Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The 5th Anniversary of the Death of Vanessa Marquez

Vanessa Marquez
"But what is grief if not love persevering?" (The Vision in the WandaVision episode "Previously On")

At 2:36 PM Pacific Time it will have been five years since actress Vanessa Marquez died. On August 30 2018 she was shot in the back by South Pasadena, California police officers Gilberto Carrillo and Christopher Perez. Ever since she has been mourned by her family, her friends, and her fans. For me it remains the absolute worst day of my life. I am still suffering from trauma from that day, and I still have trouble remembering details from that day.

The plain truth is that Vanessa Marquez was a very special woman. She was a well-known actress who had starred in the classic movie Stand and Deliver (1988) and the hit television show ER. Her other credits included the cult movies Twenty Bucks (1993) and Blood In Blood Out (1993), and the TV shows Wiseguy and Culture Clash. Vanessa was a sweet, warm, loving, intelligent, talented, and beautiful woman who cared deeply for her friends and other people. She was a huge fan of classic movies and adored Audrey Hepburn. She was well-known for her love of Star Wars and had a huge collection of Star Wars memorabilia.

I first encountered Vanessa on Twitter where we were both original members of TCMParty, the loosely organized group of fans who live tweet films shown on Turner Classic Movies. At the same time we also lived tweeted the TV shows Downton Abbey and Mad Men. Vanessa and I soon learned we had a lot in common, including a love of Star Wars, Star Trek, The X-Files, classic movies, classic television shows, and so on. Eventually we would be in touch very nearly every day, through social media, texts, and phone calls. I will not speak as to how Vanessa felt about me, although I know she regarded me as a dear friend, but for my part I fell in love with her. I loved Vanessa more than anyone else in my live.

It was on August 30 2018 that I called Vanessa as usual. When I didn't get an answer, I figured she must be asleep and so I texted her. She replied to me right away and said that she was having severe seizures. She asked me to call for paramedics, which I did. Unfortunately, police officers were also dispatched to her apartment. Once there those police officers behaved in a most inappropriate and unprofessional manner, and Gilberto Carrillo decided to place a 5150 hold on Vanessa. From there things escalated and ultimately the police officers shot Vanessa in the back. She died at 2:36 PM at Huntington Memorial Hospital. Knowing Vanessa as well as I did, it is my firm belief that she was no danger to herself or others and I know for a fact that she was not suicidal. She was simply a woman in need of treatment for seizures. A 5150 hold was entirely unwarranted. I also remain convinced that had I been in Vanessa's apartment that day, the police officers present in her home would have shot me or anyone else there. Nothing will convince me otherwise. (For more on Vanessa's death, read my post "Justice for Vanessa Marquez").

The afternoon of August 30 2018 I had to go to work at our local historical society's museum. I worried about Vanessa the whole time I was there and when I got home I texted her. When I received no reply, I assumed that they must have taken Vanessa to hospital. Still worried about her, I ran a search on the internet to see if there was any news. At 8:00 PM Central Time I learned that there had been an officer involved shooting involving a 49 year old woman at the address of Vanessa's apartment. At that point I began to panic. It was at 11:00 PM Central Time that I learned that Vanessa Marquez had been shot and killed by police. I gave some of our local friends the sad news and then posted the news of her death to both Facebook and Twitter.

I also broke down crying. I went to bed, but I never got to sleep. I simply lay in bed crying non-stop. I even considered taking my own life in the early hours of August 31. I didn't as I realized I had to remain alive to get justice for Vanessa and preserve her legacy. I also realized that Vanessa would be very angry with me if I took my own life (note--I do believe in an afterlife). Ultimately, I would not stop crying until 1:00 PM, Friday, August 31 2018. I also stopped eating. I ate nothing that Friday nor did I eat anything on Saturday. In fact, I wouldn't eat anything until Sunday evening. I would cry every single day that September, usually multiple times. In the coming months I would not cry every single day, but I would cry often and many times the tears just seemed to come out of nowhere. To this day there are still times I will break down crying.

