Chester Farrow, a Titan Among the East Bay School Teachers

Photo courtesy of Jose Carlos Fajardo/Contra Costa Times

Looking back at time as a student at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California, it felt more like a prison sentence than anything else. Nevertheless, many years have passed (to count how many is terrifying) since I went there, and I somehow find myself becoming nostalgic for certain things about it. Considering how I could not wait to graduate from there, this is almost surprising until I am reminded of one of my favorite teachers from this institution which was once considered one of California’s Most Distinguished Schools: Chester Farrow.

Chester, or Chet as his students liked to call him, taught many classes at Monte Vista High School including TV Productions and electronics for 32 years until he retired in 1999. In addition to teaching, he was also the scoreboard operator for the Oakland Athletics (a.k.a. the Oakland A’s) for even longer. On top of that, he was a well-known concert promoter who succeeded in bringing such music acts like Journey, Greg Kihn and Huey Lewis and the News to the Al Gentile Theatre on the Monte Vista campus. With the money he made from those concerts, he and his students built a production studio which came to be known as Rainbow Studios, and it became a place of refuge for many students including myself. Looking at this, you have to wonder how Chet found the time to do all of this. While most teachers need a second job to get by financially, much of what he did was out of a love for music, baseball and hanging out with teenagers who were desperately trying to find their way in a harsh adolescent landscape.

Chester Farrow died Sunday morning, May 24, 2020 at the age of 77 after a long battle with cancer. This was not a big surprise as many of us knew of his terminal diagnosis for some time, and he was determined to spend his final days at his home in Walnut Creek. His longtime girlfriend, Wendi Leyba, organized a fundraiser on GoFundMe.com to help pay for his part time health care which was said to be very expensive and not covered by his insurance. The fundraising goal was $10,000, but more than two months later, the total reached $31,150. If this does not describe the strong loyalty Chet’s students had for him, what will?

Like I said, the news of Chet’s death was not very surprising, but the void his passing has left is what really hit me hard. Chet was a titan in the Easy Bay of Northern California, and his influence on the lives and careers of many of his students is utterly profound to say the least. Those who knew him best have made it clear he will never be replaced, and I imagine Monte Vista is still on the lookout for a teacher like him ever since he retired back in 1999.

I was a student of Chet’s TV Productions class during my junior and senior year, and I became eager to enroll in this class after watching the cable access show “Just for You” which he produced at Rainbow Studios. Chet had produced this show for many years and, having just discovered a deep love for acting and performing, I was eager to become a part of it.

During my first year in Chet’s class, I found him to be a very intimidating presence, and I know I was not the only one. When we filmed an episode of “Just For You,” we initially did it live, and he demanded a level of professionalism we had no reason not to give him. Granted, this resulted in many stressful moments for him and his students as not everything came together in a perfect way. If he had problems with something you had written for the show, he would tell you straight out. There was always a no bullshit attitude about him, and he never hesitated to tell you what you needed to hear. Sometimes it hurt to hear his thoughts on your work, but the kind of honesty he gave us was hard to find elsewhere.

The second year, my view of Chet evolved as my classmates and I came to really respect his way of doing business. As time went on, he had a warm presence about him, and it became clear he liked talking to us instead of down to us like other teachers did. By this time, we were already working on Monte Vista’s annual video yearbook, and a couple of students neglected to film a lunch the freshman students were having at Oak Hill Park. To put it mildly, he was pissed.

“Okay people, there was a freshman lunch today which students in this class were assigned to film for the video yearbook, and they didn’t bother doing so. If this happens again, FUCK YOU, OUT OF THE CLASS! Now folks, I am not a happy pup…”

At the end of Chet’s rant, we all applauded him. Whereas these rants seemed frightening at times, we came to appreciate them because, hey, we were given a task to complete. If we didn’t get the job done, he had every right to get super fucking pissed at us. If you put in the hard work, it did eventually get recognized by him and he would point out your strengths to the rest of the class.

As I am sure you can tell by now, Chet did use a lot of profanity in the classroom. He never seemed to be ashamed of it, and he always felt free to express his opinions the way he wanted. Granted, this upset many parents who could not appreciate his unorthodox teaching methods or him going against the conservative grain most high school teachers were expected to work under. For the record, my dad was on the school board during this time, and he told me many of his colleagues wanted to see Chet get fired. My dad, however, liked Chet for the same reasons they did not as he felt every high school needed someone like him to shake things up, and I agree with my dad wholeheartedly on this.

