Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writing Your Own Obituary-Sunset Boulevard Style

In my nonfiction class this past week our topic was how to write an obituary. Since actually having to report on someone else's death for a class would be a) incredibly invasive and b) incredibly depressing we were able to write about our own deaths and, if we wished, have fun with it. That may sound like a contradiction in terms but it can be an empowering exercise in both examining one's own mortality and bringing into focus how you wish to be perceived and remembered. I elected to write myself into the shadows of the past and the future in grandiose terms that Norma Desmond would approve. A macabre "about me."

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Meredith, best known as the first woman time traveler, died this past Saturday March 26th at the age of 96. Hers was a peaceful passing in her London flat surrounded by two beloved dogs, George and Gracie. Also present were a pet rock and an ipod engraved with the phrase “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” This engraving was not originally inspired by the words of Admiral David Farragut, rather by the comic musings of Charles Coburn in the 1940s film The More the Merrier.

Meredith was born in the nation’s capital on October 17, 1915. Her formative years were more Clarissa Saunders than Pollyanna as the daughter of a Pennsylvania Senator who taught her never to lie, cheat or steal by doing all three. Meredith grew tired of the political ring around the Rosie's from the best New England families and the run around the couch. Wanting a fresh start she moved to Hollywood in the late 1930s where she became a regular performer on radio. Her best-known film role was as Bette Davis’ second cousin in what would become legend as the star’s lost film that would never be released.

After being blacklisted in 1951 for her work on several left leaning screenplays, Meredith attended Berkley where she earned a degree in English literature. At Berkeley Meredith would invent her time traveling device. It would take many years to perfect and the first run did not occur until Dec 12, 1979. It was a limited but important innovation that would only let Meredith go into her own personal past, a first step that would forever collapse the meaning of the word history.

Meredith divided her time between writing for film journals and editing feature films in the ‘present’ while simultaneously traveling into her past to recover artifacts and films for future preservation. If one looks closely at the burning of Atlanta scene in Gone With the Wind it becomes apparent that the famous King Kong gate is not really reduced to ash, but instead beamed into space through the flames. The original set is now on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

In 1989 Meredith completed her last mission and married her first and only husband, Michael Cuspit, a well-respected architect. His worldwide clientele made it possible for the pair to travel extensively the good old-fashioned way, a luxury that Meredith cherished. After his death in 2005 Meredith moved to London where she remained until her death.

Meredith’s cousin Ann said she was “the kind of girl who never forgot nail clippers” and whose passion for all aspects of film knew no bounds.

A memorial reception will be held at the British Film Institute next Saturday at 2pm in the foyer. A screening of Meredith’s own feature film titled Three Singing Nuns and a Ukulele Take Paris will follow the service. Donations can be made in her honor to the National Film Preservation Foundation.

How would you wish to be remembered?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

The New York Times obituary for Elizabeth Taylor begins with a short sentence that encapsulates the end of an era: "the last movie star died Wednesday." It's a breathtaking statement and one that rings true. There are many left who we should continue to celebrate, not forget, but no one as prolific or iconic as Taylor. To watch her performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is to recognize that those beautiful violet eyes could turn to daggers or to velvet with ease, and hers was far more than a pretty face. I must take issue with the rest of the above cited obituary, which seeks to bolster Taylor at the expense of all other old Hollywood actresses who are far too easily written off and unnecessarily cut down. I say this not to take the spotlight off Taylor, but because I think what was so wonderful about her was a projected lack of cattiness or pettiness. Her strength was in herself. She was a figure larger than life, without comparison.

Read the full times obit here