Photos by Dan HOLM
By Mary O’KEEFE
he film industry lost three innovators and icons this week, a comedian and actor who first came on screen as an alien that captured our hearts, an actress who defined sultry and taught us all “how to whistle” and the man who blew up the Death Star and made pyrotechnics an art form.
“Shock” was how most described their reaction to the news of Robin Williams’ death on Monday. The actor was first introduced to audiences on an episode of “Happy Days” where he played a visiting alien named Mork. That appearance became a spin-off for “Mork and Mindy” in 1978 to 1982. There was no one who could take the ordinary and turn it into the outrageous better than Williams except maybe his friend and mentor Jonathan Winters, who joined the cast of “Mork and Mindy” as their son Mearth. Williams went from small screen to big screen and back to small screen with ease. He won an Academy Award in 1997 for his performance in “Good Will Hunting.” Last year he returned to television on “The Crazy Ones” series. Robin Williams was 63.
On Tuesday, word came that legendary actress Lauren Bacall passed away. She was from the Hollywood era of Hemingway, Huston and Bogart. Bacall was just 19 years old when she made “To Have and Have Not” and met her future husband Humphrey Bogart. She was at home in film, television and on the stage. There are so many great lines from so many great Lauren Bacall films but her first film set the tone of the type of woman she would portray so well … honest, bold and not afraid to say what was on her mind. As Slim in “To Have and Have Not,” she held her own with Bogart.
“You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve,” said Bacall to Bogart. “You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and … blow.”
Her films made a difference in the way women were perceived; she was not a damsel in distress needing to be rescued. That power spilled over to her personal life when in 1947 she, Bogart and other actors like Danny Kaye formed the Committee for the First Amendment that opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee chaired by Congressman Parnell Thomas but most notably championed by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The “Red Scare” was sweeping the country and the focus on the film industry and just one accusation could end a career for an actor, director or writer. Bacall was not afraid to lend her star power to help others.
Lauren Bacall was 89.
A passing that has not garnered the same media attention but is a devastating loss to the industry is the death of Joe Viskocil.
Those who stay for the end credits of movies like “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” or “Independence Day” will know his name. Viskocil was a pyrotechnic expert/wizard/artist.
“Joe was one of the innovators,” said Jeffrey Okun, a visual effects supervisor and Visual Effects Society chair. “He was a pioneer in miniature explosions.”
Viskocil brought pyrotechnics to a level of artistry that filled the screen.
“It was not just explosions; [they were] very fine and timed explosions that would have an impact and emotion [for the audience],” Okun said.
After all, it was not just the Death Star exploding (the version without the ring around it); it was the end of the Empire’s strongest weapon.
Viskocil understood that final scene for the Death Star had to affect audiences as if the ship was a character and this was the death scene.
Okun said Viskocil pioneered micro timers and used chemicals and gases to create different colors and effects for the explosions.
He won an Oscar for “Independence Day” where just about everything blew up but the best-known visual was the aliens attacking the White House. It was his understanding of what the audience wanted to see that had them gasping as the aliens attacked.
Viskocil was 61.
Click the videos below to see Joe Viskocil’s effects reel.
Mostly Practical Effects
Painting with Fire