Among other things, Chet taught us the power of promotion and of getting the word out about something you wanted to sell. This came about when he talked to us about putting the idea of the video yearbook into everyone’s head at Monte Vista. You always had to be talking about wherever you went:

“Hey, what are you doing out of class? Video yearbook. Say, do you know classroom the music department is at? Video yearbook. Hey, what are you doing smoking cigarettes by your car? Video yearbook…”

There was also the time when of his most prized students, Ian Williamson, was going through Chet’s old collection of tapes and discovered one in which he did a commercial about rock concerts which had, shall I say, a highly subliminal quality as a voice was droning in the background saying, “see you at the concert, see you at the concert, see you at the concert, see you at the concert…” Listening to it years later, were rolling on the floor with laughter, but I bet you it got a lot of people to attend those shows.

Granted, there were many times where he didn’t teach us but talked instead about things on his mind and of lessons we needed to learn sooner rather than later. After a time, it felt like we were in the presence of a wonderfully profane stand-up comedian who was polishing up his act with us. I will never forget when he took his kids to Disneyland, “the happiest place on Earth,” and the blank expression on his face perfectly illustrated the typical tourist who arrived there only to find things are more profit driven than magical. Then there was the time he was fixing a fellow teacher’s VCR, and once he figured out what was wrong with it, he quickly started doing the moonwalk while singing the chorus from the Beatles song “Come Together.” More often than not, he had us in hysterics, and you could usually count on him to put a smile on your face.

While Chet could be hard on his students, he loved hanging out with us and was always interested to hear about what we were up to. I came back to his classroom many times after I graduated, and he was always quick to tell me, “You are always welcome here Ben.”

Here are some testimonials from students of his:

Trevor Boelter: “Chet – I want to thank you for the philosophy of E.T.C — I think about that day working late in Rainbow Studios, cleaning the heads of the tape machines and having a private audience with you as you shared this piece of wisdom. I have always thought about this and have shared it with many people over the years. I wish I could embody this daily, but some days, I do and it always makes things better. If I have no EXPECTATIONS, due to not having CONTROL, my TEMPERAMENT will always be COOL. It was/is/always will be profound.”

Ian Williamson: “It’s important to me to say that Chester was an incredible person who over the years influenced so many people, including myself. He not only put me on the path my life has gone, but he was absolutely instrumental with the start of my career and the successes and happiness I’ve found along the way.  I don’t think there has ever been anyone who believed in me as much as he did. To me he was an absolute giant among men, and more to my heart, he was like a father to me.”

Kenneth Hunter: “Hands down the best and most influential teacher I ever had the pleasure of knowing. What a great man he was! Love you long time Chester Farrow! You were not only a friend, a teacher, a mentor, but you were part of my family. Thank you for being such a great influence in my life.”

Laura Lamson: “I’ll always remember the Bammies! You were like a father figure to me. Even when I looked like I was down, you knew just what to say to brighten my day! I’ll always love you for that! I will miss you. You will always be in my heart!”

Michael Coats: “He and I had a 48-year relationship starting in 1974 at Monte Vista High School in Danville. Chester was the hippest, the best teacher many had. He will be missed. We love and thank you buddy, and may fair winds and following seas carry you on.”

Michele Goodrich General: “I loved him so much as a teacher. If it’s wasn’t for him, our lives would be so different.”

Laura Lamson also took the time to email the current principal of Monte Vista High School about Chet’s passing, and this was the principal’s response:

“Ms. Lamson,

I am very sad to hear of Mr. Farrow’s passing. While he was at MV long before I arrived, I have heard quite a few stories about his time at Monte Vista. He was definitely an amazing teacher who truly cared about his students and his colleagues. . . and from reading your email, they loved him back. I have shared the news with our staff and will follow up with another announcement at tomorrow’s staff meeting.

Take care.”

