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What Might Have Been

Matt Schudel

British film director Anthony Minghella, who won an Academy Award for directing "The English Patient," died yesterday at the age of 54. This is the kind of the death that takes the world by surprise -- including the Obituary desk. Minghella was in relatively good health and died of a brain hemorrhage after he had gone in for routine surgery last week.

He had just completed working on a film for British TV, "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," and he seemed to have so much more to offer the world.

Needless to say, we had nothing prepared on Minghella and had to scramble to prepare the obituary on deadline. Minghella seemed to be the kind of artist who reaches his mastery relatively late in life. He wasn't an early bloomer and was well into his 30s before he directed his first film, "Truly, Madly, Deeply." His masterpiece, "The English Patient," came out in 1996, when he was 42. His later films included "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Cold Mountain."

Minghella loved music and made it a point to have at least a snippet of Bach in every film he made. In "The Talented Mr. Ripley" he changed the profession of Jude Law's character from artist to saxophonist because of his (Minghella's) interest in music. Minghella had the kind of mature, literate vision that seems to be so lacking -- and, therefore, so necessary -- in modern film and culture in general. It's sad to think that his directorial voice is forever silenced.

Late in the day on Tuesday, we learned of the death of the great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Pat Sullivan got a call from the secretary of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation, who had just received a text message direct from Sri Lanka, where Clarke lived. Pat learned of his death before the Associated Press could put out a bulletin. She stayed late to put together a first-rate obituary that accounts for both Clarke's literary achievements and his influence on real-world scientific advances, including communication satellites.

Clarke died at 90, Minghella at 54 -- two very different British artists who had, each in his own way, left a lasting effect on the world we live in.

By Matt Schudel  |  March 19, 2008; 11:31 AM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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