Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Thinking about the demise of some big names.

Two famous actors’ deaths have been reported on the last couple of day. Here are some of my thoughts.

There was Jean Paul Belmondo, well into his eighties. I watched him in “A Bout de Souffle” when I was in sixth form. My girls’ grammar school had organised for our A-level French class to combine with the parallel class from the local boy’s grammar school - a rare occasion of our being allowed to meet - to watch the film in our school hall on a wobbly screen and using a rickety cine projector. Girls on one side of the hall and boys on the other, we did our best to understand but the sound quality was poor and there were no subtitles. And there were distractions. A good deal of the film went over our heads, almost convincing us that we were really no good at this language after all. But not quite. Most of us persevered and many of us went on to study modern foreign languages at university. 

Many years on, my own students surely didn’t know they were born when we watched foreign language films on DVD, with notes provided and the ability to pause the film and rewind a crucial section to ensure understanding. The wonders of modern technology! But I suspect our teachers back in the sixties thought they were doing the latest thing by getting us to watch French language films.

I can’t say that Jean Paul Belmondo was my heart-throb of choice, but a few years later, in my bell-bottom jeans and figure-hugging shirt, strolling around selling the Southport Visiter newspaper at the Southport flower show, I rather fancied myself as a second Jean Seberg - super cool! 

The other actor was nowhere near the end of his four score years and ten. Michael K Williams was only in his fifties. We saw him in Boardwalk Empire but for us he was really forever Omar Little, from The Wire. He was the baddie you rooted for, partly because he was hunted not only by the police but also by the bigger, more powerful more organised drug-pushers. But as played by Michael K Williams he was also charming, amusing, skilful, a baddie with a heart, who showed that it was okay to be black and gay and not to hide your feelings. He didn’t die a hero’s death in the HBO series, shot down almost by chance by a child who could hardly hold the gun. No amount of hero-genes could save him from happenstance, maybe showing that in the end crime really doesn’t pay and your reputation can’t save you. And it was probably the drugs that got the actor in the end. Actors who worked with him have sung his praises. We think of him whenever someone whistles “The Farmer’s in his Den”, his theme tune in the series, quietly whistled to warn those in the know “Omar coming!”

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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