Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Farewell to 2019

There are many who believe that 2019 is the end of the decade of the Teens. I am not one of them, as I honestly don't think the Twenties will begin until January 1 2021 (if you want to know why, read this post). Regardless, the end of any year is a good time for looking back and 2019 is no different in that regard.

In many ways 2019 was not an easy year for me. After all, the year began only four months after my beloved Vanessa Marquez had been shot and killed by police officers in South Pasadena, California. I then began 2019 heavily grieving and, although I am better than I was at the beginning of the year, I am still grieving. As 2019 began I was still crying on a regular basis, sometime multiple times a day. It is still not unusual for something I associate with her (a memory, a song, a movie) to trigger a flood of tears. Even now I miss talking to her on the phone and texting with her, and interacting with her on various social networks. For me Vanessa's death is an open wound from which I am convinced I will never recover. I may learn to live with it, but I am convinced that I will carry the pain of her absence for the rest of my life. The fact is that for me Vanessa was not merely a close friend, but a woman I adore more than anyone else in my life. Even now I cannot use the past tense when speaking of my feelings for her. Vanessa may have died, but my love for her has not.

At the same time that I was (and still am) grieving, I was (and still am) very, very angry. Vanessa was not mentally ill, nor was she suicidal. She certainly was not violent. I cannot see how anyone could possibly feel threatened by someone as tiny as Vanessa was (she was only 5' 3" and 87 pounds when she died). For those reasons and others I am convinced that the police officers who shot her acted inappropriately, unprofessionally, and irresponsibly in dealing with Vanessa. In fact, I am convinced that the persons who killed Vanessa behaved so carelessly and recklessly that they are at least guilty of voluntary manslaughter or possibly even second degree murder.

Worse yet, South Pasadena's behaviour since Vanessa's death has left much to be desired. In my opinion, their city manager's statement as of September 1 2018 regarding Vanessa's death was grounded in assumptions that I don't think were supported by the available evidence at the time (keep in mind the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's investigation had only begun the previous day). The statement also lacked any sort of empathy or sympathy for those of us who love Vanessa and did not take into account that we were grieving a dear friend. I know that I was not only angered by the statement, but I was very, very hurt by it as well, this at the lowest point in my entire life.  South Pasadena has released no information regarding Vanessa's death in the year and four months since she died. They have not even responded to even one of the many letters I have written them. Making matters even worse is the fact that Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has not said whether she plans to prosecute the police officers who shot Vanessa or declare that they were within their rights to do so. Given that Lacey has never prosecuted police officers in officer involved shooting cases, even when it seems clear to many that they were in the wrong, I have my doubts that she will ever do either. I have then spent the entirety of 2019 not only mourning my dearest Vanessa, but angry that what I perceive as a heinous crime committed against her might well go unpunished.

Of course, although it might have seemed that way at times, 2019 was not all bad for me. It was around October 2018 that Vanessa's Stand and Deliver (1988) co-star Lydia Nicole set up a petition asking that Vanessa be included in the on-air In Memoriams of both the SAG Awards and the Oscars. Both Paula Guthat, a close mutual friend as well as the co-founder of #TCMParty, and I tweeted the petition almost daily from October onwards, and yet others shared it as well. In the end neither the Screen Actors Guild nor the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences included Vanessa Marquez in their on-air In Memoriams. That having been said, over 12,000 people signed the petition. What is more, the petition received nationwide attention, as did the failure of the Academy to include her in their on-air In Memoriam. It made me happy to know that so many people cared enough about the woman I love more than any other in my life that they were willing to sign a petition to see that she was remembered in the on-air In Memoriams of both the SAG Awards and the Oscars. Vanessa had many more fans than she thought she did.

