or music, but to other things. What is more, both were linked to the legendary Mitford Sisters (in fact, one of them is a Mitford sister). Dr. Maya Angelou was one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, an author, and an activist for Civil Rights. Her accomplishments were so numerous that they can not be listed briefly. She was also the best friend of author and activist Jessica Mitford. Jessica Mitford's last surviving sister also died this year. Deborah Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire was the last of the legendary (some might say notorious) Mitford Sisters. She was arguably the most beautiful of them all, but her lasting fame is not due to her beauty or her familial relations. Deborah Cavendish was pivotal in restoring and saving Chatsworth House and reviving the economies of Bakewell and Chesterfield as well. She also wrote numerous histories on Chatsworth, as well as her own life and family.

With regards to the films released in 2014, I have to regard the year as a bit of a bust. It was another year of sequels and remakes. Only a few films interested me this year. One of the few original, popular movies that interested me was Guardians of the Galaxy, which proved to a bit of a surprise hit. As far as other films, I would like to see The Imitation Game, Big Eyes, and  The Grand Budapest Hotel. Curiously, all three films are set in the past....

Television fared much better than film, with many very good new shows debuting. The current cycle in television seems to be shows based on comic books, and these shows actually number among the best of the year. Gotham, The Flash, and Constantine (my favourite) are all based DC comic books, and all are very well done. As to other shows, 2014 saw the debut of some quality dramas on television, including Black Sails, Turn: Washington's Spies, and  Outlander, among others. Sitcoms did not fare as well, with A to Z being the only standout comedy this year. Of course, the big news this year in American television may have been that Jay Leno finally stepping down from The Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon took over 7 February. That having been said, I still keep expecting NBC to give the show back to Leno....

As far as British television goes, due to living here in the Colonies I really didn't get to see anything new from across the Pond. That having been said, from what I have read Line of Duty, Castles in the Sky, and Happy Valley are worth checking out. I would also like to see BBC One's most recent adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's Jamacia Inn, but from what  haveI heard I'll either need subtitles or I'll have to turn up the volume on the TV set. BBC One received numerous complaints about the sound quality on the series! Of course, for many of us the big news was the first series featuring a new Doctor on Doctor Who. I thought Peter Capaldi was great as the Twelfth Doctor. In fact, he is my favourite Doctor since the revival. I am also glad that Jenna Coleman is remaining as The Doctor's companion for 2015. Clara Oswald is my favourite companion since the revival and one of my favourite companions of all time.

I am not going to even bother with a look back at music this year. The sad fact is that 2014 continued to be dominated by artists whose primary fan base seems to be under the age of twelve: One Direction, Ariana Grande,  Iggy Azalea, and the like. The year did see releases by Bruce Springsteen, The Fray, 311, Plain White T's, Johnny Cash,  and Weezer. Of course, for me and many others the big news this year was actually old news. This year marked the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' arrival in the United States, as well as the 50th anniversary of their first number one single in the United States, their first appearance on American television, the release of A Hard Day's Night... Somehow I don't think many of today's artists will even be remembered in fifty years, let alone have their anniversaries observed!

Over all, 2014 was not a bad year, even if I don't think it can be said to have been a good year either. Like most years it was a bit of a mix of good and bad. Here is hoping for a much better and brighter 2015!

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