Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Parting Glance: Robert Fuest (1927-2012)

Robert Fuest might be an unknown name to most people. To others, he might be just a peculiar cult director responsible for a handful of B movies. To me, he was an integral architect of my creative life.

Fuest, who passed away at the age of 84 today, was not only the director of such stylish and demented movies as The Devil's Rain, The Last Program and one of my favorite films of all time, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. He was the Production Designer for my favorite television series of all time, The Avengers. All the wild props, insane sets and vibrant costumes you think of when you think of Steed and Peel kicking ass in their uniquely British style? That's all him. And it was his success at creating a unique and bizarre world that led to Fuest directing several episodes of the sixth and final season of that show, which then led to him directing a well-received adaptation of Wurthering Heights, which led him to creating one of Vincent Price's greatest roles.

I watched The Avengers as a very, very young boy on WWOR-TV here in New York, and it was that show that drew me into the pulpy, fun world of Spy Culture. It was watching Diana Rigg rocking those jumpsuits as she wandered through sets made up of oversized photos of herself that made her my first actual media crush. And later, it was watching Price and the absolutely luscious Virginia North 'And-Then-There-Were-None' the surgery staff that killed the even more luscious Caroline Munro with style and aplomb made me realize that villainy is not just in the deeds themselves. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that there are things in my writing to this day that have Fuest's vague fingerprints on them, and that he is one of the creators that helped shape my own creative style.

Apparently Fuest never quite recovered from the rather rancid reception of his last theatrical film, The Devil's Rain. Only going behind the camera for two television movies and a number of television episodes--including two for the series revival The New Avengers and a bunch of ABC Afterschool Specials (I can hardly imagine how surreal having him in the director's chair for those bland-as-toast things)--throughout the 80's, Fuest eventually retired to teach filmmaking and paint.

I have to wonder what would have happened if Fuest was able to build on the promise inherent in the Phibes movies; what sort of insane entertainments would I have enjoyed then? Sadly, that's all I'll be able to do...wonder, and honor a Great, Great Man.

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