The Virus Takes Willner, Prine, and Garfield

Allen Garfield with Ronee Blakley in Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975)

A little over a week ago, music producer Hal Willner sent out his last tweet: “Sending love to John Prine who is in critical condition with COVID-19. John is a music giant. His songs are as good as it gets and he’s a spellbinding performer. Send good thoughts his way.”

On Monday, Willner himself died of complications related to the coronavirus. While he’d been working with the team behind Saturday Night Live since 1980, Willner will probably be most fondly remembered for the tribute albums he put together featuring an eclectic array of artists reinterpreting the work of Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill, Charles Mingus, and composer Nino Rota, best known for his scores for films by Federico Fellini. As David Browne writes in Rolling Stone, “only Willner would think of compiling a salute to the music of Walt Disney movies that included Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Sun Ra, the Replacements, and James Taylor.” Willner, who also worked with Marianne Faithfull—currently in stable condition as she struggles with the virus—and his close friend Lou Reed, was sixty-four.

And then yesterday, we lost John Prine. He was seventy-three. “Through no wisdom of my own but out of sheer blind luck, I walked into the Fifth Peg, a folk club on West Armitage, one night in 1970 and heard a mailman from Westchester singing,” recalled Roger Ebert in 2010 when he pulled his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Prine’s first, from the archive. There’s a turn in the chorus of Prine’s “Sam Stone,” a song about a drug-addicted veteran, that slays everyone, Ebert included: “There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes.” “You hear lyrics like these, perfectly fitted to Prine's quietly confident style and his ghost of a Kentucky accent,” wrote Ebert in 1970, “and you wonder how anyone could have so much empathy and still be looking forward to his twenty-fourth birthday on Saturday.” Prine was essentially discovered by Kris Kristofferson, and then championed, as William Grimes notes in the New York Times, by Bob Dylan. “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” Dylan said in 2009. “Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.”

The virus also took Allen Garfield yesterday. He was eighty. For critic A. S. Hamrah, Garfield was “the great character actor of the 1970s.” Having studied with Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio, Garfield played Gene Hackman’s irritating colleague in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) and the husband and manager of Ronee Blakley’s fragile singer in Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975). He also appeared in Robert Downey Sr.’s Putney Swope (1969), Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom! (1970), Miloš Forman’s Taking Off (1971), Michael Ritchie’s The Candidate (1972), Billy Wilder’s The Front Page (1974), and Wim Wenders’s The State of Things (1982) and Until the End of the World (1991). Garfield “could go from hapless to menacing in a second,” writes Hamrah. “He brought something exciting to every weird, greasy performance he gave, and he made every film he was in better.”

The Latest

Relaxed and smiling not at all infrequently, Jean-Luc Godard spoke live on Instagram yesterday for a little over an hour and a half. The topic of the conversation was “Images in Times of Coronavirus” and it was conducted by Swiss filmmaker Lionel Baier, head of the École cantonale d’art de Lausanne, which promises a version with English subtitles “in a couple of weeks.”

IndieWire has posted Mar Diestro-Dópido’s translation of the first in a series of essays that Pedro Almodóvar has been writing while cooped up in his home in Madrid. “The current reality is easier to understand as a fantasy fiction than as a realist story,” he wrote on March 23. “The new global and viral situation seems to come out of a ’50s sci-fi story, the Cold War years . . . Evil always came from the outside (communists, refugees, Martians) and it served as an argument for the crudest populism.” Almodóvar, who has been watching Goldfinger and films by Jean-Pierre Melville and Víctor Erice, also reflects on the late Italian actress Lucia Bosé.

Today’s home viewing recommendations come from John Sayles, who talks about dozens of his favorite movies for over an hour and a half with Josh Olson and Joe Dante at Trailers from Hell; Tracy Letts and Carrie Coon at the A.V. Club; and Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy in Vogue. And as Michael Piantini reports for Filmmaker, The Future of Film is Female has launched a new and free streaming channel.

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