Usually when a filmmaker dies, it is long after they have retired, and long after they made their last film. Not so with Nora Ephron, who died yesterday after having been ill for a long time. She was 71, and could very well have made several more films, and written more books and articles. Now she will not. That is a great loss because she was great at what she was doing. She was one of my favourite filmmakers from the last decades.
My love for Ephron has sometimes been met with surprise or disbelief, but there really is not anything strange about it. She made films that were funny, humane, moving and often lovely to look at. She had a delicate touch, and she knew how to capture the finer details of emotions. She could also be very funny.
She has written her fair share of modern classics, either directed by herself, or by men like Rob Reiner or Mike Nichols. She has been autobiographical, and she has been drawing on film and TV history. She helped to keep that history alive.
Billy Wilder and William Wyler allegedly said to each other after Ernst Lubitsch's funeral. "No more Lubitsch." "Worse than that, no more Lubitsch films." Ephron was obviously inspired by Lubitsch, and alas, now there will be no more Ephron films. Or rather, no new Ephron films. The old ones still live. A recurring theme in her films was that the past, and the dead, never really went away but were still with us. We can see that for example in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Michael (1996), You've Got Mail (1998) and Julie & Julia (2009). Now her films will make sure Nora never leaves us.
(She wrote the script for Heartburn (1986) based on her own marriage to Carl Bernstein. She is called Rachel Samstat in the film, and is played by Meryl Streep. Bernstein, as Mark Forman, is played by Jack Nicholson. It is not a great film, but this scene is.)
See me earlier posts about Ephron: