Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Minghella and Clarke

The deaths of film director Anthony Minghella and science-fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke were reported yesterday. Both make me sad, in different ways.

Minghella will inevitably always be best known for directing the Oscar-winning The English Patient but for me his best work was the film adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley, which he wrote the screenplay for as well as directed. Beyond loving Ripley, I am sad for Minghella's death because he was only 54, and dying from a haemorrhage following surgery for cancer of the neck and tonsils sounds a horrible way to go, all in all.

Clarke's death saddens me in a different way. He was 90, and so had had a good innings, and the last few years of his life he was wheelchair-bound - I suspect he himself wasn't scared of dying any more. And what an accomplished life - on top of the books, films and television work for which he was so well known, he worked on the development of radar during the Second World War (then a top secret) and soon after correctly foresaw the advent of satellite communications, even specifying the height such satellites would have to reach to maintain geostationary orbit. In fact, his 1945 article in Wireless World was so accurate that when the first commercial satellites were launched twenty years later they could not be patented! And then, of course, a short story of his became the kernel of 2001: A Space Odyssey, not just one of the great sci-fi films of all time but one of the great films of any genre. So a life full of achievement and a ripe old age - what's to be sad about then? Just this: as a teenage boy in the Eighties, I devoured Clarke's books. That time, and those books, are over now. Sadness all round then.

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