Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Robin Williams

Posted on August 13, 2014 at 3:50 AM

I had hoped writing another blog about a passing of someone would come later rather than sooner. I had forgone James Garner, who sadly passed last month, simply because I didn't want to. I didn't feel that "yearning" to want to write something despite my affection for the man and his work. It didn't really "linger" there, beckoning me to get something out there. It simply was. A quiet reflection that, much like Mr. Garner himself, was it's own unique way for me to appreciate him. Watch the Rockford Files. Finally see The Americanization of Emily, arguably his best work. See The Great Escape yet again for the hundredth time. Then it passed.

I, unfortunatly, can't do that for the following...

Robin Williams

1951 - 2014

I was well into my tenure of a five-year stint in a four-year college the first time I saw Good Will Hunting. By the time I was a Junior, I was knee-deep in a love of cinema and was consuming everything that I could get my hands on (and I still do). From foreign to domestic, samurai to neoralism, Wilder to Herzog, Chaplin to DeNiro.

So during one of those long summers I finally got around to renting a movie I had always heard a lot about yet never got off my ass to actually see. Then, of course, it's one of those movies where you say "Christ, why did I wait so long to see this thing? I'm an idiot."

Now I bring up Good Will Hunting for a number reasons. Sure, it's a great movie. Sure, it's some great acting. Sure, it's arguably one of the best films of its decade. But I bring it up for this one scene that sent me down the rabbit hole of watching anything and everything that had Robin Williams in it. A scene that, like Mr. Hunting, sends you on a stint of thoughtful self-realization for every person that sees it:

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Now like anyone that hasn't lived in a cave, I naturally had seen my share of Robin Williams movies over the years growing up in the 1980s through the 90s. Mrs. Doubtfire, though not aged particularly well in hindsight, was a bit of a staple, as was Dead Poets Society which I recall being on cable quite often by the mid 1990s (though I never say that one all the way through at the time - too busy with videogames probably)

Then you had natural "my generation" flicks like Hook and Aladdin and so on that pretty much painted the image of Robin Williams as "that funny guy."

Then along comes maturity and borderline adulthood (see "growing the fuck up") and now this Good Will Hunting...well all of a sudden I was seeing something different here. This wasn't the "ha ha" Robin Williams I grew up with and saw Jumanji in when I was in high school.

Though his stand up and comedy films are classic, the touching human element of his dramatic roles are what really punched people in the face.

Hell, this wasn't even he first time I saw Good Will Hunting. I actually saw it first in high school, but (as noted..."growing the fuck up") when college came around and I finally "got it" I realized that I had not been "getting it" all along.

So I went on a binge. If you've read the blog, you know I tend to go on binges, like when I watched every run of Star Trek or James Bond marathons or can't watch just one Indiana Jones movies I have to watch all of them (yes, including that one).

So after being blow away by Good Will Hunting, and utterly moved my a masterful performance, I went and rented a couple more: Awakenings and The Fisher King. Turns out, even if the movie wasn’t all that great, Williams was one of those guys that was always great in it.

A perfect example if there ever was one of an actor being amazing in a movie that should have been better.

Where had I been all this time? Oh...well that's it, then. I was the one in the cave, and thanks to growing up and realizing that you can't pigeon-hole people, I was suddenly embarking on this wonderful, beautiful journey with, not just "that funny guy," but a rounded human being. Someone that can just as easily make you cry - his passion glowing from his face as though his soul is laid bare to you.

As much as Robin Williams was a comedian, he was someone who seemed to generate empathy. When you watched him, you truly felt his passion, whether it's telling his class to stand on their desks in Dead Poets Society, become conflicted in front of a microphone in Good Morning Vietnam or even pretending to be a boy that can fly in hook. There was something utterly intangible and enigmatic in everything he seemed to touch. Something truly human that you felt inside you and you didn't even know it was there. He, somehow, pulled that out of you. He seemed more than just an actor, but a personal friend that was willing to take us on a journey.

That personal relationship he seemed to bring out through an audience, that deep empathy we have when watching him, is how a movie like What Dreams May Come absolutely works. He is us, and we explore through him.

Inspiring in Dead Poets Soceity, to the point that I suddenly fell in love with poetry and literature and art, truly human and touching in Awakenings, joyous as a child again in Hook or turning dark and playing a grounded killer in Insomnia (or an ungrounded one in the often overlooked One Hour Photo). Both he and Sally Field improvised one of the most realistic domestic fights ever put on film (because both had been through it in real life). Or he simply made you laugh because he was willing to draw lines and then absolutely cross them. His range was something few could achieve because he had that element of understanding various sides of the human condition - likely because he lived through various sides of various conditions and could draw from something very real and organic.

Behind all that was a warm, welcoming and charitable human being. I've heard a lot of stories about Robin Williams, and every one of them were about how wonderful and great the man was. Zelda, his daughter, has been posting beautiful photos on Instagram for some time and in his autobiography, Christopher Reeve tells many stories of his old Juliard roommate.

So when his passing was made public, a collective punch-in-the-gut seemed to overtake every person that brought it up. There was something...I don't know...personal here. That intangible. Something few people in the public eye really have. Something relatable as we all, immediately, though of moments in film, on television or on the stage that Williams laid bare for us.

That rawness of his comedy or emotional beats he would put forth seemed to speak to everyone, no matter their age or race or gender. He was the all-encompassing wonderfulness of what we think of when we think of another person. "Sadness, laughter, drama...he was that example across 50 years of him entertaining us - and us maybe taking him for granted and only realizing how wonderful he was when we're told he no longer is.

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