Friday, December 26, 2008


The great playwright Harold Pinter died Wednesday, and singer-actress-force of nature Eartha Kitt passed away on Christmas day.

And while neither death was unexpected--both had cancer, and Pinter's failing health especially had been known for some time--it is unfortunate to add their names to the list of people we now have to live without. Me, I'm still reeling from the death last week of the fine film director Robert Mulligan, who directed a couple of favorites around here, The Stalking Moon and The Other.

Pinter was 78, Kitt and Mulligan in their eighties. They'd lived good, productive lives, their whole careers behind them, and it wouldn't be so bad, except...who can replace these people? Pinter's plays (and screenplays, and if you haven't seen Accident, what the hell are you doing right now that's more important?) literally changed their art form, Kitt should have received residuals from Madonna from ripping off her persona, and Mulligan was the sort of old-school pro who could switch from a noble (but not stuffy) literary adaptation like To Kill A Mockingbird to a vivid siege thriller posing as a Western like The Stalking Moon to a tough, thoughtful gangster movie like The Nickel Ride and make it all look easy.

Yes, we have writers, performers and filmmakers today, many of them awesomely talented. But too many of them wear their influences on their sleeves, and ultimately, they just don't seem to matter as much. Pinter and Kitt were utterly original, and though no one speaks of Mulligan in the same terms as Murnau or Welles, you never watch any of his movies thinking, "Ah, there's the Godard hommage or the Hitchcock reference." They did things their own way, and they mattered, and the world is a lesser place without them.