a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Bob Clark 1941-2007

Director Bob Clark died in a car accident out here in California early yesterday morning.

Clark wasn't the best director in the world, and in fact his resume is really quite appalling. He directed "Porky's", which aside from having some gratutious boobage really isn't all that well-directed. He also directed "Porky's II".

He directed such forgettable 1980s movies as the Judd Nelson film "From the Hip", and the Sylvester Stallone/Dolly Parton dud "Rhinestone", and "Turk 182!", which didn't do much for Tim Hutton's career. He also directed the worst Gene Hackman movie ever, "Loose Cannons".

In the last ten years, he directed "Baby Geniuses" and its dire sequel. He also directed something called "The Karate Dog".

But Bob Clark had his one great, shining moment. He directed "A Christmas Story".

I love "A Christmas Story". There's something about it that it just perfect, that strikes the right tone throughout, while it's just packed with great, funny scenes, and memorable little nuggets of humor. It's a holiday piece, a kid tale, and it even has some nice family moments. And it has probably saved generations of children from putting their tongues on frozen poles.

"A Christmas Story" is based on stories by Jean Shepherd, who if you haven't read you should; he's a wry and witty writer. So he gets some of the credit. But still, this stuff isn't easy to pull off.

Witness the sequel to "A Christmas Story", which was called "It Runs In The Family" (or sometimes "A Summer Story"). It's also based on stories by Jean Shepherd, it's also directed by Bob Clark, it features the same characters, and though the roles were recast (because it was made 11 years later), the replacement cast -- Charles Grodin, Mary Steenbergen, Kieren Culkin -- certainly have chops.

But "It Runs In The Family" is just awful. Whatever worked in "A Christmas Story" just doesn't work in this film. The humor feels forced, the characters have lost something, and it all lies flat on film.

There's a magic to filmmaking, and though Bob Clark made a lot of movies, he really only captured it once. But when he did, he nailed it. And it's nice that, in most of the reports I've seen of his death, it's the movie on his resume they mention; all other sins are forgotten.

Hopefully we all have at least one "Christmas Story" success in all of us.


At 12:56 PM, Blogger dannyboy52472 said...

Very nice tribute, Scott.

I was JUST watching Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things the other day. Always fascinating to see a filmmaker's early work, and what it leads to later on.

By the way, I'd also volunteer Black Christmas as a classic film - I know Clark is always remembered for A Christmas Story, but BC is a damn fine flick. What a shame.

Oh, Gene Hackman also starred in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.

Just sayin'.


At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, A Christmas Story is a wonderful movie and Bob Clark gets a lot of credit. But remember that author/radio humorist/screenwriter Jean Shepherd also speaks the entire narration to his film based on his own originally spoken and later written down and published stories--and his narrative voice adds greatly to the final result. The movie is a great combination of Shepherd and Clark.

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Phillip said...

He's the kind of guy that makes me wonder if the planets had aligned a bit more favorably might he have actually evolved into a "name" director.

Give him his props for three early 70's horror flicks: Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, Deathdream ( a Monkey's Paw/Vietnam War movie which was spooky enough that I didn't mind when the TV cut back to the flick and away from Elvira's magnificent cleavage) and the influential minor classic Black Christmas.

Anybody else remember all those great flicks that used play the midnight movie circuit during the 70's and 80's? Black Christmas, Dawn of the Dead, Rocky Horror, The Song Remains the Same, Ralph Bakshi's animated madness....ahhhh. Bittersweet nostalgia.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Brett said...

When I review Clark's filmography, the nagging questionI have is "just imagine what we'd think of his death if he'd NOT managed to make that one really cool movie in that otherwise awful truckload of excrescence?"

Yeah, Clark had just one really good movie in that final 25 years, but that's still more than most ever manage

[beer_salute] Godspeed, Bob. May you always be somewhere pranging ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip-shots. [/beer_salute]

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

I have to disagree with you Scott and say Porky's was a great movie. It was a small independent movie that touched a comedy nerve that hadn't been thought of in quite awhile spawning many ripoffs along the way (as well as giving us Kim Cattrall in her screen debut):


BLACK CHRISTMAS was also a terrific exploiter for its day. Other movies were scary but BC SHOCKED.

TURK 182 while being universally panned, became a cable tv favorite and a film which to this day is held high by the hacker culture as an example of someone who "got it."

No, he's not Spielberg and I don't think you were suggesting he was, but in looking at his filmography you have to see that all of Bob's movies -- which were independently financed outside the general studio system -- were hits. Those where he worked within the system -- not so much.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I guess on a certain level, Porky's was "successful", and it certainly spawned a lot of films. I'm just say that, in terms of sheer filmmaking, it's not really that great, and Porky's II is pretty bad.

But yeah, you're right. His independent films are much better than his studio stuff. One just wishes that he hadn't retreated into so much hackwork that really feels like he was doing it for the money. It's hard to point to anything he did in the last 20 years that is worth seeking out.

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally knew Bob Clark...his family and my family used to go camping together way back in the day. He was a wonderful person and father. He died way before his time...he had many more stories to tell!!! Bob will be missed. The Christmas Story will live on was by far the best story he told.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger ECHenry said...

Nice tribute, Scott, but you needed a picture of Bob.

Growing up in the 80s, I rememmber when Porky's was out in the theaters. It was big. AND shows like that were in vogue back then. Porky's was by stretch of the imagination, "ground breaking cinema" BUT it was also pretty funny, ALTHOUGH it was awefully raunchy too. Kinda like granddaddy before "40 Year Old Virgin." Just a random thought.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 2:49 AM, Blogger Scribe LA said...

Super tragic. Driving in LA the last month has been nonstop hectic. Bob Clark directed "From the Hip"?! That's David E. Kelley's first writing credit on imdb!
Cheers Scott - I'd love your notes on a project. Once I'm ready...
Have a great weekend.

At 2:50 AM, Anonymous Joe Valdez said...

I think all the obits I've read on Bob Clark - including this terrific one - prove that regardless of how successful or unsuccessful you were at the office, it's your relationships with people and how you treated them that is remembered best.

At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to hear this. He made in, A Christmas Story, one of the best films in history. A movie that will outlast his lifetime several years over. May the rest of his family live in heart goes out to them.

At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Shrader said...

That was a really nice post. I completely agree. Would that we could all have one "Christmas Story." Cheers.

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Appalling? Porky's is legendary.

At 5:19 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Tribute? Yikes, I hope they didn't ask you to do the eulogy!

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

Don't forget that his son, Ariel, was also killed in the crash.


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