Donald Sutherland Is Part of History

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In my email alerts from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times were the notices that one of our great actors, Donald Sutherland, had died. Like many other film goers, I became aware of Sutherland  in the 1970 Robert Altman anti-war classic, M*A*S*H. He was Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, one of three insubordinate doctors who upend the military structure of discipline to have a better experience during their one year tour of duty at a M*A*S*H unit during the Korean War. It was also a commentary on the Vietnam War, which was going on at the time.

After that, when Sutherland was in a film it seemed important we see it. He had been in The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, Start the Revolution Without Me, Klute with Jane Fonda, and more, in his earliest years as an actor. The man was prolific.

In 1980 I saw him in Ordinary People, with Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton. The biggest news about the film was that it was Robert Redford’s debut as a director. Ordinary People is an incredibly heavy drama that won four Oscars: Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton). It’s a great film, but very hard for me to watch, due to its heavy drama.

Donald Sutherland in Ordinary People ( https://youtu.be/uvI_F1eP5xM?si=vloovCLJ7lysa4zC )

Then there was Backdraft A Dry White Season and one of my favorite films with Donald Sutherland, JFK. He didn’t even have a big part in that film, but his portrayal as the Washington, D.C. insider with the info about the conspiracy put the hook of reality into the greatest conspiracy theory of them all: that there was a successful plot to kill the 35th president of the United States.

That is what director Oliver Stone needed for that small role: an actor who could give some weight, some truth to the idea that the military-industrial complex was the heavy and untouchable force that could pull off an assassination of a president, cover it up and crush any and all persons who would, or threatened to, expose the conspiracy.

Kevin Costner and Donald Sutherland in JFK ( https://youtu.be/GSw9sjqYK_I?si=GCFfNWV-r20lhh4b )https://youtu.be/GSw9sjqYK_I?si=GCFfNWV-r20lhh4b )

Donald Sutherland, the Canadian.

So many artists in America are from North of the Border. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and is in the Canada Walk of Fame as well as his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2017 he was given an honorary Academy Award. In 1973 he received a BAFTA  In the 90s he received Primetime Emmy Awards for his Supporting Role in Citizen X (great film)  and a Lead Actor Award for Human Trafficking.

Maybe he should have received Oscars for M*A*S*H and Klute.

 In 2011 he had a short role in the remake of The Mechanic — a much too short role. He played the mentor/boss to Jason Statham’s Arthur the Mechanic (hitman). Although his role was far too small, his character’s presence was felt throughout the film.

Back in the 1990s there was the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy and Alyson Hannigan as one of Buffy’s good buddies. That show hit the TV airwaves after the film of the same name came out. The film starred Kristy Swanson as the vampire slayer and Donald Sutherland as her mentor Merrick.

Kristy Swanson and Donald Sutherland in Buffy the Vampire Slayer ( https://youtu.be/V-daIHTY4NQ?si=ehG32nsjM3WaaXey )

I watched a couple episodes of the TV version of Buffy and it was … television. Just like watching the TV version of M*A*S*H after watching the incredible Robert Altman film, of the same name, starring Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Gary Burghoff, Rene Auberjonois and a host of others. The TV version didn’t measure up to the Altman film and it went on far too long. Although, it had a good cast and some good episodes.

Like the film M*A*S*H, Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a staller cast, starting with Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Hillary Swank, Luke Perry, David Arquette, Seth Green, Paul Reubens and Rutger Hauer.

There was Merrick, convincing Buffy she is a vampire slayer and teaching her all the ways of sending the vampires to Hell. The big difference between the movie and TV versions is that the film was a campy comedy, whereas the TV series went for the more serious drama, the sort of thing that grabs the eyes and hearts of teens.

The Hunger Games franchise never grabbed my interest, although I did see the first one. Sutherland played the evil President Snow opposite Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Watch the clip provided with the screenshot.

Donald Sutherland in Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.2 ( https://youtu.be/ss4lPFGFXBM?si=E47JaVDPShYF8yh7 )

And I forgot to mention Animal House, one of the best comedies ever!

Donald Sutherland had range and stamina. His career lasted over 50 years and became a part of my life, providing great entertainment that has stayed with me since I first saw M*A*S*H over 50 years ago. He was in too many films to name — unless you’re managing IMDb or Wikipedia. Heck, there isn’t enough time or space to list all of his films I did see.

Many in the Grateful Dead community — Deadheads — like to remind everyone of this: “If you are ever feeling sad just remember. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old and you managed to exist at the same time as the Grateful Dead.”.

Well, in the spirit of that sentiment: If you are ever feeling sad just remember. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old and you managed to exist at the same time as Donald Sutherland.

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