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In memoriam: Stanley Donen & Tomi Ungerer

STANLEY DONEN (1924-2019)

I was saddened this morning by the news of director Stanley Donen's death. Variety's obit marked him as "the last surviving helmer of note from Hollywood’s golden age," which struck me as a bit of a wake-up call. Donen died at 94.

Donen's credits contain some of the most beloved films of all time -- indeed, if SINGIN' IN THE RAIN alone were his sole credit, he'd have still made an indelible mark on Hollywood history. But other films included ON THE TOWN, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, KISMET, FUNNY FACE, DAMN YANKEES, BEDAZZLED, and (a personal favorite) CHARADE -- a charming comic caper with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, often called "the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock didn't make."

I actually wrote to Donen some time ago about my Richard Amsel documentary, and will forever regret that we were not able to meet. Amsel did posters for two of the director's later films: 1975's crime caper LUCKY LADY (admittedly, a big-budget, albeit entertaining misfire), and the touching, underrated 1974 movie musical THE LITTLE PRINCE.

TOMI UNGERER (1931-2019)

I also wanted to pay tribute to the late writer and illustrator Tomi Ungerer, who died February 8th. Film buffs will certainly know of his work through his poster for Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE. That stark, darkly satirical style was a creative trademark throughout his career.

From the artist's website:

Tomi Ungerer is an extraordinarily prolific artist and has published over 140 books of drawings ranging from iconic children’s books to controversial adult work.

Ever restless, and always choosing the medium to best express each idea, Ungerer works in many mediums and styles; from illustration to collage and sculpture, from architectural design to philosophical writing to inventions and pranks. ...

A polymath and a provocateur, Tomi Ungerer is perhaps best described by his motto: ‘Expect the Unexpected’.

His life and work defied easy categorization. Although best known as an author and illustrator of children’s books, Tomi Ungerer’s oeuvre encompassed diverse practices including illustration, advertising, writing, collage, sculpture and architectural design. From the beginning of his career in the 1950s to the present day, Ungerer’s work challenged social norms and conventions with breath-taking originality.

Born in Strasbourg in 1931, Ungerer worked in New York, Canada and Ireland as well as his place of birth. He has published over 140 books which have been translated into 28 different languages, ranging from his acclaimed children’s stories to autobiographical accounts to controversial volumes of social satire and adult themes.

Ungerer’s illustrative style is celebrated for its minimal dexterity, darkly comic wit and dazzling inventiveness. Renowned for his iconic advertising campaigns and his contentious political posters that railed against the Vietnam War and racial injustice in the 1960s, Ungerer’s frequently subversive work provides invaluable commentary on the divisive socio-political events of the second half of the twentieth century. Ungerer’s work continues to be politically-charged and he has been involved in numerous humanitarian campaigns for nuclear disarmament, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders and more recently, European integration.

Here are some samples of his work:

In reading about him, I was especially moved by this account of his reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders:

A cold-blooded butchery in Paris, a wanton sacrifice to the altar of loathing. Every bullet shot at my brothers has hit my conscious self – I feel as if I had been killed by proxy.

As a child I experienced the fanatic and ruthless rule of a criminal Nazi regime. Thus I dedicated my career to fighting prejudice, injustice, violence and fanaticism and as a consequence of my work, I know how it feels to get anonymous death threats, to be banned and ostracized. I know how anger can degenerate into hatred, which is a contagious disease, a virus with pandemic potentials. I hate hate!

We must not succumb to fear and hatred, we must not fall into the trap of generalizations. Why should innocent Muslims pay for atrocities committed by waylaid disciples?

We must reassess within ourselves the lessons that can be drawn from the actual and coming events. It is the origin of this rampaging madness that we have to analyze in order to better understand it. We might have to atone and admit that our Western society is at the roots of such desperate behavior. The way it imposed its own set of values, disregarding susceptibility and pride that created such odious reactions.

Mutual respect is after all the key to peace and understanding.

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