Tuesday, November 11, 2014

With The Lub: Michael Lennick (1952-2014)

One of my dearest friends, Michael Lennick - writer, director, producer, cameraman, editor, visual effects designer and mensch (a word he taught me) - has sadly left us away at the age of 61.

Donna and I first met him on the set of VIDEODROME (for which he was the video effects supervisor) in December 1981. Of all the people I met there, Mikey was the one I bonded with most closely and lastingly. When I returned to Toronto the following March, we celebrated the end of the shoot with an all-night summit in his living room, at which time he introduced me to the pleasures of home video, obviously a major eureka in my life. 

He also presided over others. It was Michael who introduced me to sushi, which has been my favorite thing to eat since that fateful day in 1983. In the first year of the new century, he produced my first two DVD audio commentaries - and he was astounded when I told him that I'd now done more than thirty. He was also a favorite VIDEO WATCHDOG contributor, whose ten pieces for us include feature articles on STAR WARS, STARSHIP TROOPERS and his hero Stanley Kubrick, as well as a recent review of John C. Fredericksen's 1950s series MEN INTO SPACE that presently awaits publication. He gave me a place to crash whenever I was in town, and took me to shop at Sam the Record Man's and Memory Lane Books, both of which are now history. We read and critiqued each others' unpublished and unproduced work. I introduced Michael, a milk drinker, to the pleasures of Chivas Regal scotch and cigars, and we braved one early morning set call on THE DEAD ZONE after only three hours' sleep; it was the day they filmed Christopher Walken in the burning room - it's a miracle that we, in our dark glasses, didn't spontaneously combust. He would show me scenes of films we both loved - including Mario Bava films - and help me to deconstruct the special effects shots, some of the most important lessons in filmmaking I ever had. During my last visit north of the border, we shared the experience of synching up the Stargate sequence of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY to Pink Floyd's "Echoes." It worked remarkably well. Michael also filmed a wonderful testimonial for our Indiegogo campaign for VIDEO WATCHDOG's Digital Archive; he was delighted by the demonstration he saw and was looking forward to seeing the technology applied to his own articles.

Michael as I first knew him, with his VIDEODROME team, Lee Wilson and Rob Meckler.

As you can imagine, I loved Mikey as much as I've ever loved any man. He called me Timmy, and I let him. He signed most of his letters to me with the warm salutation "with the lub," so I know it was mutual. Thus the news came hard when we found out, a few weeks ago, that he had suffered a collapse and been hospitalized, where he was being kept comatose as tests were being made. Over the weekend, the news finally came that he had succumbed to a virulent form of brain cancer last Friday, November 7th. Michael, my brother from another mother, whom I met on the set of a now-classic movie about a video signal that causes brain tumors.

I know what he accomplished, and though he would argue it was not enough, his career was a triumph that he largely managed on his own terms. He produced work that was loved: his early cult hit THE ALL-NIGHT SHOW; his special effects work for the teleseries WAR OF THE WORLDS (where he got to recreate the Martian war cruisers of George Pal's classic film); the documentary DR. TELLER'S VERY LARGE BOMB, which featured the last interview granted by Edward Teller; the acclaimed documentary series ROCKET SCIENCE and THE SCIENCE IN FICTION, with their access to pretty much anybody who was anybody in the space program; the top-shelf film documentaries THE NEW MAGICIANS and 2001 AND BEYOND; and so many other projects that enabled Michael to meet and befriend his heroes in the space program and the annals of classic science fiction. Children of the 1980s also loved him as the voice of Boneapart, the skeletal sage of OWL TV.

Michael's classic character performance: OWL TV's Boneapart.
Michael spent much of this past year reconnecting with and interviewing people he had known from the Cronenberg days (including the recently departed Gary Zeller) for "The SCANNERS Way,"  the documentary he contributed to Criterion's recent SCANNERS Blu-Ray release, and conducting preparatory interviews and research for a projected documentary called THE CHILDREN OF PEARL HARBOR, which brought him back into the orbit of his old friend, artist Shary Flenniken - so his last year was ultimately one of closure. In our last telephone conversation, a couple of months ago, he told me that things were looking good for a projected series based on the short stories of Harlan Ellison, another of his idols who became a good personal friend.

My heart goes out to Michael's siblings David and Julie and to everyone who loved him - especially his beloved partner Shirley, the love of his life. I was staying with him when they had their first date and I remember how excited he was as he was getting dressed to go out. Our last communications were on Facebook and about grief, concerning the untimely passings of Michael's friends and colleagues Reiner Schwarz and Linda Griffiths. Linda also died at 61 years of age. Too young, we agreed.

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