Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Allan Fish (1973 - 2016), the lights dim over Wonders in the Dark


Before you read my own tribute, please read Sam Juliano's obituary at Wonders in the Dark - and the comments below are as much a testament to Allan's importance as anything else

No person has had a greater impact on me or my online work than Allan Fish. There are others who have had a more concentrated impact on certain areas, and some - like Allan's erstwhile partner at Wonders in the Dark, Sam Juliano - who have had a strong galvanizing/organizational effect, introducing me to others, starting discussions, getting me involved with endeavors elsewhere. But Allan's influence was based purely on his own work, and it directly shaped my own content. To this day, he's the only writer about film who has his own tag on my site: Allan's countdowns were so important to me that I wrote about them with a kind of breathless excitement on quite a few occasions.

Allan's impact is a lot more important than its manifestations on Lost in the Movies, but this is my way of saying thank you and attempting to convey what, personally, he meant to me. I didn't know him as well as others on a personal level even though we exchanged plenty of friendly emails and countless back-and-forths, some friendly, some less so, in the comments sections of Wonders in the Dark. Others had the good fortune of speaking to him on the phone or even meeting him in person on his trip to New Jersey or their trip to the UK. I always felt that someday I would be in his neck of the woods, and I'd be able to buy him a pint at a local pub and chat movies with him face to face. But, sadly, it never happened.

Nonetheless, he leaves an outsize legacy for me and to a large extent, defines an era of my life. The years 2009 - 2011 were molded extensively by my interactions on Wonders in the Dark (both positive and negative, though my relations with him personally were usually very cordial - and I'll always deeply cherish the favorable things this notoriously hard-to-please Brit said to and about me). I read the pieces published there with voracious hunger, and engaged in some epic conversations underneath them. Though there were other endeavors - especially as the years went by and those of us who gathered at Allan's feet began to flex our own muscles under his site's banner, for better or worse (both were true in my case) - there is no question that the golden age of reading and commenting on Wonders occurred during Allan's decades countdowns.

I joined in a bit less than halfway through, when he reached the sixties in the spring of 2009. Though we had some differences in taste and sensibility, I found a kindred spirit in Allan's catholic cinephilia, embracing cartoon shorts and lengthy miniseries, light-hearted classics and avant-garde extremities. His countdowns embraced all genres on a global scale and he'd think nothing of, say, including both The Dark Knight and Melancholia (not the challenging-enough Lars Von Trier Melancholia, mind you, I'm talking about the 8-hour black-and-white not-available-on-DVD Lav Diaz Melancholia from the Philippines). His graceful entries on familiar titles are often when lured us in, but it was the out-of-left-field picks that kept us coming. When he listed his Top 3,000 Films (only Allan could do that and make it seem like he was compromising), he placed Eros + Massacre at the very top of the list. Eros + Massacre? I hadn't heard of it either until Allan introduced me to it, and I'm glad he did.

That's something else I have to thank Allan for: not only did he conceptually introduce me to these movies , he often physically introduced me to them as well, sending me titles from the UK that weren't available anywhere else. As glamorous as his countdowns were, it may have been his follow-up series - the Fish Obscuro - that offered an even greater service. Through this quieter endeavor, I was introduced to the likes of Son of Man and Death by Hanging, which have become personal favorites. And his influence continued even after my own participation in Wonders dwindled - his weekly "alternate Oscars" poll became a ritual for me in 2012 - 2013, spurring me to explore short films more deeply and eventually compile all of my own selections into one of my more expansive posts.

Finally, it's important to stress Allan's rare talent for fusing economy, evocation, and passion. He could summon the spirit of a work in fewer words than any other writer I've ever encountered. He was - and is - eminently readable, and I encourage anyone looking for a guide both handy and erudite to forego the more conventional tomes and purchase Allan's book when it is eventually released (likely in e-book form). In the meantime, you can read the enticing intro.

In truth, I knew Allan was terminally ill, but I did not expect the end to come so soon and I feel at a loss for words, even after penning a post longer than his own more succinct essays! If I can introduce even one person to his work, I'll feel that I've at least begun to pay back the debt I owe him, something I will sadly never be able to do in a personal way.

Thank you, Allan.

No comments: