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Feb 20

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Richard Matheson and Andrew Bergman

Richard MathesonSorry to be gone all day. This working for money thing is very time consuming. I’m sure I would be doing a lot better if I had an actual job. But keeping clients happy is exhausting.

On this day in 1902, the great photographer Ansel Adams was born. He is best known for his nature photography. But of course, he did far more than that. In fact, his work spanned seven decades and just about any subject you can think of. Mostly, he was interested in nature, however. People especially know his work of Yosemite. I especially associate him with the Timber Cove Inn, which is one of my favorite places on earth. Like most places in California, Adams spent time there and photographed it. Unfortunately, I can’t find any of those photos online. So here’s just one of many beautiful photographs of his, “Workers Against Mt Williamson”:

Farm Workers Mt Williamson- Ansel Adams

The great film director Robert Altman was born in 1925. I don’t know quite what to make of him stylistically. To some extent, I think his brilliance was just in his willingness to do different things. So much of his work was simply playing with genres. That’s particularly true in things like The Long Goodbye and Gosford Park. But he also made films that are just unique like MASH and Nashville and 3 Women. But above all, he made one of my very favorite films, McCabe & Mrs Miller. This following scene from it provides a good idea of the moral universe of the film. The cowboy is probably the most likable character in the whole thing. But don’t get the wrong idea: it isn’t a world where evil triumphs. It just isn’t a world where anything especially triumphs. Everyone just muddles long.

The film writer-director Andrew Bergman is 69 today. I really admire his work. He is one of the greatest comedy writers ever. His script for The In-Laws is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Andrew BergmanHe is also the true genius behind Blazing Saddles, although as usual, Mel Brooks has done everything he can to minimize the work of his betters. What has always amazed me about Bergman’s films (The Freshman, Soapdish, Striptease) is that they are funny all the way through. A big problem with most comedies is that they stop being funny in the third act. That is never the case with Bergman’s scripts and when he is also directing the comedy continues to the end like a freight train. It’s very possible I should have given the day to him. Unfortunately, like a lot of filmmakers I admire, he doesn’t make films anymore. Here is one of many funny scenes from The In-Laws:

Other birthday: Dutch Golden Age painter Jan de Baen (1633); Classical composer Adalbert Gyrowetz (1763); physicist Ludwig Boltzmann (1844); playwright Russel Crouse (1893); psychologist Elizabeth Holloway Marston (1893); architect Louis Kahn (1901); choreographer Gillian Lynne (88); actor Sidney Poitier (87); singer Nancy Wilson (77); director Mike Leigh (71); Patty Hearst (60); MST3K creator Joel Hodgson (54); basketball player Charles Barkley (51); actor French Stewart (50); model Cindy Crawford (48); musician Kurt Cobain (1967); and actor Lili Taylor (47).

The day, however, belongs to the great writer Richard Matheson who was born on this day in 1926. He is best known for having written I Am Legend, which was the basis for four feature films, including the film that terrified me as a child, The Last Man on Earth. But what is remarkable is just how much Matheson wrote. So much of the great stuff from The Twilight Zone was written by him, including the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” He wrote the Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within” where Kirk is turned into his good and evil parts. He wrote a number of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films, as well as the similar (and wonderful) The Comedy of Terrors. And he wrote the short story and screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s television movie Duel. He also wrote roughly 30 novels and countless short stories. He was truly an amazing writer.

Happy birthday Richard Matheson!

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2 comments

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  1. JMF

    That’s a lot of birthdays!

    What stands out for me with Altman is his basic decency. He’s pretty sympathetic to almost all his characters . . . even Nixon! We don’t see that a lot in films now. I’m sure many current people write scripts that way, but they aren’t getting produced this side of Thom McCarthy. Altman filmed in a different era . . . and he was a stone gut fighter about getting his pictures made.

  2. admin

    @JMF – Yeah, it was quite a day. There were at least seven people I would have been fine with giving the day to. And three of them I just threw in the jumble. This is a problem with the birthday posts: all days are not created equal.

    Altman is more interested in characters. I think sympathy comes naturally if you care about characters. You get 2-D characters when you are just trying to make a plot work. Of course, the new thing in super hero movies is to [i]only[/i] give the villains any motivation. That’s funny, I think.

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