Friday, February 8, 2019

Albert Finney Helped Me Through School

British news reported today that Albert Finney, an actor of exquisite and extraordinary range, passed away at age 82. He shall be missed and I, for one, am extremely grateful for film. We have a rich collection of his excellent performances through several decades to enjoy. In his "Jack the Lad" days as a new British actor, Albert Finney certainly was gifted in the good looks department.  You know what I mean if you've ever seen TOM JONES. He played the randy young Englishman in the screen adaptation of Henry Fielding's literary classic.  It won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1963. We Catholics were forbidden to see it.  Probably because characters in the story had sex. And enjoyed it. And the story had a happy ending. Albert Finney was a fabulous Tom Jones.
The ribald comedy brought him the first of his five Oscar nominations. Finney never won an Oscar. Reportedly, he never cared about it. He cared about the work. I think it would've been wonderful had the Academy bestowed him a lifetime achievement honorary Oscar right after his fifth nomination. It came in the Best Supporting Actor category for ERIN BROCKOVICH. I have seen ERIN BROCKOVICH a dozen times. A top reason why I've seen it numerous times is because I love Finney's performance in it as the older, underdog Southern California lawyer. He was one of the best co-stars Julia Roberts ever had. Their chemistry was a blast. The actor was an inspiration to age naturally and use it all to inform your performance. I'd love to play a role like the one he had in ERIN BROCOVICH.
In my previous blog post, about seeing WAR AND PEACE, I stressed how one art form, one artist, can be a bridge to other works of art.  Albert Finney was such an artist for me.

I entered my freshman year of high school with a love of Albert Finney movies. In my South Central L.A. youth, I'd frequently watch Channel 9, an independent local TV station with KHJ as its call letters. It's now KCAL. When I was a kid, KHJ had a Friday night movie show devoted to independent or "arthouse" features. Mom and Dad loved that program. They'd let me watch with them and that's how I was introduced to movies such as A CHILD IS WAITING, GONE ARE THE DAYS, ROOM AT THE TOP, A TASTE OF HONEY and ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO. We saw Albert Finney in THE ENTERTAINER (1960) and SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1960). Later on TV, I saw Albert Finney in CHARLIE BUBBLES.
In CHARLIE BUBBLES, he was the leading man and the film's director. He directed cast member Liza Minnelli in her 1968 screen acting debut.
Before I started high school, I felt that Albert Finney was totally cool because of those films and the clips on TV that I'd seen of him as TOM JONES.

In high school, we had to read and study Shakespeare for English Lit. classes. I had a rough go of it at first because of the medieval English language. If Mom came home from work and I wasn't there, she wouldn't freak out. She knew I'd walked over to our nearby local library branch. The librarians knew I was the kid who loved the section of cinema books. The library also had a good selection of records that could be checked out.  I was looking through the albums and found the recording of a Shakespeare classic. It was a multi-LP set, a recording of a British production of Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. I saw "Albert Finney as Dogberry" on the cover.

We had just started MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING that week in school. I checked out the record, took it home, played it on my stereo and followed along in my schoolbook. Hearing the voices in performance as I followed the dialogue text in the book brought Shakespeare to life for me. Albert Finney as Dogberry made me laugh out loud in my room. His performance was my favorite. Because of him, I no longer feared The Bard. I embraced Shakespeare.

Yes. There I was, a black teen in South Central L.A., laughing at a Shakespeare comedy thanks to the artistry of Albert Finney. I went back to our local library branch to sift through the record collection, check out some LP sets and do the same with other classic plays we were studying in school. This made me want to see great plays done on stage.  I was an Albert Finney fan at a very young age. If not for him, I may not have checked out that recording of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING from our local library. His name got my attention. He was the bridge. He helped me get an A.

I think Mr. Finney would've loved that story.

Albert Finney got Best Actor Oscar nominations for --
TOM JONES (1963)
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
THE DRESSER (1983)
UNDER THE VOLCANO (1984)
and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000).

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