Wednesday 28 October 2015

Philip French - gone

Philip French, the long time film critique at The Observer died from a heart attach yesterday after a long illness.  He suffered [the right word here] from Still's Disease, a rare form of arthritis which can exhibit cyclically recurring symptoms [sore throat, joint pain, pink rash, fever] that make you think "pathogen" although none has been isolated yet. In this sense, it is in the same bin as the other [rheumatoid] arthritis RA and the other all too common autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis MS. Our immune system is a system which can pull out all the stops when it comes to fighting infection: hunting out the perps in dark corners and hitting them with a number of sticks. When the immune system is all tanked up and has nowhere to vent its spleen {*} its "effectives" may start biffing our own cells: the lining of the joint-capsule in RA and the myelin sheath of neurons in MS. We don't yet know the target cells or the rigger in the case of Still's, partly and thankfully because it is quite uncommon.
{* the right metaphor here: the spleen is a potent generator of white blood cells}

French's stamina and knowledge about film were legendary. Every week for more than 30 years he a) watched up to a dozen films and then b) wrote 1000ish words of solid and insightful copy about a handful of them.  Because he worked for a great liberal newspaper, he was able to write whatever he wanted and he found a wide readership among people who may not have 'known' film but they knew what they liked and were persuadable to try something outside their comfort zone. Choosing a theme suggested by one or more of that week's films, he'd flesh out the ideas and put them into a cultural context. Not a lot different from writing a regular blog except that he was good enough and early enough to parlay his experience and creativity into a living wage. By empowering and widening the world-view of thousands of middle-Englanders he did an enormous amount for increasing the concentration of compassion, tolerance and appreciation of The Other. A recent interview with Philip French.

His favorite movie of all time was a dark timeless morality play called Bad Day at Black Rock (1955 dir John Sturges, stellar cast) in which one-armed war-veteran Spencer Tracey, in his last film, turns up at Nowheresville, Boondock County looking for the family of a dead fellow-combatant. He's not to be bullied.  You can scoot through a long list of reviews written by French: Stalag 17 - The Manchurian Candidate - The Ladykillers - Au Revoir Les Enfants [a take from Siskel & Ebert] - My Dinner with Andr√© [previously on The Blob].  The last two films in the list were directed by Louis Malle.  His autobiography Malle on Malle [available for $0.01] is based on a series of interviews of le grand fromage by Philip French.  Like this: My Dinner with Louis ??

Roger Ebert, the late, great American film critic, passed on in 2013, now Philip French.  Whoever is writing film reviews in English now is standing on the shoulders of giants.

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