Dr. Kevin Ahern

Principal

Monte Vista High School

Dr. Ahem also included the following quote in his email:

“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” – Charles Bukowski

Chet, as much as I do not want to relive my high school years during which I was afflicted with psychological disorders which were not yet diagnosed, anxiety and depression, your classes made going to Monte Vista worth the trouble. The first day of school always had me on the verge of tears as I wondered if I could endure another year of adolescent bullshit, but then I arrived at Rainbow Studios and found myself with a smile on my face. I remember when I was a senior and you made your entrance for the TV Productions class. Everyone there was quick to applaud your entrance, and few other teachers at Monte Vista could ever elicit such a response.

I thank you for laughing when I said “yo” instead of “here” when you actually took the time to take attendance. I used to say this or some variation of it like “yes man” or “here dude,” and while other teachers were annoyed with my choice of words, you were quick to laugh before my fellow classmates did.

Thanks for encouraging me to bring props for my “Just A Thought” segments on “Just For You.” Thanks for your at times brutal honesty because you always told us what we needed to hear. More importantly, thanks for being there for us when we were down and for relating to our struggles. Thanks for giving us reasons to rise above our miserable lives and giving us compliments when we flat out deserved them. Thanks for giving us a solid path to travel down which came to define our lives in a very positive way.

Godspeed Chet. You will be missed.

Here are some articles about Chester Farrow worth checking out:

Chester Farrow, longtime Oakland A’s scorekeeper, dies from cancer

A Hard Act to Follow / Teacher says goodbye with a little help from his famous friends

Back story: Oakland A’s scorekeeper Chester Farrow

Chet took the time to upload many Rainbow Studio videos which include episodes of “Just for You,” several volumes of the Video Yearbook, concerts and rock and roll recitals. Click here to check these videos out.

Before his passing, he took the time to write a memoir entitled “Chester: No Limit! – From Educator to Oakland A’s Scoreboard Operator. A Trip Down Memory Lane.” Click here to find out how you can purchase a copy.

Exclusive Interview with Barry Crimmins and Bobcat Goldthwait about ‘Call Me Lucky’

It was very sad to learn Barry Crimmins passed away on February 28, 2018 at the age of 64. Crimmins was diagnosed with cancer only a month earlier, but the disease spread through his body very rapidly. He was an American stand-up comedian, a political activist and satirist, a writer and a comedy club owner, and his comedy predated that of the late Bill Hicks. He brought the comedy scene in Boston to a new level of prominence after forming the city’s two clubs, The Ding Ho and Stitches. He has long since earned the respect of fellow comics like Bobcat Goldthwait, Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Kevin Meaney and many, many others who continue to sing his praises, But the thing is, I was only just getting to know him just a few years ago.

Call Me Lucky poster

Despite Crimmins having done so much work, many people today, myself included, had never heard of him before. This changed in 2015 with Goldthwait’s acclaimed documentary “Call Me Lucky” which chronicled Crimmins’ beginnings as a comic in New York to his work in the present as a political activist. The documentary also reveals how Crimmins was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and we even see him revisit the scene of his abuse in an effort to come to terms with what he went through. For years, he was an anti-pedophilia activist, and he went out of his way to expose pedophiles on the internet in the 1990’s before turning his evidence over to the FBI. In 1995, he testified before Congress about the need to enforce child pornography laws more than ever before.

In 2017, Crimmins married Helen Lysen, a photographer and font designer, and she was with him when he passed away peacefully. She shared the news of his death and wrote, “He would want everyone to know that he cared deeply about mankind and wants you to carry on the good fight. Peace.” Indeed, his death is a real loss as we need voices like his as the political climate we are currently dealing with in America continues to grow more volatile as days go by.

I was fortunate to talk with Crimmins and Goldthwait while they were doing press for “Call Me Lucky” a few years ago. To this interview, I wore one of my “They Live” t-shirts as I figured Crimmins was a fan of John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic which remains one of the most politically subversive movies ever made. It turns out he had not seen it, but Goldthwait certainly did, and I hope he got Crimmins to check it out before he passed away. I am certain he would have enjoyed it immensely.

They Live Obey t-shirt

Please check out my exclusive interview with Crimmins and Goldthwait above. “Call Me Lucky” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Rest in Peace Barry.

Scott Boliver, Gone But Never Forgotten

Scott Boliver in New York

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written and published in 2013.

