Saturday, December 10, 2005

Richard Pryor

It's not exactly like no one saw this coming, but it's still a bit of a punch in the gut to hear that Richard Pryor passed away today. I will be forever thankful to CTLA for loaning me his rented DVD of Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (which appears on Jonathan Rosenbaum's list of his 1,000 favorite films in Essential Cinema). It's an astonishing bit of stand-up comedy, one that is based in extraordinarily sophisticated storytelling way more than it is in cheap joke-telling. Anyone who wants to talk about the "honesty" of a performer, be it musician, actor, or comedian, needs to calibrate her yardstick to the naked, raw personal exposure offered up by Pryor here. My other treasured cinematic memory of him is, of course, his appearance as the eponymous fraud in The Wiz. The film hasn't exactly aged well or anything, but the final, maybe, twenty minutes are still absolutely emotionally scorching. The fear of being found out that you see in his eyes when Dorothy finally confronts him in the cold, echoing hangar where he sleeps on a ratty old cot, hiding away from the eyes of everyone who expects him to be the grandest of the grand when he's really just a quivering mess of insecurity and failure himself, is so private and so potent, it's almost difficult to watch, and even more difficult not to interpret as an utterly truthful representation of the clammy fear his own fame and success forced him into. He will be missed.

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