Albert Finney, whose vibrant presence influenced a generation of actors

Albert Finney, Night Must Fall (1964)

Our very good friend of arts·meme, Mike Kaplan, sends a heartfelt tribute to the great English actor who passed away on February 7, 2019. Writes Mike,

Albert Finney (1936-2019) was a giant talent. His vibrant, unpredictable, mischievous, challenging presence was as seismic a change for a generation of actors as Marlon Brando was years prior. Finney, like Brando, was a private person who shunned publicity and the limelight. Thus he avoided the mantle of “icon.” On the cusp of this year’s Oscars ceremony, Finney never having been awarded one for his body of work is one of the Motion Picture Academy’s most shameful oversights. This despite five nominations in disparate roles each bearing no resemblance to the other — Tom Jones, Murder on the Orient Express, The Dresser, Under the Volcano, Erin Brockovich.

Compare Finney’s ‘Hercule Poirot’ in “Orient Express” to the esteemed actors who followed in his wake — two-time Oscar winner Peter Ustinov and Kenneth Branaugh — and there is no question who hit it out of the park. Finney’s was a subtle, crafty, full-bodied humanized character. With his many honors and the current tributes his passing has evoked, none weighs more as a supreme cultural acknowledgment than Ella Fitzgerald’s lyric change to the last chorus of the Rodgers and Hart classic:

For Albert Finney, I whistle and stamp
That’s why the lady is a tramp.

Inspiring Ella Fitzgerald, Albert Finney as Tom Jones (1963)

Kaplan’s poignant words find resonance with Laemmle Anniversary Classics, which has programmed a Finney tribute evening with a 45th anniversary screening of Murder on the Orient Express (1974) at the Laemmle Royal Theatre March 7. The host of that event, film critic Stephen Farber, contributes his own words about Finney, here:

Albert Finney, who died on February 7 at age 82, first came to prominence in 1960’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning as an “angry young man” rebelling against a stifling working class existence in industrial England. In 1963 he achieved international fame as the rowdy, randy title character Tom Jones, the first of four best actor Oscar nominations. Others include his turn as Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express, an aging, embittered actor in The Dresser, and an alcoholic British consul in Under the Volcano. A fifth nomination came for his supporting role as a pugnacious lawyer in Erin Brockovich. His last role was in the 2012 James Bond thriller Skyfall.

In Murder on the Orient Express Finney is virtually unrecognizable as Poirot, gaining weight for the role, with slicked-down hair, a French moustache and beady eyes to aid in the transformation. Roger Ebert found his performance “brilliant, and high comedy,” and offered an approving appraisal in his review. “It ends with a very long scene in which Poirot asks everyone to be silent, please, while he explains his various theories of the case. He does so in great detail, and it’s fun of a rather malicious sort watching a dozen high-priced stars keep their mouths shut and just listen while Finney masterfully dominates the scene.”

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS | Laemmle Anniversary Classics| Laemmle Royal Theatre | March 7

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Pre-performance panel discussion with Martha Graham creatives led by arts·meme’s Debra Levine



birthday wish from martha graham dance company

Yes, arts·meme got a special tenth birthday card last year from the Martha Graham Dance Company. Many women in dance reserve a special place in their heart for Martha Graham. Typical for dancers of my generation, my first modern-dance class was in the Graham technique. (It was true, as well, of Twyla Tharp.) At that time, Martha Graham (1894-1991) still walked the earth.

These many years later, it will be my great honor to conduct a panel discussion with Janet Eilber, Martha Graham Dance Company Artistic Director, Christopher Rountree, the conductor of wildUp, a chamber orchestra accompanying the Graham troupe, and choreographer Pam Tanowitz, who has a particular thrill that night, March 2, at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts. She’ll premiere a commissioned work for the Graham Company — a humongous honor for any choreographer, but for a female one, so wonderfully special.

The performance is the third for the Graham Crackers at The Soraya. At the company’s first appearance there, in 2015, I gave a fun and informative talk, “Our Martha Graham,” which traced Graham’s roots in southern California.

Our talk at The Soraya in 2015

The March 2 performance marks the launch of a Graham Company homage, the EVE Project, commemorating the centenary of the 19th Amendment. Our sisters in Congress wore suffragette white at the State of the Union address to mark the anniversary — we’re doing it in dance, led by the mother of us all, Martha Graham.

Martha Graham Dance Company The “EVE” Project | The Soraya | March 2, performance 8 pm | pre-talk “Graham Gears Up: How America’s Legacy Company Advances Dance” moderated by arts·meme’s Debra Levine 6:45 pm

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