It was also this year that I created a pinback button in memory of Vanessa to be handed out at the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival. Vanessa had always wanted to go to the festival, but never got the chance. I thought this would be a way that I could memorialise her as well as see that she was present at the festival after a fashion. I only made a limited number of the pinback buttons, and they proved popular enough that I fear many who wanted one did not get one (I am going to have to make more). Vanessa was well loved by the TCM fan community and by many at Turner Classic Movies itself. She was one of the original members of #TCMParty, the group of fans who live tweet films on TCM using that hashtag, and was adored for her openness, warm-heartedness, enthusiasm, and her knowledge of classic film and the film industry. Paula Guthat referred to her as "the Sweetheart of #TCMParty."

It would be because of Vanessa that I would make my first trip to California. I had always wanted to go out there and see her, but I never did get the chance. It was then in July that I boarded a plane and flew to Hollywood to attend a special screening of Stand and Deliver at the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and to scatter Vanessa's ashes. Both were extremely emotional experiences. At the screening of Stand and Deliver there was an incredible outpouring of love for Vanessa. The members of the cast of Stand and Deliver made sure that she was remembered at the event. Acclaimed cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz was there, with the tribute he had made to Vanessa in his comic strip La Cucaracha. It was an extremely emotional experience for me and I have to confess that while watching Stand and Deliver I cried a bit at the scene in which Vanessa's character, Ana Delgado, was standing in the doorway (it is the scene that Turner Classic Movies used in the 2018 TCM Remembers). Anyway, I had been in touch with Daniel before attending the screening, but I got to meet much of the rest of the cast of the movie, as well as producer and screenwriter Tom Musca.

As I mentioned above, part of the reason for the trip was also to scatter Vanessa's ashes. I am not yet at liberty to say where we scattered her ashes (a very few of you already know), but it was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. It was a beautiful day for it. We did it in the early morning when there was a heavy fog in the Hollywood Hills. As we scattered Vanessa's ashes I found myself overwhelmed to the point that I did something I have never done before. I broke down crying for the first time in front of anyone other than my closest family. We are talking ugly crying here, not just a few tears. For Vanessa, then, I flew on a plane for the first time (I have always been terrified of them and that initial flight was frightening), among other things. Among the good things that came out of my trip to California is that I am now in touch with Vanessa's mother and we have grown rather close.

Of course, not every important event in my year was necessarily related to Vanessa. Every year TCM Backlot holds a TCM in Your Hometown contest. This year it was St. Louis that won the contest. It was then on September 26 2019 that my friend Meredith of the blog Vitaphone Dreamer and I journeyed to St. Louis to see Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli Theatre there. Before the movie a VIP meet and greet was held at the Moonrise Hotel (a few blocks away from the Tivoli), which I attended. It was there that I got to meet Margaret O'Brien (who played Tootie in the movie) and I got to meet Ben Mankiewicz in person (I had previously introduced A Hard Day's Night with him as part of TCM's Fan Favourites series). I also got to meet Annette of Hometowns to Hollywood, Diana Bosch of the blog Flickin' Out and currently with TCM, and Yacov Freedman, who runs TCM Backot, in person. Before the movie was a Q&A between Ben Mankiewicz and Margaret O'Brien, which was quite fun as one could imagine. As to Meet Me in St. Louis, it has always been one of my all-time favourite movies and it is simply amazing on the big screen.

That's enough about me. I am sure many of you who are reading this post would rather hear about popular culture in the year 2019. Once more this year the top movies at the box office were either sequels or remakes. The number one movie of the year was Marvel's The Avengers: Endgame. At number two was Disney's remake of their animated film The Lion King. At number three was another sequel, Pixar's Toy Story 4. In the number 4 spot was the only original movie in the top five, Captain Marvel (the Marvel comics character, not the original Fawcett Comics character). The fifth highest grossing movie of the year was Disney's Frozen II, another sequel. While looking at the top five might seem bleak to some given the remakes and sequels, there were actually some movies in the theatres I would like to have seen this year, although I only got to see one. I thoroughly enjoyed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and it could possibly be my favourite Quentin Tarantino movie of all time. I also wanted to see Booksmart, Dolemite is My Name, The Irishman, and, especially, Knives Out. I did not get to see any of them. Yes, I know some of them are on Netflix, but sadly I haven't had access to a Netflix account since October. I plan on seeing The Rise of Skywalker in the theatre, but it will probably be next year before I do so.

