Thursday, July 23, 2015

2010: A Second Look [Review]

Making sequels seem to be like running marathons: arduous and taxing, and no matter how good you are and how well you did, second places are seldom celebrated.


Taking on the task of directing 2010 must have been daunting. No matter what the outcome would be the movie would be mercilessly savaged by a unanimous core of critics. Everyone knew this, and Peter Hyams knew this as well. When Frank Yablans from MGM approached Hyams—after first (probably rather ceremoniously) having offered it to Stanley Kubrick who promtly declined—the New York director was understandably hesitant. He knew that no matter what he would do, everyone would compare him to Kubrick.

All of the above said there are a couple of things that cannot be denied. When looked at as a stand-alone movie 2010 is not a bad film. Banal? Perhaps. Forgettable? After a fashion. Bad? Certainly not. The sad fate of 2010 is that it can never, under any circumstances, ever be decoupled from its industry changing predecessor. The other thing is that the movie is just that: good. Or rather, good but moderately mundane. Possibly pedestrian. While a lot of the blame—if blame is the word one wants to use—can be put squarely at the feet of director Peter Hyams, the fact of the matter is that the source material (the book by Arthur C Clarke), is no 2001. The same things that can be said about the movie can be said about the book. The book sequel 2010: Odyssey Two is reminiscent of the standard Clarkian fare: hopeful, good natured, boyish, and (excuse the phrase) very British. Add to this that the book is very academic, lecturing even, and you might appreciate why the movie cannot be much different.

Discovery in a tight spot.

Of all of Clarke’s books, and he wrote quite a few in his time, 2001 towers above the rest in a way that seems peculiar. Why, then, is the first installment in the Odyssey series so remarkably different? (Yes, it became a series: Clarke wrote four Odyssey books all in all, of—some say—ever lessening quality.) One issue that cannot be hand waved away is the input Stanley Kubrick had on the book. The pacing, the characterization, the unfolding of the narrative, the build-up of the major themes is all Kubrick. Granted, the greater themes were and still are pure Clarke, but the minute details of the text were worked out by both of them, and when they were not, certainly Clarke could not deviate far from Kubrick’s main structure. It could be argued that the novel really should credit Stanley Kubrick as co-writer. The sequel 2010, however, has Clarke on his naked own.

Where 2001: A Space Odyssey wisely avoided monograph and exposition—one is forced to suspect under Kubrick’s direction and insistance—the following book 2010: Odyssey Two does a remarkable job at dispelling all the mysteries, doing that which should perhaps never be done: explaining the magic trick.

It has to be said both the book and the resulting movie are lesser works when compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is no way getting around the fact. That really is the best word one can use to describe both: lesser. Just as one cannot watch 2010: The Year We Make Contact without comparing it to it’s formidable older sibling, one can equally well not read 2010: Odyssey Two without comparing it to it’s predecessor. In both cases they are left wanting. Not hugely, but notably. In the case of 2010, it must also be said lesser does not necessarily mean bad.


Cold Odyssey

With the realization that 2010—both as book and as movie—is a lesser work comes the realization that one is free to appreciate the motion picture on its own merits. The plot elements as they are written by Clarke work surprisingly well within the constraints of the movie format, and by themselves create a narrative backbone upon which the director is then free to place additional elements of his or her own choosing. Hyams chose to excise the subplot regarding the Chinese Tsien mission and their probe sent to Europa, and instead added a Cold War backdrop to the narrative.

Excising the Tsien subplot did not seem to damage the movie at all, in fact there remains more plot elements than could fit nicely into a 120 minute movie in 2010. However, adding the Cold War backdrop anchored the movie firmly into the mid-nineteen-eighties, badly dating it. In contrast the 1968 movie, while being 16 years older than 2010, seems not to have aged at all; 2001 seems like a more recent movie than its far younger sibling.

Where Kubrick paid serious, laser focused attention on every little detail of the production, Hyams seems to have gone for belly laughs and guffaws during the making of the movie. To present an example: the zero-G toilet instructions found on the wall of the Aries 1B lunar shuttle in 2001: A Space Odyssey were the only tongue-in-cheek insertion, and their inclusion only happened after serious deliberation. The very same batch of text was then used by Hyams as a template for every little piece of text in 2010—on walls, on equipment, even on the space ship models—the logic being the text passes by the viewers’ eyes so quickly that they will never have time to neither notice nor even read it. But despite Hyams’ smoke filled sets we can, and seeing it immediately breaks the fourth wall, breaking the illusion that is vital to fantastic stories such as the Space Odyssey. The Leonov model apparently even had a ”Made in USA” disclaimer stickered to it. All in Cyrillic, of course, to make it authentic, you see?

Regarding the movie proper, Hyams must have known he was doomed from the outset. He could use none of the trademark Kubrick tricks from 2001—no classical music, no open ended questions, no slow and ponderous shots of spaceships majestically staving their way to their destiny—and most of all he would be compared to one of the all-time grand masters of cinema. No matter he did. With the game rigged and the odds stacked against him, Hyams managed to produce the best film of his career. Coming as the third installment of his ”science fiction trilogy”—Capricorn One and Outland being the two previous parts—the resulting movie was something of an anomaly. It was a cerebral movie amidst all the light fluff and shallow entertainment of the early nineteen-eighties. It was a slow-moving, thoughtful motion picture, instead of the whiz-bang style much in vogue at the time. In short, it was quite the different Hollywood fare.

Sure, the movie was not—and is not—an instant classic, and is perhaps not even that memorable. It is said that if it would not be a sequel to one of the most heralded works of art in all of cinema history—the film Kubrick towards the end of his life considered his best work—it would be all but completely forgotten now; and if it were not for the fact that it is this very sequel, it would never be written about at all. Especially not 30 years after it was initially released.


Forgotten Space

Do not expect any 30th anniversary re-release of the movie. Warner Bros has displayed a monumental disregard for the film. The only post-VHS releases have been a woefully poor DVD implementation and a Blu-Ray version of the same. The extras consist of one single 9 minute featurette made in 1984 plus a beat up film trailer. Those in the know are aware of several scenes that were axed from the theater version, scenes that could easily be included as buying incentives with minimal work, such as a sweet goodbye scene between Heywood and Caroline Floyd, the original aerobraking voice-over, the much longer aerobraking preparation scenes, the original Wilson and Moisevitch voice-overs, the greetings to Caroline, the Accessway 2 dialogue between Floyd and Curnow, and so on. No plans for inclusion of them as extras exist.

To make things worse for any refurbished release of the movie is the sad fact that many of the cast and crew are no longer with us. Roy Scheider who played Heywood Floyd is gone, as is Natasha Shneider who played Irina Yakunina. Dana Elcar who played Dimitri Moisevitch has also since passed away, as has TV announcer Gene McCarr and Saveliy Kramarov who played Dr. Rudenko. Herta Ware who played Jessie Bowman has passed away, and Cheryl Carter who played her nurse is no longer with us, either. Studio head Frank Yablans has also joined the Choir Invisible, as has art cinematographer Dave Stewart, and none of the three main sound managers are any longer here. Patricia Norris who was nominated for an Oscar for her work on the movie passed away earlier this year. Sad is also the loss of writer Arthur C. Clarke. Many others have simply retired from movies, such as Madelyn Smith Osborne who played Caroline Floyd, and James McEachin who played Victor Wilson. The list is long and keeps getting longer, and no forthcoming specials seem to be on the horizon. To make it short, what we have is what we will get. Enjoy it for what it is, because there will be nothing more.

If one wants to be a bit murky and unforgiving the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact is ”good” only in the sense that it is ”not bad”. But as has been said, Hyams meant well with 2010. Give him some slack and appreciate his movie as one of the best glitzy popcorn wasters from the eighties. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Please do yourself a favour and do not expect it to be 2001. It isn’t.



Images copyright ©1984 M-G-M.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Roy Scheider - Making Contact in "2010"


BY LEE GOLDBERG


If you look at Roy Scheider's hard, lined face, you can understand why killer sharks, New York street gangs, devious chopper pilots and international assassins think twice about messing with him. This guy is tough.

Even the alien intelligence that sparked the evolution of mankind on Earth and placed an ominous Monolith orbiting the planet Jupiter might have second thoughts about tangling with him. But they'll have to anyway. Because Scheider, as intrepid scientist Heywood Floyd, is coming to make contact with them to find out what really happened to the ship he dispatched, the Discovery, and the crew aboard it.

This is the story of 2010, director/writer/producer/cinematographer Peter Hyams' long-awaited, $30 million sequel to Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scheider is assuming the role originated by William Sylvester, an actor whose lack of popular appeal seemingly precluded his involvement in 2010 from the outset.

Roy Scheider as Heywood Floyd.
"I was Peter's first choice," Scheider explains, taking a break between shots in his trailer beside MGM's mammoth Stage 30. Clad in his crew jumpsuit, he looks out of place in the drab, familiar environs of a mobile home. "Peter had me in mind while he was writing the screenplay from Arthur C. Clarke's book. I read the first 80 pages of the script, which he hadn't finished yet, and I was interested. He explained to me what he planned to do with the rest of the story and I agreed to do the movie."


Exploring 2010

Scheider was seduced by the dramatic conflicts swirling around Floyd. "That's what I look for first in a screenplay," he says. "Is whatever happened to him interesting to the audience? Does anyone want to look at him? Will they care? And is there enough to interest me as an actor? When you get those two factors together, where the character is interesting and the character challenges me as an actor, that's a real plus."

Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010 wasn't required reading for Scheider's role. "I deliberately avoided the book because I'm performing the screenplay," the actor says. "I don't want to confuse the two."

For the same reason, he didn't rush out to see 2001 again. But the memory of past viewings still lingers.

"When I saw 2001, it blew my mind just like it did to everyone else," Scheider recalls. "The actors were never the stars of 2001. The special effects were. If anything, HAL was the major actor. As I've seen it more and more times since then, I still marvel at the technical things, but the choice Kubrick made to make it particularly and deliberately dull in a very modern situation was a wonderful conceit. It can only work once when you see the film for the first time. Afterwards, if just becomes very, very, very dull."

"Peter Hyams made a very good point when he told me didn't want the people in this film to be dull like in 2001 because the device won't work twice. That grandiose space movie Kubrick did can't be done again. You can't pull the same stunt twice."

That's why few members of the cast or crew openly refer to 2010 as a sequel. They prefer to view it as an entirely new motion picture.

"This is a whole new deal," Scheider stresses. "For instance, one reason I did not go see 2001 before doing this film is that they are not related at all until we get up in space and find the Discovery. Only then do the two stories connect. I would say that 80% of this movie really hasn't got much to do with 2001 except that it has the same setting: space."

It's a setting which involves the employment of many state-of-the-art special effects. Scheider is no stranger to working with this technical side of movie magic. In Jaws and Jaws 2, he pursued a mechanical Great White Shark across the seas. In Blue Thunder, he scorched across the skies in a helicopter which resembled a flying tank.

The relationship between the actor and the special effects is a difficult one, and Scheider is still trying to reach an amiable accord.

"My only problem with them is the amount of time that elapses between shots to get the special effects set up," he says. "It's debilitating. The hard thing is to keep the energy level up and maintain continuity. I would never adapt my acting style to work around special effects. I always consider special effects the enemy. I know they are necessary, but, for actors, they just get in the way."

Special effects, though, play a far less important role in 2010 than they did in 2001. As the 2010 cast frequently observes, this film will emphasize character over hardware.

"It's also a much better story. I think the audience will have a better time with this film than they had with the first one," Scheider says. "This film's plot will be much clearer than 2001. There's a story you can hook onto here and ride to the end, which you couldn't do with 2001, which was all kind of marvellous and mind-blowing. But ask anyone on the street how 2001 ends and they can't tell you. And that includes me. The only person who knows is Stanley Kubrick, and it really doesn't matter because that movie went off on an extraterrestrial flight at the end, which is OK, because how the hell are you going to end a movie like that one anyway?"

That doesn't mean, Scheider stresses, that elements of the first space odyssey will be lost or ignored in this encore. Keir Dullea's return as David Bowman, for example provided it's own special impact for both cast and crew.

"It was eerie playing a scene with Keir Dullea," Scheider says. "We all felt strange. He felt just as eerie about being there as we felt about seeing him."

Heywood Floyd on board the Leonov.
In the final analysis, the basic difference between the two films, Scheider believes, is that 2010 should be "more fun and more exciting to watch" while still solving many of the questions raised in 2001: A Space Odyssey "and presenting a whole new level of mysteries that will be easier for the audience to hold on to. It's pretty fantastic. I think the audience will leave this film with their minds expanded."

He grins and shrugs. "I mean, it's pretty fantastical what happens at the end. If you want to think about the possibilities of there being a new sun in the sky and a whole new universe - that sets up a pretty exciting frontier which makes what's happening on Earth seem pretty trivial."

What's occurring on Earth during Floyd's trek aboard the Russian spacecraft Leonov to Jupiter is that tensions are quickly increasing between the two superpowers. The world teeters on the brink of a world war, Earth-bound animosity reaches out into space and touches the international crew journeying to delve into the mysteries of the Discovery.

"That's the story's real conflict," Scheider announces, "the cold war heating up between the Russian and American crew while they are out in space."


Piloting "Blue Thunder"

When it came to conflict on Blue Thunder, there were some reported skirmishes - including remarks in STARLOG interviews - between director John Badham (STARLOG #70) and screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (STARLOG #71).

"Blue Thunder went through a lot of changes," Scheider concedes. "The script I read was not the script which ended up being shot. They had two more writers come on and then a third. Then, they went back to the original two guys who got the screen credit [O'Bannon and Don Jakoby]. I mean, what attracted everyone in the first place was what really made the story good, so they went back to the drawing board." [Scheider discusses Blue Thunder in depth in an interview in STARLOG #73.]

