Monday, 10 January 2011

Peter Yates (1929-2011)

There have been many blog posts here about people who have died. It would be a sad thing if this film blog turn into an obituary blog. Now I just got word that Peter Yates has passed away, halfway between 81 and 82 years old.

I've long had a thing for him and even though a lot of his films are far from classics, he did every now and then make something extraordinary, and they were often marked by realism, detachment and energy. His first film was the Cliff Richard musical Summer Holiday (1962), after which he worked for BBC. Then he made Robbery in 1967, which was the turning point in his career. It's loosely based on the great train robbery that took place in Britain 1963, and here's a sequence from it:

Steve McQueen saw it and was so impressed he brought Yates over to Hollywood to make Bullitt (1968), which of course is his most famous film, and something of a landmark in American cinema. The car chase is what made it famous, but what is remarkable with it is its attention to detail and outdrawn sequences, more in line with neorealism than a regular action film. The next one though was the love story John and Mary (1969), which I haven't seen but it didn't go down well with the critics at the time, although they did notice its efforts towards realism and away from glamour. The Hot Rock (1972) I have seen and it's a weird but strangely appealing film. That's also a crime film, as is the film Yates made after that, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973). It is one of the saddest films you're likely to see and takes place in the Boston underworld, with Robert Mitchum in one of his greatest roles.

Another highlight in Yates's career is Breaking Away (1979), written by Steve Tesich, and partly based on Tesich's own childhood. It's about life in a small town somewhere in America, and the love of bicycling that keeps the main characters going. Yates and Tesich must have gotten along fine, because it was to be the first of three films they made together, the others being Eyewitness (1981) and Eleni (1985).

I haven't seen as many of Yates's films as I would like, such as his fantasy adventure Krull (1983), but this might be an opportunity to fill out the gaps. As a way of paying tribute.

And here's a clip from Summer Holiday, appropriate for cold and grey days such as today.

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