Scott Boliver was a great person on top of being a superb marathon coach. During the 2012 Los Angeles Marathon, he made sure we had what we needed to cross the finish line, and he always greeted us with a big smile and a warm demeanor. The past year or two had him dealing with two different types of cancer which threatened to get the best of him physically and financially, thanks in large part to our still deeply flawed American health care system, but he fought against this indiscriminate disease long and hard and eventually beat it. We all got wristbands which had Scott’s nickname for his cancer fight written on them: “Slay The Dragon.” As a result, he became one of the most inspirational people we had ever hoped to meet in our lifetime.

Slay The Dragon armband

So, it was an enormous shock when we got the news Scott died on January 3, 2013. I had last seen him only a few days earlier while training for the 2013 Los Angeles Marathon, and he appeared to be in good spirits and still had that great smile of his for all to see. While had been to the hospital a few days earlier due to some swelling in one of his legs, a runner in my pace group had been in contact with him and said he was feeling fine. Even as we ran 12 miles in the rain and freezing wind, Scott was with us and keeping an eye on what we needed work on. At the end of the run, he made sure we didn’t stay outdoors long because we were all soaking wet and didn’t have much of an excuse to deal with hypothermia or pneumonia.

The word of Scott’s death spread like a wildfire on Facebook, and I remember staring at the screen in sheer disbelief and saying, “No, no, no, no, no!” Two other people who played a big part in my life, Jim Kirkwood and Grant Martin, had also died from cancer, but their deaths were not a surprise. They had fought their own fights against this indiscriminate disease, but it eventually took a huge toll on their bodies to where the damage was irreversible. When the end came for them, it was very sad but also kind of a relief. Although we missed them, we took comfort in the fact they were at peace and no longer suffering.

While I wanted to weep for Jim and Grant, I never shed tears when learning of their passing. I wanted to, but the tears never came for some odd reason. But the news of Scott’s death reduced me to a total wreck, and I was crying like never before. How could this man who had inspired so many with his constant slaying of the dragon that was cancer leave us so suddenly? Scott seemed to be in such great shape even after all he had been through, and yet fate proved to be unforgivably cruel in taking him away from us. Leonard Cohen said it best: “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.”

I cannot even begin to imagine what Scott’s family is going through right now, and they have my deepest sympathies. He leaves behind a loving wife, wonderful children and his parents who have just endured one of the worst things any parent can ever experience, outliving their child.

Scott Boliver Coach

Those who have trained with Team to End AIDS have had the opportunity to meet Scott’s family, and his parents have been especially wonderful to hang out with these past few months. They have spent so much time preparing snacks for us to consume during our training and always have plenty of water and Gatorade for us to refill our water bottles with. Remember, these are the same people who introduced us to the delicious peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers, and we all live for those now.

I read a blog by Sara Catania entitled “Week 34: The Scott Boliver Experience,” and she shared some things about Scott I didn’t know about until now. He worked as a prison psychologist and lived in the city of Brea out in Orange County. The marathon training for Team to End AIDS takes place at Griffith Park in Burbank which means he has to make a round trip of 80 miles by car. Regardless of the distance, he still made it out to Griffith Park and typically got there before anyone else did, and we started running at 6 a.m. on certain mornings. I used to make a 70-mile round trip to and from Disneyland when I worked there, but I got nothing on this guy!

I also remember him putting together games and contests for the longer runs which had us guessing what songs came from which musicals, or what foreign country a certain kind of chocolate came from. This made our training all the more entertaining, and this was especially the case if you had those people in your pace group who could actually answer those questions without a doubt (I’m at a loss when it comes to musicals and chocolate). The winner of these games got a breakfast or some other special meal courtesy of Scott who paid for these wonderful prizes out of his own pocket.

Looking at this kind of dedication makes me admire Scott all the more because it seemed like he spent all his free time outside of his day job doing things for other people. Nothing seemed to bring him down even as the cancer diagnosis caused him a number of headaches which would have driven anyone else to insanity. Catania said it best:

“Coach Scott exudes empathy. When runners would ask him about every little pinch and blister, he’d take it all as seriously as the questioner required. He never talked about his own aches and woes. When the wildfires last fall came within a few feet of his home, he didn’t mention it to the group and didn’t miss a training.”

