Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 22
Tim Robbins October 16, 1958
Tim Robbins born

Tim Robbins, a versatile actor, writer, director, and political activist, was born October 16, 1958. Having pursued acting since he was a young boy, Robbins performed experimental theater in both New York (at the Theater for the New City) and Los Angeles (with his company, the Actors’ Gang), played small movie roles and TV guest spots until his breakthrough picture, 1988’s Bull Durham, directed by Ron Shelton. Robbins played Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, a minor league pitcher who is schooled by Kevin Costner’s relatively grizzled veteran, “Crash” Davis. Susan Sarandon is the woman who travels between them in a film that was both a great romantic comedy and also a film that captured the ways in which sports shape our identities. Four years later, Robbins had a double-header of his own, starring in Robert Altman’s The Player while making his directing and screenwriting debut with Bob Roberts, a prescient comedy about the campaigning practices of a right-wing senatorial candidate that looks pretty good today. (In an interview with Spinner, Robbins compared the Tea Party to the candidate of his film: “The same propaganda keeps coming back. It was that way when I did Bob Roberts and it went away for a little bit and now it's back; it's relentless. It's propaganda that tries to get the American people to vote against their better interests. Unfortunately, Bob Roberts still works!") Two years later came his starring turn with Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, in which he played an unjustly imprisoned man and then, in 1995, Dead Man Walking, a drama about capital punishment starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. Robbins wrote, produced and directed the film and was nominated for Best Director. Many other strong films followed, including Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and Philip Noyce’s South Africa-set Catch a Fire. Robbins has also been an impassioned political activist, protesting the Iraq War and globalist economic policies. He will be seen upcoming in Martin Campbell’s Green Hornet

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More Flashbacks
Around the World in Eighty Days Dec. 22, 1956
Around the World in Eighty Days Premieres

Based on the novel by Jules Verne, the 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days, which opened in L.A. on December 22, 1956, was the kind of glorious cinematic jape that rarely is produced anymore.

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December 22, 1993
Philadelphia breaks the AIDS barrier

A few days before Christmas, Jonathan Demme’s groundbreaking AIDS melodrama hit screens, just in time for Academy consideration. A month later the film was duly rewarded, garnering five nominations, with Tom Hanks winning for Best Actor and Bruce Springsteen winning Best Song. But the road to Philadelphia was neither straight, nor clear. Years earlier, producer Scott Rudin worked with screenwriter Ron Nyswaner to get a film about AIDS started. The two looked at a range of stories, including that of Geoffrey Bowers, a New York City attorney who was fired after he showed signs of HIV in 1986. Rudin sold the concept to TriStar who worked with Jonathan Demme (who’d just won an Oscar for Silence of the Lambs in 1991). For Rudin and Nyswaner, both gay men who’d experienced the deaths of many friends, the issue was personal. Likewise for Demme, who dealt with illness and death of his wife’s best friend: “When Juan [Botas] said he was HIV positive, I reacted in the only positive way I could, which was to try to work somehow.” While Demme made Philadelphia to be “targeted for the malls," he wanted the set to be true to the people dealing with the epidemic. Of the 53 gay men cast in the film, nearly 43 died within the next year. At one point, Demme was forced into a fight with TriStar over casting openly gay actor Ron Vawter; the studio wanted to reject him because they could not take out insurance on him. Demme only had to point out the cruel irony of the studio firing an actor in a film about someone being fired for having HIV.

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