Carrie Fisher was wary of being on display at the Telluride Film Festival in September, but she took strength from her ever-present dog Gary and came onstage after a showing of Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. She wanted the documentary to be made as a tribute to her indomitable mother, whose health was failing; now it must serve as an epitaph for her and a tribute to her family. (It also played at the New York Film Festival and will appear on HBO early in 2017.)

Carrie and I in Telluride with her French Bulldog Gary

Carrie and I in Telluride with her French Bulldog Gary

Accompanied by her brother Todd and filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens, she took to the stage at the Palm Theatre, where I moderated a question and answer session. She was flippant and funny, as usual; if she learned one thing from her mom it was never to disappoint an audience.

Everyone knows she was an actress, and aside from Star Wars appeared in everything from Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters to When Harry Met Sally and Scream 3. One area I wanted to explore was her career as a script doctor, punching up screenplays for big bucks but no credit. In the wake of Postcards from the Edge, based on her autobiographical novel, Steven Spielberg hired her to work on Hook, which she enjoyed. Then others came calling. Her specialty was expanding the love interest and/or adding laughs to such films as The River Wild, The Wedding Singer, Sister Act, and Lethal Weapon 3, among others. Then she mentioned the one that challenged her and interested me most, Outbreak, a serious film about an epidemic for which she added backstories and humor.

I sensed that this kind of work came easily to her; little else did in her turbulent life. She transformed her upbringing as the daughter of super-celebrities Debbie Reynolds and singing idol Eddie Fisher (who was a big star at the time) into fodder for her books and a one-woman stage show, Wishful Drinking. But in Bright Lights we get to see one facet of her talent she hid for most of her life: she had a beautiful singing voice. Debbie forced her onstage during a nightclub appearance when she was an adolescent and fortunately, someone captured this on film. Not singing was part of her rebellion. Debbie gets tearful on camera as she laments the fact that Carrie refused to make use of this glorious gift.

Star Wars gave her financial security, a multigenerational fan following,  and a kind of immortality. But mortality took its toll on this talented, troubled woman today. I feel worst for Debbie Reynolds; no parent should have to bury a child, especially one who cared so much about her, in her own, stubborn, unique way.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024