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Obit: Richard Sarafian, 1930-2013, Director Of "Vanishing Point"

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  • Obit: Richard Sarafian, 1930-2013, Director Of "Vanishing Point"

    OBITUARIES; RICHARD C. SARAFIAN, 1930 - 2013; Director of 'Vanishing Point'

    Los Angeles Times
    September 19, 2013 Thursday

    by Steve Chawkins

    Richard C. Sarafian, a Hollywood director best known for the
    speed-addled saga of squealing brakes and existential angst chronicled
    in the 1971 cult film "Vanishing Point," died Wednesday. He was 83.

    Sarafian was recovering from a broken back when he contracted
    pneumonia, family members said.

    He directed numerous films and, earlier in his career, TV shows that
    included episodes of "Gunsmoke," "The Twilight Zone" and "Batman." He
    also acted, appearing as hitman Vinnie in the Warren Beatty satire
    "Bulworth" and gangster Jack Dragna in Beatty's "Bugsy."

    In "Dr. Doolittle 2," he did a comic turn as the voice of the God
    Beaver, a don of the dam who ran the forest like a Corleone with
    buck teeth.

    But it was "Vanishing Point," the story of a tough guy named Kowalski
    and his frenzied road trip from Denver to San Francisco, that proved
    to be Sarafian's most enduring work.

    "I had absolutely no idea that this thing would survive all these
    years," he told the website in 2009. "We worked hard in
    the hot sun and we partied at night. You just hope, like everything,
    that you blow the audience a few kisses and try to fulfill your vision
    of what it's about ... freedom, an endless road, and let the cards
    fall where they may."

    In Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof," the director gave Sarafian a
    "special thanks" credit, a bow to the influence of "Vanishing Point."

    Its impact has also been felt outside the industry. In 1997, Scottish
    rock band Primal Scream paid tribute to Sarafian by naming an album
    "Vanishing Point": "It's always been a favorite of the band,"
    leader Bobby Gillespie explained. "We love the air of paranoia and
    speed-freak righteousness."

    In the film, ex-cop, ex-racer and Vietnam vet Kowalski, played by
    Barry Newman, bets his drug dealer he can deliver a supercharged 1970
    Dodge Challenger to California in 15 hours. The reasons for the wager
    are unclear, but it triggers 90 minutes worth of screaming police
    cruisers and an excited, crash-by-crash radio narration from Super
    Soul, a blind disc jockey played by Cleavon Little. Kowalski also
    encounters desert hippies, a rattlesnake wrangler and an alluring,
    naked blonde woman on a motorcycle.

    Over the years, critics have been puzzled. "Kowalski would be a
    contemporary Lone Ranger but for one thing," wrote Danny Peary. "He
    forgets to do anything heroic."

    Sarafian was undeterred. "The beauty of 'Vanishing Point' was that I
    met the challenge to physicalize speed," he told Turner Classic Movies.

    Born April 28, 1930, in New York City, Richard Caspar Sarafian was
    the son of Armenian immigrants.

    He attended New York University but "was a rotten student, drinking
    and carousing," he told the Armenian Reporter in 2008. "To make life
    easier, I took a two-point course in writing and directing pictures. I
    got an A!"

    Serving during the Korean War as a reporter for an Army news service,
    he was stationed for a time in Kansas City, Mo., where he met future
    Hollywood director Robert Altman.

    The two became pals and worked together making industrial films. When
    Altman directed a local play, Sarafian acted in it. The director's
    sister came bounding backstage after he appeared, her arms opened wide.

    "Richard, Richard!" she exclaimed. "You were adequate!"

    They married and had five children. Helen Joan Altman died two years
    ago, after divorcing Sarafian and later remarrying him.

    Sarafian got his start in TV as Altman's assistant but quickly
    established himself.

    The 1963 "Twilight Zone" "Living Doll" episode was one of his more
    famous efforts.

    After watching the story of the murderous Talky Tina doll, Sarafian's
    son Deran sought comfort from his parents.

    "That was the most horrible thing I've ever seen," he told them.

    His mother sympathized. "By the way," she told him, "your father
    directed it."

    Sarafian also directed "Man in the Wilderness," "The Man Who Loved
    Cat Dancing," "Run Wild, Run Free" and other movies. His first feature
    film, "Andy," was the story of a developmentally disabled man getting
    by in New York City.

    In addition to Deran Sarafian, he is survived by sons Damon, Richard
    Jr. and Tedi; and daughter Catherine. All work in the film industry.

    From: A. Papazian