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Nuns climbing every mountain to infinity and beyond
A short but very appreciative obituary of one of cinema's aged greats and, at half his age,
one of cinema's potential greats, by Camus
 
"La, a note that follows So…"
The Worst Lyric in Cinema History™
(if we're not counting "Adieu, adieu, to yer and yer and yer…")

 

Robert Wise died a few days ago (14th September 2005). Joe Ranft died in a car crash a month earlier. Wise was almost exactly (to the month) twice Ranft's age. Both deaths are a very sad loss to cinema. You may be forgiven for almost knowing the first name from somewhere but maybe not the second… Hollywood, like everywhere else, is still ultimately ruled by nature and happenstance - in this case, old age (Wise was 91) and terrible happenstance (Ranft was 45 and five and a bit months).

I once worked on a television series about sex. Non sequitur much? Stay with me.

It was potentially a wonderful series but egos, cowardice, stubbornness and stupidity torpedoed it as effectively as the iceberg ripped holes into the hull of a certain luxury liner. In other words, it was a normal, run of the mill, TV production. As an incentive (let's use the correct word 'bribe') to continue working on this series (I could see how it was slowly imploding and did not want to implode with it), I was offered a trip to L.A. to meet the man who edited Citizen Kane.

Drum roll at the frickin' least.

You have to understand that to a film editor in the early 90s, the mere idea of meeting the man who edited Citizen Kane was like being offered the idol Indiana Jones is seeking at the start of Raiders. I needed proof before I agreed to brave the tarantulas and the dubious company of Alfred Molina's Sapito. I mean the poison was still fresh… Three days.

It seemed that Robert Wise's wife, Millicent, was a firm natural history fan and had struck up a friendship with my boss at that time. He had pulled out an Ace I could not have ignored and eagerly went back to work on what was turning into a meltdown of a series, a maelstrom of crossed wires that would end careers and turn friends into enemies. And did I even get to board the plane? Of course not. In certain circumstances, bosses bend the truth like Beckham's balls and to this day I have not let him forget his promise. On the 14th September 2005, the promise became impossible to keep because Robert Wise died. To some, Wise was the Judas Iscariot of cinema despite his career success and obvious talent. How so? He was the poor bastard who had to re-direct the ending and edit the 'slashed to ribbons' version (pretty sure those are not the words used on the DVD cover) of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. Wise has been dogged with that traitorous reputation but while Orson Welles still enjoys (if not life itself) a thoroughly deserved reputation for being an extraordinary talent, Wise fell in happily with the humble craftsman's tag. Hey. Here are a few examples of Wise's crafted output. He was a truly talented director in his own right and directing any one of the following would have earned him a place in cinema history… I still remember when, as a fifteen year old one fine summer morning, I saw The Haunting for the first time on TV. It scared the A, C and B Jesus out of me.

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Run Silent Run Deep (1958)
West Side Story (1961)
The Haunting (1963)
The Sound of Music (1965)
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Well, perhaps not Star Trek The Motion Picture

Let's leap forward to Joe Ranft, still gurgling 'Dada' while Robert Wise was trying to keep the Jets and the Sharks apart. If I mentioned that Ranft was a writer of Disney's über-hit The Lion King, would that bring him some kudos? Alas, no. There were three credited writers and twenty five (count them), twenty five additional writers of Simba's first adventure, of which Joe was one. With all respect to the creative process but Disney seems to go through writers like toilet paper but I'm not sure if that analogy stands up as I can't identify what Disney creature would actually use toilet paper. Remember, most Disney animals have no ani – sorry, this time it really must be the plural 'anuses'. So like most creative folks, Ranft had to look elsewhere for artistic fulfilment.

It didn't hurt that he used to go to school with a certain John Lassiter. Despite his evident story sense and value as a writer, he scored performing two characters on two of Pixar's biggest hits. He voiced Heimlich the Caterpillar (as a rough temporary recording) in A Bug's Life but when the artist employed to voice the creature turned in a performance that Ranft had bettered as a temp, Ranft was duly awarded the job. Now Pixar had a double talent, a writer with an unerring sense of narrative and a voice talent that could be further exploited. Joe Ranft also played Wheezy the penguin in Toy Story 2 (a beautifully measured and heartbreaking performance) as well as being one of a superlative team that gave life to the original Toy Story.

Greats pass on. Sometimes something as idiotically random as a car crash takes away those who may have achieved greatness. Pixar mourns Ranft's accidental demise.

The movie gods mourn both its losses.

Robert Wise filmography
(as director)

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
Mademoiselle Fifi (1944)
Exterminator!
1960
The Body Snatcher (1945)
Criminal Court (1946)
Born to Kill (1947)
Mystery in Mexico (1948)
Blood on the Moon (1949)
The Set-Up (1949)
Two Flags West (1950)
Three Secrets (1950)
The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)
the Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Captive City (1952)
Something for the Birds (1952)
The Desert Rats (1953)
Destination Gobi (1953)
So Big (1953)
Executive Suite (1954)
Helen of Troy (1956)
Tribute to a Bad Man (1956)
Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
This Could Be the Night (1957)
Until They Sail (1957)
Run Silent Run Dep (1958)
I Want to Live! (1958)
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
West Side Story (1961)
two for the Seesaw (1962)
The Haunting (1963)
The Sound of Music (1965)
The Sand Pebbles (1966)
Star! (1968)
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Two People (1973)
The Hindenberg (1975)
Audrey Rose (1977)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Rooftops (1989)
A Storm in Summer (2000 - TV)

review posted
18th September 2005