Robin Williams: A tribute, part 2

Vada Voices

Robin Williams had an innate ability to weave in and out of genre with ease, and this becomes evident with today’s collection. Williams also loved to challenge people and perceptions both literally as with The Birdcage and perhaps in subtler (well as subtle as he could be) figurative means in Mrs Doubtfire. The skill of the man becomes evident in the way he could go from playing a loving father who just wants to be with kids, to a “fag” as he himself put it, then transforming into the adult Peter Pan whose boyish charm shines through in antithesis to the camp Captain Hook. Finally the man who throughout the three aforementioned films now becomes the teacher and the circle is complete.

Jamie Bernthal on Mrs Doubtfire

Like many nineties childhoods, mine was partly defined by Mrs Doubtfire. But look at the facts, and what is it? A film about an irresponsible father who puts his children in danger and ultimately gets everything he wants. A film that reifies the nuclear family (yawn) and mines transvestism for comedy. It could so easily have been that, and would have been, but for Robin Williams. As Daniel/Mrs Doubtfire, a nanny persona donned in order to see his estranged children, he’s hilarious, but also deeply emotionally convincing. We don’t just see a funny man in a dress doing physical comedy (but there’s plenty of that, from burning breasts to bathroom etiquette). We see a flawed and oddball human being, trying weird and new ways to express his love, to be accepted, and to accept himself. While Mary Poppins is the worst kind of troll – she pretends to be queer and exciting and just cons the children into shutting up and obeying Father – Euphegenia Doubtfire is the complete opposite. With better results.

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Mrs Doubtfire taught me that shiny happy families are not composed of shiny happy people – but of weird, conflicted, flawed humans. It taught me not to take gender roles too seriously. And it still makes me laugh. A lot.

Karl Patrick Jager on The Birdcage

“Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. Yes, I’m a middle- aged fag. But I know who I am, Val. It took me twenty years to get here, and I’m not gonna let some idiot senator destroy that. Fuck the senator, I don’t give a damn what he thinks.”

The Birdcage encouraged us to challenge the expectations of others and ourselves. Claiming terms such as Fag and telling would-be oppressors to fuck themselves is a pretty good way to start.

As a queer kid growing up Robin Williams represented difference in a way no other figure did. He was male and female, a cartoon, an adult child and an alien. His work embodied alterity and otherness, whether as a woman, a genie or a perpetually lost bat, his roles represented the outsider and the marginalised. Never were these themes more evident than in The Birdcage.

We should not underestimate the social impact that The Birdcage had on its audience. The world was already on its way to embracing a glittering gay sub culture with Pricilla, Queen of The Desert and To Wong Foo, but with The Birdcage, same sex relationships and the LGBT equality fight were given a high profile Hollywood figurehead. It’s impossible to know how many activists were born watching Williams’ Armand Goldman stand up and fight against the heteronormative expectations of his family, and how many young gay men and women found strength in the portrayal of a gay adult still struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality. With Nathan Lane, Williams gave the world a colourful, comic portrayal of a same sex relationship that was as authentic as it was satirical, piling on the camp without sacrificing an ounce of dignity, and for that we should be eternally grateful.

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Adam Lowe on Hook

Hook was always a family favourite for me as a child. I’ve always loved Peter Pan, and seeing the magical world of Never Neverland in live action always stole my breath. I was particularly enamored of the mermaids and spectacular set-pieces. Robin Williams was, of course, another big pull. His portrayal of an adult Peter Pan was moving and realistic. He was the perfect contrast to Dustin Hoffman’s camp Hook.

Matthew Hoy on Dead Poets Society

There are two quotes I’d like to share with you from this extraordinary film. The first is a call to arms, a call to seize life and to live it without inhibition, fear or restraint; and I cannot think of any better a way to put it.

“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The second is of vital importance to you and I. I pay particular emphasis to the recent Arab Spring, which was a revolution of 21st proportions with social media becoming the greatest weapon. For me as a journalist this is both a scary and exciting idea. The power to change things is no longer limited to those in the House of Commons but to you and I. We can change the world with our words and thoughts. Look at Equal-Marriage in the UK, this wouldn’t have happened without the tireless work of countless men and woman who spoke out.

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“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

We will be back tomorrow as our tribute to Robin Williams continues.

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