Remembering Jóhannsson, Gavin, Cathey

Icelandic composer, musician, and producer Jóhann Jóhannsson is gone too early at the age of forty-eight. “Known for compositions that often blended electronics with classical orchestrations, Jóhannsson credits include the Golden Globe-winning score for 2015’s The Theory of Everything,” writes Deadline’s Greg Evans. Jóhannsson worked with Denis Villeneuve on Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015), and Arrival (2016), with So Yong Kim on Lovesong (2016), and with Panos Cosmatos on Mandy, which premiered last month at Sundance. Evans: “In addition to his film scores, Jóhannsson had a career as a solo musician and composed music for theater, dance and television. . . . In 2015, Drone Mass, Jóhannsson’s piece for a string quartet, electronics and vocal ensemble, premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.”

“After hearing of his death, I found my notes from when I saw him at the Barbican in 2012,” writes Joe Muggs in the Guardian: “‘He makes music for endings, shut-down mines, obsolete mainframe computers and failed utopias . . . the notes fade away, the stories have already finished, everything ends.’ And it’s true, in a literal sense. Those references were to his albums The Miners’ Hymns (2011), IBM 1401: A User’s Manual (2006), and Fordlandia (2008) respectively, each one a requiem for human endeavor been and gone. The latter was influenced by Henry Ford’s failed rubber plant in Brazil. It’s also true figuratively. Almost all Jóhannsson’s music has a constant theme of loss and disappearance that, even when his composition is seemingly at its simplest or sweetest, gives it abyssal depths that feel like they could consume you if you listen too deeply.”

From musician Ólafur Arnalds: “My favorite Jóhann story is when he had spent a year writing the score for Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and at some point realized that the film was better with no music at all. He proceeded to convince Darren to delete everything. It takes a real, selfless artist to do that. To realize the piece is better without you. The most important part of creating art is the process, and Jóhann seemed to understand process. The score needed to be written first in order to realize that it was redundant. So in my view, mother! still has a score by Jóhann. The score is just silence . . . deafening, genius silence.”

Movie City News points us to a 2016 profile for the Reykjavík Grapevine by John Rogers: “Jóhann sees filmmaking as a deeply collaborative art form. ‘For me, the score should be treated in the same way as set design, sound or costumes,’ he says. ‘It shouldn’t be an afterthought. You need a confident director to do that. You don’t always know what kind of film you have when you start making a film. But a director with a strong vision, and belief in the team he assembles . . . it makes the music an integral, organic part of the film’s DNA. The music grows as the film grows, and they feed each other.’”

Gathering tributes from the worlds of music and cinema are Jenna Marotta (IndieWire), Erin Nyren (Variety), and Matthew Strauss (Pitchfork). More from Nick Allen at

“John Gavin, a strikingly handsome Hollywood actor who played romantic leads in the 1950s and ‘60s and was the Reagan administration’s ambassador to Mexico for five years, a rocky tenure notable for its diplomatic controversies, died on Friday,” reports Robert D. McFadden for the New York Times.

Duane Byrge and Mike Barnes for the Hollywood Reporter: “Hailed as a second coming of Rock Hudson at Universal Pictures, Gavin played Lana Turner’s love interest in Douglas Sirk’s remake of Imitation of Life (1959); portrayed Sam Loomis, who as Janet Leigh’s boyfriend helps solves the mystery of Norman Bates, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960); and was the object of Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore’s affections in George Roy Hill’s Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967).”

And in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960), “Gavin played the supporting role of Julius Caesar, who is the protege of Roman Senator Gracchus (Charles Laughton), who uses this rebellion to advance the career of Caesar,” notes Carmel Dagan in Variety. Gavin, seen above with Janet Leigh in Psycho, was eighty-six.

Reg E. Cathey, who played Norman Wilson on The Wire and won an Emmy for his portrayal of Freddy in House of Cards, has passed away at the age of fifty-nine. “Not only a fine, masterful actor,” tweets David Simon, creator of The Wire, “but simply one of the most delightful human beings with whom I ever shared some long days on set. On wit alone, he could double any man over and leave him thinking.”

“Norman is still one of my favorite characters,” Cathey told Jonathan Abrams in the new oral history, All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire:

What was great about The Wire is that you had all these different black characters on the same show. When I was living out in L.A., I would audition for the black guy on the show, and that would be the only black guy. He wouldn’t have any black friends. Maybe he’d have a black wife or black girlfriend. He was the black guy, and usually he was upstanding and honorable, because everyone wants to have a good role model. But in The Wire, there were all different types of characters and different types of human variables, and it was fabulous to play. In terms of Norman, to play a smart man, a man with brains, a man who drank and smoked and made mistakes and told truth to power because he just didn’t give a fuck anymore—it was so much fun. And then David would joke with me that he would give me these one-liners and then he’d come up to me before, these perfect little one-liners, and say, “Okay, we’re not going to spend a lot of time on this. I want you to get it right in one time. Don’t be fucking around. But no pressure.”

Wendell Pierce, who played Bunk on The Wire, tweets: “We lost a masterful actor, a sonorous voice, a great colleague, and a kind friend. A more gregarious human being you could not find. A man whose presence was always a blessing and joy. I’m hard pressed to remember a moment of anger. A beautiful human being who will be missed.”

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