Personal Tribute: Richard Donner

Preamble

To quote Adele, “Hello, it’s me.” After over a month, I finally return, tumbling onto the blogging stage with the shuffling awkwardness of a turtle trying to get to the other side in a hurry. Bad jokes aside, I acknowledge that 2021 has been a slow, and at times an empty year for content. This has been for various reasons and other commitments. But it’s safe to say that regular posts are the order of the day (going forward). With that in mind, l could not think of a better thing to get me back on the blogging horse then a few words about Richard Donner. What is your favourite Donner movie? Let me know in the comments below.

Personal Tribute

Richard Donner is one of the most formative and influential genre directors. He not only birthed the superhero genre with Superman: The Movie (1978), but also greatly contributed to horror cinema with The Omen (1976) and the buddy cop genre with Lethal Weapon (1987). In contrast to his peers like George Romero, Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas, there’s a humbleness to Donner’s films.

There’s no inherent or distinctive style to them. Instead, half of the pleasure in watching them is viewing an effortless balancing act that juggles many disparate genres and tones. The most remarkable being Superman: The Movie. In a genre that’s become so mainstream, Donner’s comic book film is still distinctive. The movie is a quasi-Shakespearean play, Biblical epic and 1930s screwball comedy; wrapped in a heartfelt and serious portrait of the title character.

A similar thing can be said of The Omen. While not as groundbreaking as The Exorcist (1973) or Rosemary’s Baby (1968), the film still impresses as an up market slasher film with a sense of quasi biblical paranoia fuelling its narrative.

However, Lethal Weapon proves to be somewhat of the outlier in the films he’s made. While there is some genre juggling, it’s not as prominent as his previous films. Instead, it’s much more dramatic than its conventions would suggest; painting a sobering picture of a man on the edge and close to taking his own life. In fact, in a genre that from the outside is known for its cheesy machismo, Donner’s 1987 film is most striking in its emotional moments. The scenes where Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) breaks down and subsequently goes to Roger Murtaugh’s family house for dinner (Danny Glover) are a godsend in showing up the typical male bravado of the genre.

And Superman’s visceral heartbreak after finding Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) buried alive, exists in my memory with the immortality of an indelible silent film image at the beginning of the medium. The flickers of male emotion amongst genre material (that’s typically escapist and idealistic) are Donner’s lasting legacy. It’s for this quality and the countless joy from Superman the Movie (over the years) that makes me fondly remember and miss the great director.

RIP Richard Donner.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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