One of my favorite memories of Coach Scott came during the 2012 Los Angeles Marathon as I ran up San Vicente Boulevard. Now those familiar with this marathon will know San Vicente is the part of the run which lasts far longer than it has any right to. You are running up a nice street filled with beautiful houses you can’t possibly afford, and it feels like you will never reach the end of it. Just when you think you’ve reached the corner which leads you towards the finish line, you haven’t. That darn boulevard goes on forever, and it feels like it is designed to torture you psychologically more than anything else.

But eventually I did see Coach Scott on the side of the road, and seeing him was a huge relief as I was seriously on the verge of going completely mental. He was waiting for us all with that wide smile of his, and he picked the perfect place to meet up with us. It didn’t matter how many hours it took for us to finish the marathon because he was always there to make sure we had everything we needed. Seeing him there to greet me and give me a hug was exactly what I needed to cross that seemingly elusive finish line.

Now he’s gone and I just don’t get it. Perhaps his body was irreparably weakened from all the surgeries and chemotherapy treatments he was forced to undergo. His death feels so unfair, so unwarranted, and if there is a God I want to verify with him, or her, if they got the right person because I feel he, or she, made a serious mistake.

In his passing, however, we have come to see how far the love for Scott goes, and it goes an infinitely long way. His friend Larry Jacobson set up a memorial fund on Go Fund Me to help out Scott’s family who has suffered financially in the wake of his cancer fight and various medical bills which are far more than any family should ever have to pay off. Before Scott’s death, his family had to move out of their house and into an apartment, and now his wife and children find themselves with little money for food and rent.

The goal for the memorial fund was $20,000, and this amount was raised within the first 24 hours after it was set up on the internet. In the next couple of days $30,000 was raised. 11 days later, over $66,000 was raised. If this doesn’t show you how deep the love and respect for Scott goes, nothing will.

Here’s to Coach Scott Boliver. We all hear about these inspirational people in the news and we get a little cynical about them because we’ve become conditioned to believe no one can ever be that good a person. Scott, however, was the real deal, and the way he lived his life will continue to inspire every single person who ever knew him. No one who worked with him will ever forget the effect he had on their lives. There’s no doubt in my mind everyone loved him.

The Boliver family

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SCOTT BOLIVER MEMORIAL FUND AND TO MAKE A DONATION.

Here’s another article written about Scott Boliver:

“Goodbye, My Friend” by Michelle Gottlieb

 

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Gino England (1967-2015)

Gino England 1

Writer’s note: This article was originally written and published back in 2015.

I woke up this morning, had breakfast and checked out social media like I always do, and one post by John Massey caught my eye instantly:

“I lost a good friend this morning. RIP, Gino England.”

This had me in a state of shock and left me deeply saddened. I had the pleasure of working with Gino England for a few years at the Innoventions attraction in Disneyland, and I know he had spent the last year or so battling cancer. From all the pictures of him going through what he went through, his smile was always there to where it honestly looked like he had this merciless disease licked. But sadly, his body gave out and he passed away this morning at 10:00 a.m.

Gino England 2

Gino’s passing is another reminder of just how much I hate cancer. Like many diseases, it doesn’t care how old you are or how well you take care of yourself. And believe it or not, it doesn’t care if you are a smoker. People get cancer for many different reasons and it doesn’t always come down to how many Marlboro Light cigarettes you suck on. What enrages me is that it takes away some of the nicest and kindest people I have known in life at far too young an age. It robbed me of my friends Scott Boliver, Jim Kirkwood and Grant Martin, people who I believe still had a lot more to give. Gino was one of those people, so it is utterly devastating that he was taken away from us in this way. I don’t know his exact age, but I assure you that he was still a young man.

Cancer fucking sucks, there’s no doubt about that. Fuck cancer and the camel it came in on!

There are many people out there who can and should write a better eulogy for Gino. The last time I saw him was a few years ago when he and his wife were hosting a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It was great to run into these two again as they are such wonderful souls, and seeing Gino there quickly reminded me of what a wonderful guy he was to be around.

Gino really was one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, and it was great to know that people like him could still exist in a world that keeps beating everyone down in different ways. Life in the real world seems destined to wipe the smiles off our faces, but that never ever happened with Gino. I guess that’s the thing I remember about him the best; he was always smiling no matter what life threw at him. I love that people like Gino existed because it’s far too easy to become such a complete cynic in this lifetime, and Gino never became that kind of person.

