Monday, November 29, 2010

Your Childhood VHS Collection Is Dead, Dead I Say (RIP Leslie Nielsen and Irvin Kershner)

Posted By on Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 11:09 AM

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Leslie William Nielsen, was born in 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan—his father was a Mountie—and died yesterday of pneumonia aged 84; he was a stentorian C-list leading man who, late in life, with a thatch of hair as thick and silvery-magnificent as Jack Kemp's, became beloved by the children of Baby Boomers all over America for saying silly, silly things in a serious, serious voice. In Airplane!, the Naked Gun movies, and beyond, Nielsen was an establishment mouthpiece for rampant puerility.

There is much to decry about the careers of Jim Abrahams and Jerry and David Zucker—chiefly their role in ensuring that parody has surpassed satire as a mode of American humor, which implies some ugly things about our national sense of complacency and self-congratulation—but at their best, which is to say in their stuff with Nielsen, their work had a quick, compulsive taste for absurdity at its most, well, primal. Watching stuff like this as a grown-up is basically a matter of figuring out how hard, and for how long, you're willing to keep up the act of being a reasonably sophisticated adult. It's not funny, it's not funny, it's not funny, and that's why it's so much funnier than it has any right to be.

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And this morning, it was announced that Irvin Kershner, best known as director of another VHS-era essential, The Empire Strikes Back, has died age 87. He was a favorite of Pauline Kael, who flipped for his 1970 film Loving, about the marital misadventures of peak-period George Segal: in her write-up from 5001 Nights at the Movies, she called it "a beautifully sustained piece of moviemaking... [with] the sensibility and humor and feeling for character generally associated with Czech films or prewar French films. It looks at the failures of middle-class life without despising the people..."

Kael also loved the movie Kershner made right before Empire: in a 1978 piece in the New Yorker, she somewhat battily asked whether American moviegoers were "afraid" of movies like Kershner's The Eyes of Laura Mars, in which controversial fashion photographer Faye Dunaway has p.o.v. visions of the serial killer murdering all her friends. (It should be better than it is—if memory serves it feels more slack than louche. Worthwhile for the unibrow on young Tommy Lee Jones.)

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