Thursday, May 1, 2014

Celebrate the life, don't memorialize the death

Yesterday it was announced that actor Bob Hoskins had passed away, and on my Facebook account I had made the following comment "I wonder how long it will be til shitty fan art of Roger Rabbit or Mario looking sad floods my news feed". Some people thought this meant I didn't like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or that I didn't care about Bob Hoskins. Now neither of those are true. Obviously Roger Rabbit was a tremendously influential movie for me and to this day remains one of my favorite films of all time. My problem was that this will be yet another situation where all of the dumb-dumbs of my generation will remember an actor for only one single role despite a lifetime of work and achievement. Also regardless of the fact that they never bothered to see his any of his other work, all day long they're gonna act like their freakin' dad died. The same thing happened last month with Harold Ramis ("Who? Oh, you mean Egon!") The man made a tremendous contribution to modern comedy cinema, and all anyone could talk about was Ghostbusters. There was no mention of SCTV, Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation or Animal House! It was nothing but illustrations of Egon as a ghost with the rest of the Ghostbusters looking sad. Just wait til Christopher Lloyd dies and we're inundated with a flood of crappy drawings of Marty McFly in the passenger seat of the DeLorean looking sad at an empty driver seat. I guarantee it will happen and there will be no drawings of Danny DeVito and the rest of the cast of "Taxi" looking sad at a cab, or Jack Nicholson and the rest of the cast of "One Flew Over The CooCoo's Nest" looking sad at an empty straight jacket or something equally as dumb. 

But beyond the fact that such fan art focus exclusively on just one single aspect of an artist's lifetime of achievements, I want to point out how phenomenally boring, predicable, formulaic, and depressing these "tributes" are. It's not a new thing. Warner Brothers did a series of these when Mel Blanc and Chuck Jones (my hero) died

Look at how boring and depressing these are! Now to me, this isn't a tribute. This is a commemoration of death and doesn't do any kind of justice to the accomplishments they achieved in their lifetime or the joy they brought to their audiences. Also, these were for sale as high end (and expensive) cels. Would you really want to hang this on your wall? Why would you want a reminder that an artist whose work you've admired and has brought you so much happiness in your lifetime is now dead. Why not something that actually celebrates their life and their work. Take a look at these two tributes that were created when Friz Freleng died. 

To me, the second one seems to do a much better job at celebrating the artist's life rather than going down a tired, predictable route that says "he's dead and we're sad" 
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with being sad, but if you're an an artist, and another artist has really truly influenced you, and you want a way to express that creatively when they pass, then actually show that by doing something genuinely creative and not a tired old cliche.  Create something that celebrates their life and how it affected yours. Make something that that artist could look at and be proud to have had a hand in helping shape the person behind it.


Joshua Marchant said...

Great post and an even better point. That particular trend in tribute artwork is as old as the people they commemorate.

I did a caricature of Ernest Borgnine when he passed and I drew him in his prime with his gap-toothed smile and an old sailors hat.

I didn't go the supremely cliched route and have Barnacle Boy looking all lost and teary eyed without Mermaid Man.

TashTish said...

The "Speechless" cel was one of the first such tributes, and had the distinction of being relatively novel and also well done in a very understated way.

The Chuck Jones tribute was neither of these things, with the almost comically tragic expressions rendered on the characters. Plus three of these -- Sam, Tweety, and Speedy -- were never used by CJ. The Friz Freleng tribute continues the downward slide of over-the-top melancholia.

I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestion that the last cel, one of celebration and joy, is by far the more novel and appropriate way to go.

CatraDhtem said...

Just wanted to clarify about the Chuck Jones image. That was a hastily Photoshopped version of a "Speechless"-like lithograph produced when Friz passed, hence the appearance of non-Jones characters. There wasn't a dedicated Jones memorial image produced due to the crassest of reasons: the Warner Bros. Studio Stores were no longer in business when he died.