So much has happened since Vanessa's death. Two memorials were held for her. One by various friends in September 2018 and one by her friends and cast members from the movie Stand and Deliver (1988) in October 2018. Her Stand and Deliver cast mate Lydia Nicole started a petition to have Vanessa Marquez included in both SAG and the Academy Awards' on-air In Memoriam segments. Neither SAG nor the Academy did, but the petition reached 12,000 signatures. Ultimately, I think this said more than if Vanessa had been included in either SAG  or the Academy's on-air In Memoriam segments. People loved Vanessa Marquez and enjoyed her many performances over the year. It was in 2019 that I went to California to scatter Vanessa's ashes at the Hollywood Sign with her mother and her Stand and Deliver cast mates Patrick Baca and Daniel Villareal. It was an emotional experience and marked the first time I broke down crying in front of anyone who was not immediate kin. It was in February 2021 that Vanessa's mother reached a settlement with the City of South Pasadena in a wrongful death lawsuit. It was in October 2018 that director Cyndy Fujikawa conceived a documentary on Vanessa's career and tragic death. That documentary, Ninety Minutes Later, has since been completed and made its premiere at the SAFILM-San Antonio Film Festival earlier this month.

Sadly, Vanessa's case is not an isolated one. Latinos are shot by police at a rate disproportionate to their population in the United States. Between 2014 and May 2021, 2600 Latinos were killed by police. And while, contrary to much of what has been reported, the police were not there to make a "welfare check" on Vanessa (I called paramedics to treat her for seizures), many welfare checks also end in police officers killing the very people they were sent to check on. From 2019 to 2021, 178 welfare checks ended in an officer involved shooting. Here I must point out that while the vast majority of individuals killed by police are men, there have been many women who have been shot by police as well. In 2018 alone 53 women were shot by police. What makes Vanessa's case remarkable is that unlike many officer involved shootings of Latinos, as well as those people killed during welfare checks, is that it received national media coverage. No officer involved shootings of Latinos have received the sort of media coverage that the murder of George Floyd did, let alone the sort of media coverage that Vanessa's murder did.

One of the most difficult things I have had to deal with in the wake of Vanessa's death is that, like many Americans, I was raised to trust and respect police officers. I come from a family where many of my kinfolk have served in law enforcement and I have friends who are police officers. When officers from the South Pasadena Police Department shot Vanessa in the back and killed her, it then felt like a betrayal. After having lived with this case for five years and having examined the facts in the case, from the autopsy report to small portions of the bodycam video (I cannot bring myself to watch all of it) to the Complaint for Damages filed on behalf of Vanessa's mother, I still believe that the two officers who shot Vanessa behaved in a manner most unbefitting for police officers and used excessive force in dealing with her. To this day I am convinced that both of the police officers who shot and killed Vanessa belong in prison. I certainly would not trust either of them with my life or anyone else's.

Five years later I am still mourning Vanessa Marquez, as are many others. As I said earlier, Vanessa was a very special woman. She had many friends and, like me, those friends are still grieving her to this day. She also had many fans who were saddened to learn of her death. Vanessa was much more than a talented actress who appeared in a classic movie and the number one show of its day. She was an intelligent, warm, caring, loving woman with a great sense of humour who was swift to take up for her friends and genuinely cared for other people. For me she will always remain the one person I love above all others, even my immediate family. I know I will miss her until the day I die.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

TCM Spotlight in September 2023: Coming of Age

Every Friday night in September 2023 the TCM Spotlight will be focused on Coming of Age movies. The movies range from classics made during the Golden Age of Hollywood to the 1990s. They cover the various travails of growing up.

The various movies are all grouped into themes. TCM Spotlight: Coming of Age kicks off on Friday, September 1 with movies devoted to Young Love, including A Little Romance (1979) and The World of Henry Orient (1964). The night continues with Young and Rebellious movies, with such films as Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Friday, September 8 begins with movies devoted to Growing Up in Poverty, featuring the classic Sounder (1972). Later Turner Classic Movies is showing films centred around the family, kicking off with Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

Friday, September 15 begins with movies about friendship under the heading of Best Friends Forever. Cooley High (1975) and Diner (1982) are both being shown at this time. The night continues with films devoted to youths and their Four Legged Friends, including The Yearling (1946) and National Velvet (1944). Friday, September 22 is devoted to the Loss of Innocence, with such films as The Learning Tree (1969) and The Last Picture Show (1971). Afterwards are three movies Based on Dickens, David Copperfield (1935), Oliver Twist (1948), and Great Expectations (1946).

The last night of TCM Spotlight: Coming of Age, Friday, September 29, begins with films Remembering Childhood, including A Christmas Story (1983) and Summer of '42 (1971). The night ends with movies Based on Kipling.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Godspeed Arleen Sorkin

Arleen Sorkin, who inspired the character Harley Quinn and originated the role on Batman: The Animated Series and played Calliope Jones on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, died on August 24 2023 at the age of 67. The cause was complications from multiple sclerosis.

