Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 07
October 31, 1993
River Phoenix dies

During his successful and all-too-short career, actor River Phoenix was the James Dean of his generation. The striking young actor gave soulful performances in films ranging from Rob Reiner's coming-of-age hit Stand by Me to Sidney Lumet's drama about '60s radicals, Running on Empty, to Gus Van Sant's experimental Shakespeare homage, My Own Private Idaho, before dying of a drug overdose at West Hollywood's Viper Room on October 31, 1993. Intelligent, gentle, intense, and projecting a maturity beyond his years, Phoenix was a soft-spoken heartthrob who used his celebrity to promote causes like animal rights as well as to stretch the boundaries of the kinds of parts young movie stars were supposed to accept. In 2003, on the ten-year anniversary of his death, there were a rush of articles speculating on the actor's legacy, some of which wondered why his star did not seem to burn even brighter, as Dean's did. Some noted that the times had changed, and that boomers and Gen X'ers didn't endorse the mythmaking of earlier generations. Others, like producer Stephen Woolley, quoted in The Guardian, speculated that Phoenix would not have followed the path of his colleague Brad Pitt but instead would have been an idiosyncratic screen rebel with a perpetually ambivalent relationship to stardom. "I suspect he would have gone on to play harder, more interesting characters," Woolley said. "Robert Downey Jr is exactly the kind of guy that River would have become had he lived."


More Flashbacks
December 7, 1960
Village of the Damned released

In the winter of 1960, a new vision of horror came to American cinemas from Britain. The Village of the Damned tells the story of a small English village in which all the women are mysteriously pregnant.

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December 7, 1949
Tom Waits For No Man

Thomas Alan Waits was born in Pomona, California, on this day, 59 years ago. The name Tom Waits is, of course, primarily associated with music: Waits is a distinctive, gravely-voiced singer-songwriter who has made classic albums like Rain Dogs and Blue Valentine and has been a force on the American music scene since the 1970s. Waits, though, with his rasping tones and rough-hewn features is also a casting director’s dream and has been involved in film almost as long as he has in music. Bizarrely, it was Sylvester Stallone who first put him on screen in his directorial debut, Paradise Alley, as a piano player called Mumbles, though Waits subsequently drew attention from somewhat more distinguished helmers. The first of these was Francis Ford Coppola, who cast Waits in four consecutive movies (One From the Heart, The Outsiders, Rumblefish and The Cotton Club) and also had Waits score One From the Heart, for which he received an Oscar nod. His other great relationship has been with director Jim Jarmusch, who also initiated Waits into his exclusive Sons of Lee Marvin club; Jarmusch first utilized Waits in Down by Law in 1986 and has since used his musical or thespian talents in Mystery Train, Night on Earth and Coffee and Cigarettes. Appealing to auteurs with an eye for idiosyncratic, Waits has also appeared twice in Terry Gilliam and Hector Babenco productions and had memorable roles in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (opposite Lily Tomlin) and 2007’s Wristcutters: A Love Story.

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