OBITUARY: Frank Perry
Tuesday 12 September 1995
Shipman concludes that Mommie Dearest "was the best of [Perry's] last few films", having earlier stated that Perry never "did anything else as brave" as Diary of a Mad Housewife. But Perry's very last film, On the Bridge (1992), is not only brave but knocks Mommie Dearest into a cocked hat.
On the Bridge shows a fine director at the height of his powers. The film is a documentary self-portrait undertaken when Perry discovered that he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer ("If I were a poet, I'd have written a poem about my situation," he said. "I happen to make films, so it seemed a natural response").
It is a passionately emotional movie, steered by genuine discretion and leavened with grim humour, in which he questions himself as assiduously as he questions his oncologist on the details of his prognosis. When Sheila Whitaker introduced it at the 1992 London Film Festival, she said that it was "not just another 'death watch' movie", but the subject was naturally off-putting for audiences.
Those who came along were treated to an unsentimental and inspiring view of a man living his life against the odds and relishing the challenge. At one festival screening, a young girl told Frank, "By the time your film ended, I was ready for you to die." Onlookers were shocked, but Perry was delighted - just as he was pleased to hear a fellow sufferer say, "Cancer gave me an edge".
The "edge" that Frank discovered in himself brought him back in touch with the creativity that had first emerged in David and Lisa, his 1962 debut which had prompted Jean Renoir to speak of "a turning-point in world cinema".
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