Richard Sarafian: Film director best known for the existential road movie 'Vanishing Point'

 

Richard Sarafian, who died on 18 September at the age of 83 following a fall, was a film director whose 1971 countercultural thriller Vanishing Point brought him a decades-long cult following. A dark story of a drug-fuelled car chase through the Nevada desert brought on by a bet between a Vietnam veteran and his drug dealer. The veteran Kowalski, played by Barry Newman, drives a Dodge Challenger muscle car across the desert with the police in hot pursuit. "It was about speed" in both the drug and automotive senses, his son Deran Serafian said. "About what it really meant."

Sarafian turned down the chance to direct Robert Redford and Gene Hackman in the skiing film Downhill Racer in order to make Vanishing Point. "I made the car… the star of the film," Sarafian recalled. "My only disappointment was that Gene Hackman wanted to play the part of Kowalski, but the studio wouldn't let me cast him, so I got saddled with Barry Newman instead."

Sarafian had worked primarily in television early in his career, directing episodes of shows like Gunsmoke, I Spy, Batman and 77 Sunset Strip. He also directed 1963's "Living Doll" episode of The Twilight Zone, a chilling tale whose demonic main character, Talky Tina, terrified children, including his own, for decades. Deran Sarafian said that as a boy he thought the episode was "the most horrible thing I've ever seen" before learning that it was his father's creation.

The director had a major influence on the generation of maverick film-makers and actors often referred to as "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," referring to the book by Peter Biskind, who would come to dominate Hollywood in the 1970s. "He's considered one of the original Raging Bulls, that's why Warren Beatty and Sean Penn and people like that absolutely adore him," Deran Sarafian said.

Beatty was a particularly devoted fan, casting Sarafian as an actor in two of his own 1990s films, Bugsy and Bulworth. And he had nearly as big an influence on later directors like Quentin Tarantino, who gave him a "special thanks" credit at the end of his film Death Proof. Sarafian was close friends with the M.A.S.H director Robert Altman, and twice married Altman's sister Helen Joan Altman, who died in 2011. He is survived by four sons and a daughter.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back