Irvin Kershner, who died Saturday at age 87, was a solid journeyman director, his early films — several of which, especially “The Flim-Flam Man” and “The Luck of Ginger Coffey” are supposed to be pretty good — are obscure enough that even I haven’t seen too many of them. He was also a graduate of the USC Film School in 1950, which makes him, I guess, about the first of the film school brats.
He’s known today primarily because of two strong, dramatic action films. The first was a 1976 fact-based TV movie, “Raid on Entebbe.” The second was, uh-hmm, “The Empire Strikes Back.” For one film in the series, a “Star Wars” film had a genuinely well-written screenplay with good dialogue and a director who knew how to elicit strong work from actors and structure a dramatic moment. For some reason, everyone agrees it was the best of the series. Watch this scene again, though you’ve certainly seen it before. There’s emotion going on.
Kershner was, I gather, a gracious and intelligent man. Here is a brief tribute/outtake from the documentary “The Nature of Existence” in which Kershner endorses “the Force” in a way, while also speaking out for a spiritual, but entirely non-supernatural view of life, death, and creativity.
Regulars might have noticed a bit less movie news this week. Don’t worry, I won’t try to cover everything that happened in movieland this week tonight. Unfortunately, I have to start with three notable deaths.
* The saddest for me personally, and perhaps for some of you horror fans out there, is the most recent. Dan O’Bannon has died from Crohn’s Disease at age 63. Best known for the horror-comedy hit, “The Return of the Living Dead,” and for writing the screenplay for “Alien,” O’Bannon emerged out of U.S.C.’s film school with his friend, John Carpenter and together they collaborated on an odd science fiction comedy called “Dark Star.” While few remember that film, it set them both on a pretty interesting path.
When I was in the middle of high school and at the height of my geekness (three terms as president of the Venice High science fiction club!), I actually met O’Bannon in some odd circumstances at a crisis point in his career. Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you the story, but suffice it to say he seemed like a good guy and he was clearly something of a minor genius. He’ll be very much missed.
* Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney and the son of Roy O. Disney, also passed on at age 79. The younger Disney emerged as a king-maker and king-breaker of sorts, launching insurgent movements that wound up putting Michael Eisner in charge of the studio in 1984 and then deposing him in 2004.
* Finally, if you’re a former film student like myself you’ve probably had to read some of the work of famed academic critic and scholar Robin Wood, who was so respected that almost no one noticed when serious film-criticism aficionado Joss Whedon named a supercool cool high school principal/cum monster-fighter after him on “Buffy.” (How could anyone namecheck him on a mere TV show? It had to be a coincidence.) One of the first critics to approach genre films seriously, he is famous for works on Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, among many others. He has passed on at age 78, and the always interesting Glenn Kenny has a remembrance.