Culture Notes: Loss

Peter Brunette. A word here to mark the passing of someone I never met. In person, that is; I knew Peter Brunette through cyber broadcasts we made in the mid-1990s for the original, pioneering version of (today I guess these would be called podcasts), and his avuncular  voice was always a pleasure to hear. (Among other qualities, the man knew how to pronounce the term chef-d’oeuvre, which he dropped – somehow not pretentiously – a few times.) An academic who wanted to write outside the jargon chamber, Peter wrote books about Italian cinema and Wong Kar Wai and also reviewed for the Hollywood Reporter, a cheekily broad spectrum. I owe him, because he got me to do the Billy Wilder volume in the University Press of Mississippi’s “Interviews with Film Directors” series, of which he was the General Editor.

I had “Friended” (oh that word) Peter on Facebook a couple of months ago, and lately he had been posting missives from his European travels between the Cannes and Taormina festivals; reading the words of someone who was doing exactly what you should do if you can swing it – roaming around the south of France and Spain in the space between already-pleasurable professional assignments – was delightful. He posted something at Facebook the day before he died, about the coast of Sicily and the view of Mt. Etna, and it was easy to see that these things were being gazed upon by someone who appreciated them. I wish I’d known him better. (Stories at Indiewire and The Hollywood Reporter give some details.)

Toy Story 3. Everybody loves Pixar. But that shouldn’t stop us from understanding how exceptional they really are. Toy Story 3 is not up to the level of the previous films in that series; it dawdles at first, as though aware of how much goodwill its audience already has for it. But then it gets good, and for a while it gets great, and in a sequence (without doing too much of a spoiler) that involves the city dump, it gets devastating and stays that way through the end. The climactic moments of the landfill sequence are about death, and about recognizing it and accepting it. The scene is superbly “shot” and paced so as to deliberately pause the movie on the edge of the abyss, in a way that recalls some of the greatest movies ever made. And it’s about cartoon toys. This is a kind of wizardry that goes far beyond technical prowess. But then you already knew that about Pixar, which has so frequently examined the various stops along the way on the life cycle, including the final station.