Between the old broadcast networks, the cable channels, and streaming services, it has gotten increasingly difficult to determine what the most popular television shows are. The big hit on the broadcast networks this year was The Masked Singer, which I really have no desire to see. Other than The Masked Singer, it seems to me that ratings for the broadcast networks were dominated by older shows. The Big Bang Theory ended its run and got phenomenal ratings in the process. Both NCIS and Young Sheldon continued to get high ratings. As far as the broadcast networks go, the only new show that hooked me is Stumptown, a detective drama based on the graphic novels of the same name. As far as the cable channels go, Game of Thrones ended its run and dominated the ratings as well. Big Little Lies and Watchmen, also on HBO, also did well. Of course, television is increasingly dominated by the streaming services. Netflix saw success with the TV series Stranger Things, The Witcher, The Umbrella Academy, and Dead to Me. Netflix continued to expand into movies, with The Irishman and Murder Mystery. On Amazon The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel continues to do well. Of course, this year saw the emergence of new streaming services, among them Disney+. On Disney+, The Mandalorian, a show set in the Star Wars universe, appears to be a hit.

Of course, what many will remember about 2019 is the sheer number of celebrity deaths this year. As my loyal readers know, I regularly eulogise pop culture figures on this blog. This year there were so many people dying that I did not have a full week free of any eulogies until the week of February 10. After that I would not have another full week full of eulogies until the week of May 19. What is more, some very big names died this year. Among them was one of the last stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Doris Day. What is more Miss Day was not only a movie star, but a very successful singer as well. Tim Conway, a television megastar known for McHale's Navy and The Carol Burnett Show, died the same week as Doris Day. Among the sadder deaths for me this year was Diahann Carroll. I have adored the actress and singer since childhood. Stanley Donen directed some of my all time favourite movies of all time. In fact, not counting The Wizard of Oz (1939) and A Hard Day's Night (1964), he directed my two favourite musicals of all time: Singin' in the Rain (1954) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). An entire list of the actors, directors, and writers who died this year would take up a good bit of space, and there were so many that I could not eulogise all of them on this blog. Here then is a list of some of the people who died in 2019: Carol Channing, Kaye Ballard, James Frawley, Dick Miller, Julie Adams, Albert Finney, Stanley Donen, Luke Perry, Larry Cohen, Julia Lockwood, Agnes Varda, John Singleton, Peter Mayhew, Billy Drago, Rip Torn, Rutger Hauer, Peter Fonda, Valerie Harper, Carol Lynley, Rip Taylor, writer D. C. Fontana, René Auberjonois, Anna Karina, Danny Aiello, Lee Mendelson, and Sue Lyon. Here I want to stress that this list does not include everyone I eulogised on this blog this year, as it would possibly occupy a very large part of the page!

Several music artists also died this year, among them some of my favourites. I have been a fan of The Monkees since I was a very young child, so that I was very hurt when I heard Peter Tork died. Another one of my favourites to die this year was Ric Ocasek. I had been a fan of The Cars since their first album came out in 1978. Others who died this year were Hal Blaine, Dick Dale, Leon Redbone, Eddie Money, Ginger Baker, and Neil Innes.

With regards to this blog, A Shroud of Thoughts celebrated its fifteenth anniversary on June 4. Even without all the eulogies it has been a busy year on the blog. I held both the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon in March and the Rule Britannia blogathon in August. I also took part in several other blogathons, including the Great Villain Blogathon and the What a Character! Blogathon (two of my favourites). This year saw several TV show anniversaries, so I wrote posts about Turn-On, Bonanza, Dobie Gillis, The Untouchables, and others.

For me 2019 has been a sad year, the first full year I have ever spent without Vanessa. That having been said, the year also had its highlights for me, memories I will keep for the rest of my life. I am hoping that 2020 will see