Thursday, July 04, 2013


So I wasn't sure I wanted to write anything about the passing of James Gandolfini or Richard Matheson and I've been really thinking about both of them ever since the news broke.

Matheson's work has been with me longer. As a child I recognized his name from multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone. When I got older, I found that he'd written a bunch of books that had been made into movies and I made it a project to keep abreast of his work as best I could. That was a lot more difficult in the days before the Internet. I relied a great deal on the UHF channels that ran old science fiction movies on Saturday afternoons.

Fortunately Hollywood kept his work in the spotlight every few years. The recent I Am Legend film with Will Smith was pretty good and it inspired me to finally read the book. It's always true that the book is better than the movie, but I'd liked the film well enough so I was a bit trepidatious. I needn't've been. The book was fantastic.

If you've read any of the remembrances you've got the rundown of stories of his that were made into films. My favorite is probably What Dreams May Come, though. It's such a gut-wrenching tale and it's SO beautiful on the screen. It seemed to capture the magic and the spirit of the story as much as any adaptation can.

Anyway, his stories inspired me, terrified me, caused me to think. As an author, I can't think of anything more to aspire to than that. I will miss that there will be no more new stories from him. His passing is a deep, deep loss for science fiction, horror and fantasy readers.

As for Gandolfini, his performances may have made a more visceral impression on me. My wife and I came late to the Sopranos party, but once we got there we were as addicted as anyone. We didn't suffer the extra long wait between seasons 2 and 3 but the time in between each subsequent season was excruciatingly exquisite.

One night before we got hooked, I brought home a DVD of the first season from the movie rental store. (Remember those?) She was doubtful but I insisted we give it a try. I'd heard good things about the show.

When that disc was done she asked me how late the store was open and I was commanded to retrieve more. This was due, in large part, to Gandolfini's performance as Tony Soprano. As we watched I knew I'd seen him before in  other things but couldn't place my finger on it. Eventually I realized it was True Romance. That film had an effect on me, too. The level of violence in it was beyond disturbing and the violence in The Sopranos echoed that but somehow Tony was likeable for a true monster.

His voice in Where the Wild Things Are was part of what brought me to the theater to see that film. To hear him in that way, appearing as a monster (even though he didn't wear the suit) and actually being a real person is something that will stay with me forever. He imbued his characters with real heart and I often look at his performances to learn how to tell a story.

Which is what I got from both men. Whether it was flights of fancy or fomenting fear in others, both gave me a wealth of material to pull from when I need it. Nothing more could be asked of any storyteller.

I'll miss them both.

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