Friday, December 17, 2010

Blake Edwards; 1922-2010

(Director Blake Edwards)
     There is a scene that I saw at barely more than a glance, on a small screen, in a noisy and hurried setting, but will nonetheless always be lodged somewhere in my brain. It is a scene where two men, both disguised as gorillas, attempting a break in and robbery, circle either side of a wall, unaware of the other. They circle around in such unintended perfect continuity that when one reaches the left side of the wall, the other has just come around to the right. They stop in their tracks, because they hear each other and know someone is there. They continue creeping around the wall.
       This is a scene from The Pink Panther (1963). It is the first in what would become a series of eight films, including A Shot in the Dark (1964), The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) and The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976). Each of these films featured Peter Sellers as the clumsy, daffy, highly incompetent inspector Clouseau, a frenchman with a weirdly fake accent and a penchant for getting himself in to catastrophic situations and having the dumb luck to get out of them. What better character for cinema? A walking (or tripping or falling) embodiment of anti-grace, an absurd man in a position to be taken seriously by society, especially high society. His Inspector Clouseau was an heir to Buster Keaton's accidental heroes, except he inverted even them; the films were additions to a long line of a certain folly-of-man satire one can trace back to Don Quixote. 
     But all this can be largely credited to the film's director, Blake Edwards. He understood the athleticism, and non-athleticism, of the moving image better than most comedy directors. He knew when stretch out a conversation until it was funny, when to stretch out a slapstick gag until it was funny, and when to throw in a subtle bit of humor that he didn't much care if we comprehended. His films--aside from The Pink Panther series, there are more than thirty, not all of them comedies-- epitomized unpretentious, restrained, yet utterly fearless moving image humor.
    Blake Edwards died yesterday in Santa Monica California. He was 88 years old.
    For more complete obituaries, see: