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Movie director Ivan Passer never lived in Santa Barbara so far as I know. And unlike auto magnate Henry Ford II, Passer —a lion of Czech new wave cinema — was never arrested for drunk driving in Santa Barbara. Ford, in case you forgot, was famously jailed back in 1975 for driving intoxicated on Hollister Avenue while enjoying the company of what the New York Times then harrumphing-ly referred to as a “woman companion.” At the time, Ford allegedly said, “Never complain, never explain,” perhaps the most famous quote ever to be coined on Santa Barbara soil.
By contrast, Passer — who died this past week from complications of his complications — merely made the best movie ever made in, of, for, or about Santa Barbara, Cutter’s Way, which hit the big screen back in 1981. I say that with all due deference to Andrew Davis’s charming Steal Little , Steal Big, the thousands of silents cranked out in Santa Barbara by the Flying A Studio and its predecessors, and even Sideways, the cinematically bent celebration of Santa Barbara’s then emergent wine industry.
Given that we now find ourselves in the throes and the thrall of Santa Barbara’s annual Intergalactic Film Festival, a tip of the hat and a moment of silence are in order for the passing of Poor Mr. Passer. For those who’ve never seen— based on Newton Thornburg’s deliciously and disturbingly squalid novel Cutter and Bone — it’s must-watching. In it, Jeff Bridges stars as an unsuccessful gigolo named Richard Bone (Dick Bone, get it?), who inadvertently stumbles onto the El Presidente of that year’s Fiesta Parade stuffing the body of the young woman he just murdered into one of downtown’s many back-alley dumpsters. (She had laughed at him when he could not get an erection, we learn later.)