Sunday, June 28, 2009

Remember the Prime

There are very few books I've read more than once in my lifetime, but one of them is SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, by Orson Scott Card. I got it from the Science Fiction Book Club in an omnibus with its predecessor, ENDER'S GAME. I still have that somewhere. The idea of a "Speaker for the Dead" is someone unconnected to the deceased that researches their life and speaks the truth of them to a gathered audience. This impartial cleric will be able to see the deceased for who they truly were, getting beyond the petty prosaic travails while they were alive and the sentimental yearning after their death. Thus, by hearing the truth about the deceased, their friends and family will truly be able to cope with their conflicted feelings and move on. This is a concept that fascinates me to this day, probably in ways I'm not ready to deal with yet. And I think it works well for people about whom not much is known. Celebrities don't have this luxury. Especially in an age of constant scrutiny and entertainment/gossip as news. We lost three major TV icons in the last week. But despite the memorials being planned and the TV specials being aired, they are three people that have most recently been in the public eye, even before their death, for the tragedies their lives had become. These are the truths the American public knows about them. But I am here asking you to look beyond their lives to their work. See them for who they were at their best. You might actually find something you like. Farrah Fawcett is probably best known as a pin-up girl. And secondarily as one Charlie's original Angels. But her peak as an actress probably came in the mid-'80s, with the TV movie THE BURNING BED and its loose cinematic companion piece EXTREMITIES. In BED, she is an abused housewife who takes revenge upon her husband in drastic ways. In EXTREMITIES, she is an attacked housewife who takes revenge upon her attempted rapist in drastic ways. You can Netflix both of them. Ed McMahon did a lot in his career in the spotlight. He was the host of STAR SEARCH for twelve years. He MCed the Jerry Lewis telethon every Labor Day weekend. Heck, I even rmemeber him with Dick Clark on TV'S BLOOPERS AND PRACTICAL JOKES every week. But I think everyone can agree that he is best-remembered for his stint on THE TONIGHT SHOW, where he was brilliant. Yes, Johnny was the front man, but it was the wonderful chemistry between the two that helped the show endure. Netflix any one of the TONIGHT SHOW DVDs. Yes, Michael Jackson was a music star the world over, and innovative and creative. But to people like me, who matured when MTV was nascent, he was a daily TV companion. And after having seen "Thriller" again recently, I know now that I never fully appreciated him at the time. This classic video (and I'll admit I saw it on the Big Screen, which has aggrandizing effects) shows what a charismatic performer Michael was at his prime. A good-looking, talented young man who was somehow able to convince one of Hollywood's most successful directors of the time (John Landis already had ANIMAL HOUSE, THE BLUES BROTHERS and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON under his belt) to make a 15-minute short film about high school date that turns into a zombie attack with state-of-the-art special effects to accompany a pop/dance track that features an in-song "rap" by Vincent Price. And yet he pulls it off. It's brilliant. We are completely drawn in by his enthusiasm and the driving beat under the song. When the music stops and the dancing takes over a capella, even the shuffling zombie choreography provides its own percussive melody. And the choreography! Taking the Hollywood-accepted movements of a zombie and using it as the platform for an entire sequence? Brilliant! Exclamation point! I suggest you Netflix either "The Number Ones" or "History, Vol. 2," both of which feature the "Thriller" video.

So, let us all speak for the dead, and be the ones that honor their gifts to us, instead of remembering their pain.

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