Alan Rickman: Another Unfair Death

Alan RickmanOh my! Alan Rickman died earlier today. When I learned earlier this week that David Bowie had died, it made me feel a little old. But there wasn’t much in terms of emotional impact, despite the fact that there are at least three Bowie albums that I love: Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, and David Live. And I’m also a huge fan of the film Labyrinth, although not because of him. But my reaction to Alan Rickman’s death is different. It bothers me. I’m actually sad about it.

I discovered him the same place most people did, as Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Despite being a cliche, it is still true that the most important element in a film like that is the villain. This is why the other Die Hard films are not as good (but at least Die Hard 2 had a really good plot). The truth is that Bruce Willis has never been very interesting on the screen. And Rickman added all the charisma that was otherwise lacking. I remember reading that someone on the staff was sending the production company reports indicting that Rickman was destroying the film. It just goes to prove William Goldman’s saying, “No one knows anything.”

As if to prove that wasn’t a fluke, Alan Rickman played the most evil and twisted Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. That was a film that was totally forgettable except for Rickman. It was just such a delight to watch. Check out this scene (which is not at all an especially good one for Rickman) and ask yourself, “How is it that Kevin Costner is a star?” This is the problem with Hollywood: being boring is a good thing. “I shall never fear my father’s sword.” It’s not a terrible line by itself, but Costner makes it as bad as it could possibly be.

I assume that Alan Rickman didn’t especially want to be a star. He was an actor. So he got to play a lot of different kinds of roles. One very early was Ed (the painter) in The January Man. It wasn’t a great film, but it was a fun one. And Rickman showed that he could hold his own on the weird front against Kevin Kline. He was wonderfully sad in, An Awfully Big Adventure. He managed to make Colonel Brandon just cool enough in Sense and Sensibility. And he played the wonderfully snobby, yet likable, Steven Spurrier in Bottle Shock. He was wonderful creepy as Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd. But of course most people will always remember him as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. I could go on, because there are other films of his I loved like, Truly, Madly, Deeply. Oh, and Galaxy Quest. Like I said: I could go on.

So I’m very sad that Alan Rickman has died. (And truly: God must hate humanity because Dick Cheney continues to live.) But I’m not “sobbing sad.” I didn’t know Alan Rickman. But the film industry will be all the poorer for his death. First Terry Pratchett. Now this. Is something going on in England? I don’t think I can take much more of this.

Goodnight, sweet prince! And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

27 thoughts on “Alan Rickman: Another Unfair Death

  1. First it was Bowie this week-known best to me until I was an adult for the Labyrinth since that was a genre film most of us kids to you watched.

    Then Rickman died and it was like “if Tim Curry dies, I am going to leave this planet damn it.” I rarely watched any of Rickman’s films but the thing I liked the most about him was how he just up and decided to be an actor one day. What I did see always made the film I was watching better. Even the Potter films and I cannot stand them.

    I also found out today someone I saw in court semi-frequently died last week. This is not a good day.

    According to IMDB, he played Reagan in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I am going to watch that tonight.

    • Sorry someone else you know died. Snowballs are not a good enough source of joy. They can remind you of someone who also liked throwing them, or or other honest happiness which is, really, more of what we are. Every dingbat lives. Some are happy without turding on others. Those are the best.

      “The Butler” is not very good. Danny Strong wrote it, and wrote two smart political dramas for HBO. But Rickman is, in only a few seconds, an amazing Reagan. He should have had another take at it.

      I practically forgot Rickman was in the Potter films. Although I’m sure that’s what most people will remember from him.

      • It was very heavy handed (The Butler) but I think it showed both how things have vastly changed and at the same time, changed not at all.

        Watching it while reading the reactions of my friends and people I follow on Twitter to the Republican debate was an interesting exercise. And depressing yet cheering because apparently they think that they really don’t want to be president otherwise they would not be so damn stupid.

        OH MY GOD-Erick Ericson just said that NYC was not America on Twitter. Where is that triple facepalm when you need it?!

        • Yeah, it was the heavy-handedness I didn’t like. The two movies Strong wrote for HBO were far more nuanced. But there were powerful sequences, especially the one of activists being trained for the abuse they’d receive if they joined the civil-rights movement. And a good cast.

          I kinda felt like it was a five-hour script edited down to two hours. It would have been much better as a TV miniseries. Then the butler would have become more of a character in his own right and less a passive, “Forrest Gump”-ish witness to history.

          NYC isn’t America, huh? By God, I’d let those people secede at this point. With one caveat; they give up all their US-funded military bases/weapons stockpiles and agree to a system of inspections forbidding them from creating anything but defensive bases/weapons in the future. Plus an open-border policy, allowing any residents to escape or join the cause. They’d never agree to these terms. AKA — the US “red states” are actually far crazier than Iran; they’re more like the old Soviet Union.