Gino England 3

Just look at the things said about Gino in light of his passing:

 

“Gino, I can’t believe you are gone. You were one of the greats. Thank you for being in my life. RIP.

                                                                                                                            -Erin Renee Scabareti

“What can I say about my friend Gino. He will be greatly missed. Always funny always giving and always punching you if you looked at his thumb and forefinger in a circle. So sad that he is gone. So thankful that I go to know him and act with him. Here is just one of the best bits the two of us got to do together. ” I say who on first, what on second, I don’t know is on third.” Don’t forget your part my friend will perform that routine again someday.”

                                                                                                                                              -Karl Jaecke

“Hey Gino remember the time I went to see your Special FX show at Universal Studios? We waited to see you show stop your own damn show. ::Sigh:: I’m going to miss you man. Love you lots!”

                                                                                                                                    -Esteban Ramirez

“We always said that Innoventions was a family. Today we lost Gino England to cancer and I feel like he was always one of us. Having lost my own mother to cancer, I can honestly say that I HATE CANCER but I am glad that Gino was in my life from the first day I hired into Inno(ventions). In fact, he was the greeter cm on the day I found I was transferring in. He called me Marcie from peanuts, and I would always respond with, “Yes Sir.” And he would always laugh. I am glad that Craig Smith brought Gino some comic relief because the newer kids all got to hear stories about him. We are a family. Any one of my Inno friends that I’ve upset in the past I apologize from the bottom of my heart because I honestly don’t want to lose any of you before I have to. RIP Gino.”

                                                                                                                                       -Robyn Gleason

 

“At (Knott’s) Scary Farm…

*Monster jumps out*

Monster: “Arrrgghhh….oh, hey Gino, I didn’t realize it was you. How the hell are you?”

Jess: “Damn it Gino, nobody is scaring us cuz they all wanna talk to you!!”

                                                                                                                                         -K.J. Van Nevel

“Gino was one of my favorite co-workers when I worked at Disneyland. He was always quick with a joke and could turn anyone’s bad day around. He was always kind to everyone. Lost children seemed to flock to him and I often remember him walking around with a tiny child by his side while he looked for their parents. You will truly be missed Gino. The world is a lot less funny without you.”

                                                                                                                               -Tricia Stahly Asbra

“My friends and family, today I lost my best friend and the best father, Gino England. He fought hard and was telling jokes until the end. He was one the funniest, bravest and generous people I ever knew.”

                                                                                                                       -Lisa Klubniken England

“Stunned…saddened…Reading this news put a pause in my heart. Whenever I think of Gino, it is always Joy and Laughter. Every single day I had the honor and privilege to work with this extraordinary person, I knew that I would smile and laugh. Every single time. I never knew a bigger heart, and all that goodness followed him. Rest in peace dear, dear soul. From now on whenever I hear thunder, I know it’s you laughing and making everyone with you laugh along.”

                                                                                                                                    -Drew Hayashida

 

“Why do we keep losing all the good ones to cancer? You will be missed, Gino England.”

                                                                                                                                              -John Collin

“’Gino, Gino…get a burrito!’

‘No thanks, Jess. I’m not mad at my ass today.’”

                                                                                                                                        -Jessica Balicki

“I can’t believe it, buddy. Just thought you’d make it through. Dammit…. I’ll never forget that time I ushered your Animation Academy show: a little girl in the audience held up her drawing mid show and you said, “Bitchin’!” We exchanged a quick look and then you went on with the show as if nothing odd was said. Or that time you recognized Eve Plumb after academy. Eve freakin Plumb! You’re the only person that would’ve recognized that Brady bunch gal. She was flattered to be recognized. Or that time you told Jamie off during Home rehearsals. Ohh good times. Or your general jolliness, talent and humor. That time we BOTH screwed up during the Home press opening haha… I’m so sad to hear of this, my thoughts are with your fam, RIP, say hi to my Mom up there.”

                                                                                                                                       -Carlos Campos

 

Gino England 4

Some of us can only dream of getting those kinds of notices when we pass away, and it should give you all an idea of just how appreciated Gino was while he walked the earth. We should all feel fortunate to have known somebody like him in our lifetime because most of the time we come to know people who are the exact opposite.

