Wednesday, August 17, 2016

R.I.P. Arthur Hiller (1923-2016)

Arthur Hiller
On August 17, director Arthur Hiller died at the age of 92 in Los Angeles, California. Over the course of his impressive career, he was known for making sophisticated comedies as well as the occasional branching out into romantic dramas and war films. Among his most recognizable work is Love Story, which remains one of the greatest love stories in cinematic history. He also collaborated with screenwriters such as Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon, as well as seemed to have a silver streak when it came to making Oscar-nominated films. While he only received one nomination in his career, his films were constantly nominated and/or won. For a director who made 33 films in 50 years, he leaves behind an impressive body of work that shows the power of comedy as well as what good film making can actually be. 

Hiller was born on November 13, 1923 in Edmonton, Canada. He was born into a Jewish family with two sisters and a father who ran a used musical instrument store. He especially remembered the blacks loving his father, as they believed that he didn't talk down to them. Arthur was also frequently active in annual presentations of Jewish theater in order to keep the remembrance of their heritage alive. Following high school, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at the start of World War II and navigated bombers over enemy territory. By 1947, he graduated from University of Canada with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and later a Master of Arts degree for psychology.

His career in directing started sometime after following a job directing radio shows based around public affairs. He started working on Canadian television before NBC noticed him and hired him to work on shows ranging from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Gunsmoke, and Playhouse 90. He was praised for being an easygoing director who worked well with his casts. He released his cinematic debut in 1957 with The Careless Years. In 1964, he first worked with Chayefsky on The Americanization of Emily, which earned two Oscar nominations and started Hiller's reputation as a Hollywood heavyweight, especially when it came to sophisticated comedy. Other early works included The Tiger Makes Out in 1967, which marked actor Dustin Hoffman's cinematic debut.

The 70's were arguably his most fruitful period. This included the release of Love Story in 1970, which received critical acclaim and marked one of his few ventures away from comedy. The romantic drama earned 7 nominations, including 1 win for Best Original Score. It earned Hiller a Best Director nomination - the only given solely to him in his remaining career. It remains acclaimed for being one of the best love stories in cinema history as well as featuring the iconic line "Love means never having to say that you're sorry." While he would have hits later, such as Author! Author! and Silver Streak, none would match the impact that Love Story had on his career and cinema history.

Hiller worked with Chayefsky again on The Hospital - which was a dark comedy that used handheld cameras to emphasize the chaos of hospital life. He also worked with Simon on two films, including The Out-of-Towners. He would return to drama with the Maximilian Schell vehicle The Man in the Glass Booth about a Holocaust survivor. While he remained largely in comedy, he also did films such as Making Love, which focused on a married man's homosexuality. By the 1990's however, things weren't looking that great and his film career never quite caught fire in the same sense. His work on An Alan Smithee Film caused Hollywood to officially retire the moniker that is used when a director wishes to remove his name from a production. His final film would be National Lampoon's Pucked, starring Jon Bon Jovi as a man who pays for an all-female hockey team.

Later in life, he began to receive honors for his incredible work in film. He served as president for the Directors Guild of America between 1988 and 1993. This was followed by him serving as president of The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) from 1993 to 1997. In 2002, he received the Jean Hersholt Huminatrian Award to recognize his philanthropic work. In 2006, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws in 1995. He was married to Gwen and have two grandchildren. Gwen died June 16, 2016, with Arthur almost dying two months to the day.

Hiller was a director who challenged the medium to tell provocative and exciting stories. While this was mostly done in the realm of comedy, his choice to venture out into serious topics made him a compelling voice to watch. He usually produced captivating work and even helped to shape many careers with Oscar-nominated and winning work. Even if he is best known for the romantic drama Love Story, the rest of his work definitely embodies an ambitious and exciting voice of film whose work will continue to live on and hopefully inspire generations to follow in making comedy more highbrow and drama more captivating. 

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