          • That would have made a much better and more insightful film had it been something that was much longer since it never gave any time for some of the secondary characters to really be developed. Like Oprah Winfrey who is not a fantastic actress but can do a good job if given the space for her abilities.

            As for the separation of the Union-honestly it sometimes seems like it needs to happen just so that way the right wing will be super embarrassed about how awful their ideas are but they never learn anything so why hurt innocent kids?

  2. Oh fuck!

    It’s such a rotten shame there’s no way to embed how joyous Rickman was in “Die Hard.” He took the iconic Gert Frobe role from “Goldfinger” and resurrected it for another 15 years. If we’re going to have soulless irredeemably inhuman monster villains, let’s have delightful ones, played by actors who are having an absolute blast.

    And there’s Emma Thompson’s adaptation of “Sense And Sensibility.” Rickman was cast as the boring, dependable guy. Who comes through at the end as the greatest guy, ever.

    Not to mention — and this is important — Rickman co-wrote and put into production a play, “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” about an American activist who was killed opposing fundamentalist settlers in Gaza. He co-wrote it from her diaries. It’s a good play.

    I am bugged by this. I liked Bowie enough (if you don’t like the opening riff of “Rebel Rebel,” you aren’t human), but his best stuff I caught up to. Rickman, I saw his best film performances when they came out. I feel so fucking old.

  3. Alan Rickman was a wonderful actor, but let’s talk about something else: His first film role was when he was forty-six years old. Rickman ran his own graphic design company in his late twenties, and then quit to start taking acting lessons. He didn’t have a lead role on stage until he was 42, and then four years later he got cast as the villain in some action movie starring a sitcom actor. Was this a sensible thing to do? What man in his late twenties leaves a paying job to take a huge risk like that, and keeps going despite all the setbacks?

    Well, I guess I did. I left my home state after thirty years, quit trying to be a teacher, and went back to graduate school. I moved two thousand miles away and started a whole new path at thirty-one years. I’d think of Isaac Newton, who by my age had already invented Calculus, and wonder if I was too old to do any real math. Or, for that matter, Isaac Asimov, who’d been published dozens of times by my age, and wonder if my first novel would ever see the light of day. The lesson I’d take from Rickman’s life is: It’s never too late to follow your dreams.

    • There’s been some Thomas Paine mention around here of late. By 18th-century standards, Paine didn’t have any impact until he was 103 (compared to the life expectancy of the era.) And then continued being useful until he was dead at 677 (I exaggerate, but not much.)

      That’s amazing how Rickman became a successful actor/writer much later in life. And he only played a villain a few times. What’s key to him, for me, is he seemed thrilled to have every opportunity he got.

      Somebody’s going to do a YouTube of his snarkiest lines in “Die Hard”: and that’s not going to be right. The best would be collecting his lines in “Die Hard” where he calmly explained to his henchmen how not to fuck it up. He made that movie.

  4. My favorite Bruce Willis film, favorite film he has been in and best use of him, is The Fifth Element. Some people don’t like it, or don’t like Chris Tucker in it. They are wrong. Second favorite is Unbreakable. Below that he is replaceable. Although the late Blake Edwards comedy Blind Date is very good. Mostly because of John LaRoquette. Hans Gruber was magnificent. That Robin Hood thing was such a mess, but I liked him in it. Liked him as the voice of Marvin the paranoid android in Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy. The BBC version was where I learned the story, before I read it. But the film was a good adaptation. And of course, Galaxy Quest, which is simply amazing. All the characters in that are developed.

  5. When I was writing this I wondered whether there would be much of a reaction. I’m glad to see that a lot of other people loved Rickman’s work. I didn’t get into voice work in the article, but he was also awfully good as the blue caterpillar in Burton’s Alice. In Bottle Shock, when asked why he isn’t liked, he says, “Because you think I’m an arsehole. And I’m not, really. I’m just British and, well… you’re not.” I watched that in a hospital close to death and still thought that was funny as hell.

    • I loved Jurgan’s info. So the guy entered acting as a second career, because he was bored being a easy business success. Wow. Simply fucking wow. Bruce Willis probably owes his entire net worth to Alan Rickman and likely doesn’t even know it.

      I didn’t like that “Robin Hood” clip because of the rape stuff at the end. Up until then, it’s great; Rickman is so delectably taunting. And Costner, being Costner, couldn’t possibly respond to Rickman, or Marlon Brando, or Orson Welles, or some combo platter genetic mutant of the above, without dumbly smiling and muttering “my fadder’s saurd.” Costner is what he is is. (And that movie also had Christian Slater as “whatever the fuck Christian Slater is supposed to me in this movie.” “Waterworld” was far more entertaining.)

