Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Knight on a Special Quest: Farewell, Robin Williams

I am staggered today at the news of the death of Robin Williams.  So let me record some thoughts.  If you want a more focused essay, I wrote this blog post after rewatching Good Morning, Vietnam, and it holds up well.

--I remember the character of Mork on Happy Days.  I didn't particularly like that story line, but I gave Mork and Mindy a chance when it premiered; it was a much better show.

--That being said, I can't remember much about it, just that I watched it regularly and thought it was hilarious.  I loved the character of Mindy too.  I liked the relationship between Mindy and Mork, the hospitality that she showed the alien.

--I loved the stand up material--what amazing energy.  What connections his brain made, zip, zip, zip.  His comedy left me breathless both with wonder and laughter.

--My favorite Robin Williams period coincided with grad school.  What amazing movies in the period between 1987 and 1992.

--I first saw Good Morning, Vietnam back in 1988.  I had taken a vow after seeing Platoon that I was done with Vietnam War movies.  But since Good Morning, Vietnam starred Robin Williams, I made an exception.  Then and now, I think that the movie does a good job of showing the complexity of that war, especially as it was lived by servicemen (and there were no servicewomen in this movie) on the ground away from the main fighting.

--I saw Dead Poets Society on the big screen:  breathtaking views of autumnal foliage.  It made me homesick for autumns I've scarcely known.

--Through the years I've had students tell me that I'm their Mr. Keating.  I take it as a profound compliment.  As I watch the film in later years, I'm seeing it from a different place.  When I first saw it, I was in my first year of teaching and still so very idealistic.  Now that I'm older, I feel a bit horrified at how the teaching goes terribly wrong.  I don't blame Mr. Keating, the teacher; in fact, he's horrified too.  But it's an important reminder of how impressionable we are at certain ages, and those of us who are entrusted with these lives as teachers, we must tread carefully.

--I do love that this film shows the joys of poetry.  I wish we had more films like this.

--The Fisher King is my favorite Robin Williams film, and it's about a knight on a special quest in gritty New York City.  But that summary is such a pale shadow of the movie.  We saw it in the fall of 1991.  I took a break from studying for Ph.D. written Comprehensive exams, and off we went, my spouse and I.  I was breathless from what the film attempted and what it accomplished.  After we watched it, we bought a Harry Connick Jr. CD because the soundtrack reminded us of his music, and we found the CD on sale at the Dutch Square Mall in Columbia, South Carolina.  We also bought some art supplies at Michaels out on Harbison Blvd., before that area became so populated by stores.

--I love that The Fisher King shows the importance of love and human connections.  It's the kind of film that makes us believe that the comatose patient will be returned to us, healthy and whole.  It's the kind of film that makes us believe that love can save us all.

--We see that theme in The Birdcage too.  Let us not forget that that film showed us a gay family where the members truly loved each other.  Let us not forget that in the middle of the 1990's, when the film came out, we didn't have many depictions of loving, gay families.

--I could make the case that the career of Robin Williams comes back to this theme again and again:  love will save us, at least for a little while.  I think of his work in the Comic Relief efforts in the 80's.  I think of those themes of my favorite movies.  Even in the movies that I didn't love (but didn't hate), like Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Will Hunting, come back to that theme. 

--I know that some will see the depression that took his life as a refutation of the idea that love can save us.  But I want to believe that love kept him alive for many decades than he would have had otherwise.

--I wish we could have had more, but I'll take time to be grateful for what we had.

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