Arleen Sorkin was born on October 14 1955 in Washington, DC. She started her career performing in cabaret in the Seventies and in the early Eighties she was a member of the comedy troupe The High-Heeled Women, which also included Tracey Berg, Cassandra Danz, and Mary Fulham. She made her television debut in an uncredited role in a sketch on Saturday Night Live in 1982. She made her film debut in an uncredited bit part in the movie Trading Places in 1983. It was in 1984 that she began playing the role of Calliope Jones on the daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives. She continued to appear regularly on Days of Our Lives until 1990. She also played the main Geneva on the comedy Duet as well as its follow-up series Open House. In 1990 she began a two year stint as the co-host of America's Funniest Home Videos. She guest starred on the shows Mike Hammer, Dream On, and Room for Romance. She appeared in the movie Odd Jobs (1986).

In 1992 Arleen Sorkin returned to Days of Our Lives for one story arc. It was in 1992 that she originated the role of Harley Quinn on Batman: The Animated Series. Arleen Sorkin had attended college with Batman: The Animated Series co-developer and writer Paul Dini. Paul Dini was inspired to create Harley Quinn one day when he was sick home from work and watching Days of Our Lives. In that particular episode Arleen Sorkin, playing Calliope Jones, appeared in a dream sequence dressed as a harlequin. PAul Dini based the character largely on Miss Sorkin herself, even down to her mannerisms. Harley first appeared in the episode "Joker's Favour" and was meant to appear only once. As it turned out, the character proved to be a hit and appeared eight more times on Batman: The Animated Series. Arleen Sorkin would further voice Harley on the shows Superman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, Gotham Girls, Static Shock, and Justice League. She also voiced Harley Quinn in the video games The Adventures of Batman and Robin, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman: Vengeance, Batman: Arkham Asylum, DC Universe Online, and DC Universe Online: The Last Laugh. She played Harley Quinn in the movies The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.

In the Nineties Arleen Sorkin guest starred on the show Ted & Venus. She appeared in the TV movie Perry Mason: The Case of the Killer Kiss. She was a guest voice on the animated series Taz-Mania. She provided a voice for the animated film Batman:Mask of the Phantasm (1993). she appeared in the movies Oscar (1991) and I Don't Buy Kisses Anymore (1992).

In the Naughts she returned to Days of Our Lives for brief times as Calliope Jones. She guest starred on Frasier. She played Miss Q in Comic Book: The Movie. Sadly, by the Teens, Miss Sorkin's health no longer allowed her to pursue her career.

Arleen Sorkin was also a writer. She wrote a 1991 episode of the show Down Home. She also wrote episodes of Tiny Toon Adventures and an unsold pilot How to Marry a Billionaire. She co-created the show Fired Up with Paul Slansky. She wrote the story for the 1997 movie Picture Perfect.

Arleen Sorkin was a wonderful actress. So much was her impact as Calliope Jones on Days of Our Lives that people like me who didn't watch soap operas were aware of both her and her character. If Harley Quinn proved to be so popular that she not only continued to appear in various DC television and movie projects, as well as become part of the comic books, it is largely because of her performance as the role. Every actress who has played Harley Quinn ever since has drawn upon Arleen Sorkin's performance for inspiration. In Perry Mason: Case of the Killer Kiss, she played an expert on soap operas who assists Perry's investigator Ken Malansky on a murder case. In the final episode of Frasier she played the owner of a monkey.

Arleen Sorkin had a wonderful gift for playing off the wall characters. In some ways she was a throwback to the bubbly, but wisecracking blondes of the Golden Age of Hollywood. While some soap opera actors remain best known for the soap operas on which they appeared, Arleen Sorkin will be remembered for so much more.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

The 30th Anniversary of Father Hood (1993)

Father Hood (1993) is not among Patrick Swayze's best known movies. It certainly is not among his most successful, nor is it a favourite with critics. For myself, it is notable as one of the feature films in which my dearest friend Vanessa Marquez has a part. It was thirty years ago today, on August 27 1993, that Father Hood was released. in Los Angeles.

In Father Hood Patrick Swayze plays petty crook Jack Charles. His daughter had been in foster care, but was ultimately sent to the fictional Bigelow Hall in Los Angeles, a corrupt and downright abusive state-run home. When his daughter Kelly (Sabrina Lloyd) escapes from Bigelow, she goes straight to her father and tells him that his son Eddie (Brian Bonsall) is being sent there. It is when it becomes apparent to Jack that Bigelow is indeed corrupt and abusive that he rescues his son and a pregnant teen named Delores (Vanessa Marquez). After returning Delores to her family, Jack and his children begin a trek across country.

