23 August 2014

No words for the laughter and tears

ROBIN WILLIAMS ( 1951-2014)

Some knew him as an actor.  Some as actor and as stand-up comic.  Some knew if on and off the set.  Looks like few knew him at all.  And yet Robin Williams is ‘family’ to millions.  This is why news of his death saw an outpouring of grief.  This is why news of suspected suicide was heartbreaking. 

He came to Sri Lanka as Mork.  That’s in ‘Mork and Mindy’.  He was crazy and it was ok to be crazy, he demonstrated.  Not many would have seen all his films, but few would not count at least one of them among personal favorites. 

He read a script, yes.  If you looked for ‘Robin Williams quotes’ you will get dozens of amazing lines.  All from movies.  Mostly written by others.  But you might also chance upon his great one-line responses and stuff from his comedy shows.  Take (in) the following, for example:

  • ‘You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.’ (On comedy)
  • ‘The only reason Mickey Mouse has four fingers is because he can’t pick up a check.’ (On his financial dispute with Disney over Aladdin)
  • ‘Never pick a fight with an ugly person, they’ve got nothing to lose.’
  • ‘Why do they call it rush hour when nothing moves?’
  • ‘Do you think God gets stone? I think so…Look at the platypus.’
  • ‘In England, if you commit a crime, the police don’t have a gun and you don’t have a gun. If you commit a crime, the police will say, “Stop, or I’ll say stop again!”’

Yes, I read these for the first time after I heard the news.  But yes, they are all ‘Robin Williams’ as I’ve imagined, going strictly by his screen performances and a couple of shows and interviews watched on Youtube.   It made me wonder, ‘typecast?’  Did he become a composite of the characters he played?  But what was common, then, about John Keating in ‘Dead Poets’ Society’, Dr Malcolm Sayer in ‘Awakenings’, Dr Sean Maguire in ‘Good Will Hunting’ and Daniel Hillard (and of course Mrs Euphegenia Doubtfire) in ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ and other characters in other films?  

They all rang true.  That’s at one level great screen performances.  It’s easy now to read more into those characters, the theatrical moments that stamped them with memorable identity, the quotable quotes, the expressions etc., and discover knowing and sorrow in his eyes.  In fact that’s even inevitable now.  But perhaps he was picked for ability to convey complexity and this only because he knew how to do it.  It looks as though all he’s done is move seamlessly between real and celluloid. 

He added, clearly, a lot more value than the scriptwriter would have imagined possible.  One can write, can direct too but when it comes to nuance of expression, the slightest twitch of a single facial muscle, angling of gaze, shift of tone and such there’s only so much you can tell an actor.  Robin Williams made characters memorable.  He wrote in irony and crafted in philosophy without effort and in such subtle ways that it just seeps into mind and memory without announcement of permission.  We look back and remember.  And even if we don’t, that etching persuades us to see and do in ways we may not have had we not encountered Robin Williams. 

It’s almost too easy now, after news of death and its circumstances, to talk of clowns and sorrow.  There were after all innumerable screen moment when Robin had to play ‘down’.  Poignancy, looking back now, was almost trademark. 

Flip through the memories penned by so many and you will recognize that Robin Williams created a community of believers; believers in humanity, nuttiness, it’s-ok-to-breakdown, mindless laughter and it’s-also-ok-to-cry.    

Russell Bran came up with a line few would not be able to identify with: ‘Robin Williams’ divine madness will no longer disrupt the sadness of the world’.  Norm Macdonald’s RIP-tweets, according to Chez Pazienza, adds up to the best tribute.  Norm describes an incredible and unforgettable first encounter and ends with the following two tweets:

‘When he left my dressing room, I felt alone. As alone as I ever remember feeling.’

And then this amazing two-word end-note which is so reminiscent of the man whose death is being mourned: ‘Until today.’

All things considered, no amount of words can do justice to the memory of Robin Williams; there are no words we can give by way of tribute to all the laughter.  And of course, all the tears.   When I tweeted this line, my brother Arjuna commented, ‘A lot of people smile when they have no more tears left to cry; we may never know what demons were running around the head of this man.’


Then again, thanks to Robin Williams, those he touched are privileged to have found a pathway to identify their own demons. And angels. 

Go well, Robin Williams.  You’ve given more than most. 



sajic said...

Lovely piece. Lovely man. Amazing memories. You speak of 'clowns'. I would hesitate to use the word in its usual sense, but someone once said that clowns are the saddest people in the world.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

clowns...that was the reference.

Shaik Ahamath said...

Despite the many films he made and some still in the pipeline, he has had financial troubles more through his unconditional generosity than anything else. There are the usual Hollywood divas demanding extraordinary baubles for their appearances but Robin's demand has been that the producers hire homeless people where possible.

Rashmi said...

Thank you Malinda for the fitting tribute to the great human being Robin Williams. The news flash came to my mobile while in a taxi from Bodhgaya to Varanasi airport (to catch a flight to Bangalore to visit Sai Baba's ashram in Puttaparthi) via Sarnath with my wife and youngest son. We all were shocked and I was initially angry with him for abandoning all of us. Then I realized I too have "been there done that." Very few commit suicide for physical pain. The vast majority do it for mental pain. We all ( including our medical doctor son) agreed finally. Depression is nothing but unrealistic expectations of life which is essentially unsatisfactory or Dukkha. Only if you could encounter the Buddha's teachings Robin? I wondered. No. Not in this life I realized. He was too fast and he could not slow down. (People like Richard Gere have slowed down.)
Any how will never forget the verses like "The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse".
Watched a TV segment on board the plane from India where Robin plays an advertising executive. He looked tired and definitely "the passion" (he had in Dead poets or good morning Vietnam etc.) was not there. Robin , you were a great actor and a much greater human being. Good Bye for now. Just for now. I remember in What dreams may come you said "Good people don't go to heaven as they never forgive themselves". But for sure you will go to heaven. Not only that. You will come back to us at least one more time as your work is not done here yet. Without you the world is one shade darker.