      There’s a PBS bit where Rickman plays an insufferable writer meeting up with his ex-wife for lunch (Emma Thompson), and proceeds to get brutally drunk. The writing is pretentious as hell. Thompson/Rickman really sell it, though. It’s watchable because of them, it’s not good material.

      To go super site insular: Rickman would have made one serious badass of the SM in “Our Town.”

      • Yes, I read all the comments; I just didn’t think it was necessary to respond to them all.

        As for the clip, well, in the film, he was marry Maid Marian and then consummate the marriage and then he will “win.” It actually leads to some of the funniest bits in the film. But it isn’t a good film. It is just that he is great in it.

        Is that The Song of Lunch? I will have to check it out.

        Oh God! Rickman as the SM? Half the audience would have killed themselves by the end!

        • You should respond to the less frequent commenters. That’s what I would do.

          It is “The Song Of Lunch.” And it’s not very good. It’s nice to see Thompson and Rickman bouncing off each other. I’s largely self-indulgent shite, though.

          Ultimately, I loved watching Rickman because it felt like he really enjoyed acting. Not as a way to achieve fame, and not appeasing the cruel muse some serious pros pursue. (I admire Daniel Day-Lewis; sadly, he doesn’t come across like he’s having a good time. It seems more like penance for wanting to be an actor.)

          And I have no idea what I’m talking about with acting.

          • One usually gets the idea that British actors are working. There is less a sense of romance to the career. But I always thought that Rickman was a very careful actor. The only British actor I of hand think doesn’t take the craft seriously is Michael Caine — truly a ridiculously overrated actor. I feel somewhat the same about Sean Connery.

            But I definitely want to see the movie now. It’s a challenge.

            • They were both sort of lazy-ass actors. John Huston cast them together in “The Man Who Would Be King” as a pair of lazy scoundrels and it worked well. Connery got a huge bump from Brian De Palma as “Guy Who Makes Kevin Costner Slightly Less Boring” in “The Untouchables.” His sneering looks at every actress in the Bond films are pretty hard to forgive. Maybe that was just playing a character . . . but if so, he played it well.

      • Sadly based on history, it was all too accurate since often it was presumed that consummation made the marriage. There was even a bit of trouble later on over that very issue with some dude who had a lot of power…

        Of course I doubt that the writers were doing anything other than what Frank said.

        • I blocked that movie out of my memory because of the f**ing Bryan Adams song at the end.

          Not a fair reason to hate a movie. But at the time, I was a movie theater projectionist. Which is a pretty busy job (or was back then, it might be easier with digital projection now.) A lot of times, you have a movie scheduled to start when another is ending. And it’s not just pressing “start.” You have to turn down the lights at the end of the previews, turn them up again when the credits begin, crank ’em full blast when the movie’s over. And you’ve got several auditoriums to monitor at once.

          (You should also clean the projector between each showing, which few projectionists bothered to do, and that’s why I’m very happy digital has replaced film. The movies aren’t scratched up all to hell anymore.)

          So, anyway, Bryan Adams.

          Because being a projectionist was a pretty busy job, and you had to be aware of when credits were starting and ending, you put end credit music on in the booth. So you could work on another projector and know when it was time to finish up Theater 3.

          That meant I heard that goddamn song at least a hundred times. I grew to have a space/time hatred of it, a quantum hatred which transcended the terrestrial boundaries of normal hate.

          And this is why I loathe “Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves.” Although I’m sure it’s a perfectly acceptable blockbuster, with good bits and a talented cast. No human being should be forced to hear that song a hundred times. It’s practically an OSHA violation!

          • Ooooh I have heard that song a lot more than you have. I like Bryan Adams. Plus I had one older sister who was obsessed with it.

            • Whoops! Sorry! No harm meant. Of course many sensible people appreciate Bryan Adams. Taste is so subjective. There are certainly songs I love dearly which would make you, or anybody else, want to mangle your eardrums with a dull screwdriver.

              Here’s a funny thing. Not really thread-appropriate, but I’m sure Rickman wouldn’t mind.

              So last summer I had a sit-down, drink-down with my oldest brother. He’s two years younger than me, and he hates my guts. I never knew quite why he hated my guts. We were enjoying Radiohead and Beck songs in a bar, and he finally told me.

              When I left for college at 17, I gave my brother my stereo. When I dropped out of college at 18, I took my stereo back. He’s been mad for 25 years about this. And I don’t blame him! I’d be mad, too. It was an excellent stereo. Our family was raised by a fundamentalist who banned rock music, so when we took to rock music, we took to it hard. And LOUD. With the best damn second-hand sound system available.

              What a dick move on my part! In my defense, I was 18. Still, serious dick move.

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