Father Hood
originated with a series of articles written on child care homes for New York magazine by Nick Pileggi. Mr. Pileggi based the idea for the movie on a real-life incident in which a father abducted his children from an abusive child care home. South African director Darrell Roodt signed on to the production along with producers Gillian Gorfil and Anant Singh, with whom he had worked in South Africa. Gillian Gorfil and Darrell Roodt were developing another film at the time, but put that movie on hold in anticipation of making their first American film.

According to Anant Singh in his autobiography In Black and White: A Memoir, the producers and director Darrell Roodt had initially been promised that Richard Gere would star. Ultimately, the script would turn out entirely different from what it had originally been and the producers actually had little control over the project. Ultimately, Patrick Swayze was cast as the film's lead. Mr. Swayze was arguably still at the height of his career, with such hits as Ghost (1990) and Point Break (1991) to his credit. The film would go through a number of titles before it was released, among them Desperado, Jack of Hearts, and Honour Among Thieves. Ultimately it was titled Father Hood.

Principal photography on Father Hood began on November 16 1992 in Helotes, Texas, a small town outside of San Antonio. Father Hood would literally be shot across the country, at such locations as Hoover Dam, New Orleans, some Louisiana bayous, the Valley of Fire state park in Nevada.

According to Patrick Swayze in the biography he wrote with his wife Lisa Niemi, he was drinking more than he ever had while working on Father Hood. One morning the crew even had difficulty waking him up. It was while he was making the movie that Mr. Swayze realized he had a problem. After shooting ended on Father Hood, he checked himself into a treatment centre in Tucson, Arizona.

Vanessa Marquez in Father Hood (1993)
While according to Patrick Swayze, he was drunk much of the time that he was making Father Hood,  Vanessa Marquez said he was one of the nicest people with whom she ever worked. Vanessa simply adored him. Vanessa's part in Father Hood is a small one, and she only appears for a few minutes in the movie. Still, she gives a fairly good performance for the time that she is on screen. Curiously, Father Hood is one of two times that Vanessa played a pregnant character, the other being the 1991 TV movie Locked Up: A Mother's Rage. Given Vanessa was never pregnant, she did a remarkably good job of playing characters who were.

Patrick Swayze's co-star in Father Hood was Halle Berry, who was fresh off such films as The Last Boy Scout (1991) and Boomerang (1992). She played journalist Kathleen Mercer, who helps Jack bring down Bigelow Hall. The role was significant for Miss Berry in that it was one of the first in which her race did not play a role in the film. Halle Berry did have some objections to the way that Hollywood Pictures promoted the film leading up  to its release. Quite simply, Hollywood Pictures hinted at a romance between Jack and Kathleen in the film, when in actuality their relationship in the movie is strictly platonic.

Father Hood was released to overwhelmingly negative reviews. Michael Wilmington of The Los Angeles Times wrote of the film, "Father Hood works on pure travelogue level." One of the few positive reviews came from Roger Ebert, who gave Father Hood a thumbs up and opened his review with "Father Hood is a genial, simple minded chase picture in which a smalltime thief learns to love his children. I didn't believe a single second of it, although I enjoyed a few of them." Audiences didn't seem to take to Father Hood either. It only made $3.4 million at the box office, a remarkable failure given Patrick Swayze was at that time a guaranteed box office draw.

Of course, for me it is understandable why neither critics nor audiences took to Father Hood. In many ways the film has a split personality. It cannot make up its mind whether its a chase movie, an action movie, or a family comedy. The plot is rather slim and tends to be formulaic. The dialogue is often not very convincing. The viewer doesn't get an idea of the characters' inner lives.

Even so, Father Hood does have a few things to recommend it. Particularly given the material they had to work with, much of the cast gives fairly good performances. Diane Ladd is great as Jack's mother Rita, a small time grifter who has seen better days. Halle Berry does a fairly good job in portraying Kathleen Mercer, a remarkable feat given there was little to her character. And, of course, as I mentioned above, Vanessa Marquez gives a solid performance given the brief amount of time she is on screen. Besides the performances, another reason Father Hood may not be a total waste of time is Mark Vicente's cinematography. Michael Wilmington is right to a degree in his review in The Los Angeles Times--Father Hood does work to a degree as a travelogue. There are wonderful shorts of the Hoover Dam, the Louisiana bayous, and the open road.

Father Hood certainly is not a good movie, although I question whether it is quite as bad as some critics think it is. If one is going to watch it at all, they should probably go in not expecting much and with a willingness to suspend disbelief. At any rate, there are some good performances in the film and there is some beautiful scenery as well.