It’s been a long time since I have sighed so much and so deeply in a day, and that shows how saddened I am that Gino left us. Such wonderful souls like him deserve a longer stay on this crazy planet we reside on. But while his body has left us, his spirit remains as strong as ever. As long as we remember him, he will never be dead to us.

I am so sorry you had to depart this world the way you did Gino, but I will never ever forget you. How could I?

Rest in peace my friend.

Gino England 5

A memorial fund for Gino England has been set up on GoFundMe.com and I encourage you to make a donation. Even if you can only donate $5, that will still go a long way to helping his family deal with his tragic loss. Trust me, he is worth your effort. Click here to find out how you can donate.

Michael Cimino

I was shocked and saddened to learn that Oscar winning filmmaker Michael Cimino passed away on July 2, 2016 at the age of 77. It should go without saying that he will always be remembered for two films: “The Deer Hunter,” one of the best war movies ever made, and “Heaven’s Gate,” one the biggest critical and commercial disasters ever unleashed on moviegoers. He only made seven films in his lifetime, and his last full length feature film was released back in 1996. His last directorial effort was the short film “No Translation Needed” which was part of the 2007 French anthology “To Each His Own Cinema.” There is no doubt in my mind that there were many other great movies brimming inside of him, but now we will never see them which is tragic.

Deep down I always hoped that Cimino would make another movie. I remember when I first saw part of “The Deer Hunter” on cable television. In a time where flipping through channels became a habit impossible to get rid of, I could never take my eyes off what was unfolding before me. The wedding which opens the movie was extraordinary in its presentation, and the Russian roulette sequence remains one of the emotional visceral and draining moments I have ever witnessed on film. While I never got around to watching all of “The Deer Hunter” that evening, I did not even hesitate to buy it on DVD the very next day. After all these years it remains one of the most enthralling cinematic experiences I have ever sat through.

Michael Cimino with De Niro and Streep

That was the thing about Cimino’s movies; that felt thrillingly alive. Whether it was “The Deer Hunter,” “Heaven’s Gate,” “Desperate Hours” or “Year of the Dragon,” there was a life force pulsating through each frame he put on screen. As terrible as “Desperate Hours” was, the images Cimino captured felt kinetic, and that wasn’t just because he had great actors like Anthony Hopkins, Mickey Rourke and Mimi Rogers to work with. For better and worse, his films were operatic to where you were reminded of the powers and beauty of cinema. Even “The Sunchaser” had a look to it that was unmistakably Cimino, and while it was deeply flawed there was an excitement to it that was undeniable.

Movies these days don’t feel that way most of the time. Many are simply made for entertainment purposes which is fine if they work, and others are made for the sake of creating the next big franchise that will spur profits beyond anyone’s imagination (hopefully). Few directors are able to capture their unique vision or get final cut with the exception of Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino to name a couple. The world of movies always needs a cinematic grenade thrown into it to shake things up, and it could really have used one from Cimino. Whatever he could have come up with, good or bad, would have made a sizable impact.

Michael Cimino and Kris Kristofferson

Like many auteurs, he was described as being egomaniacal, selfish, vain and self-indulgent. Who knows if he still would have been an unforgettable filmmaker without any of those attributes. True, he brought a lot of bad karma on himself with his extravagant demands, and yet it’s hard to think of another filmmaker who suffered more. The critical and commercial disaster of “Heaven’s Gate” shadowed him throughout the rest of his career, and even a recent critical appraisal and a Criterion Collection special edition of it could never take away all the shame Hollywood threw at him. How he lived through all that is beyond me. Other filmmakers have suffered flops, but they rebounded somehow. No one ever really let Cimino rebound from “Heaven’s Gate” as its failure marked the end of the director-driven movie era, and he spent practically the rest of his life in seclusion, coming out of it only to make another film or write a book.

With his death, perhaps Michael Cimino’s legacy will get a different perspective, one that’s more positive (even if it’s only a little more). Whether you loved or hated his films, his vision was unique and energetic. He left his mark on Hollywood, and nobody will ever forget that.

Rest in peace Michael.

Michael Cimino at film festival

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.