O'Bannon was offended by the ad-libbed dialogue Badham encouraged the actors to deliver. The screenwriter, who recently directed Return of the Dead from his own script (FANGORIA #40), took the ad-libbing as an insult to his writing.

"Much of the stuff between Daniel Stern [of Diner, see STARLOG #74] and myself, you know that bullshit macho dialogue in the helicopter, was mostly ad-libbed stuff. John Badham encouraged us to do it," Scheider explains. "He did that because it worked for the film. It helped establish a relationship and that's hard to do on paper."

O'Bannon's displeasure baffles Scheider.

"Since the movie did about $80 million worldwide," the actor says. "I don't think Dan O'Bannon should be too unhappy. I know for a fact that John never treated those guys with anything less than respect and invited then to the set and showed them dailies."

"As a filmmaker, I think John is a little more sophisticated about how things will affect an audience than they [O'Bannon and Jakoby] are. And I'm a guy who believes that the writers are absolutely the number one creative force in any movie."

"I make it my business to meet the screenwriter, because where are you going to find out more about your character than from him?" Scheider continues. "You discover what compelled him to write the screenplay in the first place. If I like the script, and I chose to do it, it means I like the character to begin with and anything I bring to it is just an embellishment on what the writers already have. So, I don't have conflicts with writers."

Scheider can sympathize with a writer's position in a film's hierarchy and the anger that sometimes results when an actor "takes over" a role.

"How would you like it if you wrote a movie, and they cast the part, and the actor signs a contract to play the character for X amount of dollars and on the first day of shooting, he says, 'I don't like the character.' How would you feel?" Scheider argues. "So, an actor can't do that, he can't say, 'Wait a minute. I'm not playing this guy because I have a better idea.' That's why some actors get fired the first week of shooting."


Suffering Sequelitis

Shceider has earned the respect of the film industry and its audience for an unending series of performances of unquestioned integrity. His first major screen role cam as Jane Fonda's slimy pimp in the Oscar winning detective film Klute. Next, he was Gene Hackman's cop partner in director William Friedkin's Oscar-winner, The French Connection. Performances etched in honesty followed in such films as The Seven-Ups, Jaws, Jaws 2, Marathon Man, All That Jazz, Still of the Night and Blue Thunder.

Born in New Jersey, Scheider had a serious bout with rheumatic fever as a child. He found refuge in the world of books. His college career began at Rutgers and continued at Franklin and Marshall, a small school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he first experienced the joys of acting. However, he followed a school ROTC commitment with two years in the Air Force. Flunking flight school with low math scores, he became an air traffic controller.

Discharged from the service, Scheider and his new wife moved to New Jersey. The marriage fizzled. In the meantime, Scheider pursued an acting career and began making his mark in Shakespearean theater. He married actress Cynthia Bebout, now working as a film editor. Critical accolades for his stage work eventually led him to the screen and international fame.

Most of his movies belong to the action/adventure genre. And those are the kind of films Scheider likes to see.

"Yes, they are. I wouldn't make them if I didn't like to see them," he reveals. "For instance, when I read Blue Thunder, I found the helicopter a fascinating concept. If you've read the newspapers lately and you look at what's being built at Hughes and used at the Olympics, you'll see it's nearly the same machine. So, I felt that Blue Thunder has some historical significance. And Jaws, of course, was just about the most exciting blast of a yarn I had read in a long time. I like to do movies I would like to go out and see."

He must be doing something right. After all, three of Scheider's blockbusters have inspired sequels of one type or another. There was French Connection 2, in which Scheider didn't appear though he "liked it a lot, I loved the way they unleashed Popeye Doyle, this New York barbarian, on French society. But, I think it suffered from sequelitis." There were reports of a Blue Thunder theatrical sequel, but Columbia opted instead for a TV series (STARLOG #81). Was Scheider offered the starring role?

"Yep," he nods.

And what did he say to the producers?

"No," he shakes his head empathically. "Absolutely no."

He wasn't able to say the same when Universal asked him to go to sea again for Jaws 2, though he would have preferred to turn that encore down.

"I did Jaws 2 because of a contractual obligation to Universal. It wasn't my choice," he says. "It was a plain sequel. I don't think it stood on its own as a movie. That wasn't a natural sequel at all. I don't think it was necessary to have that shark appear again. There isn't any way to top the first film."

Getting Steven Spielberg to helm the shark thriller, again, though, might have been a good beginning. When John Hancock, the original director of Jaws 2, departed after a few weeks of shooting (executives reportedly thought the film looked "too gothic"), Universal asked Spielberg to take over.

"He agreed to do it if they gave him five months to develop what he considered a worthwhile story," Scheider says. "They wouldn't give him that time. I was all for it, but they didn't want to wait the extra five months."

The final film, directed by Night Gallery veteran Jeannot Swarzc (interviewed this issue re: Supergirl, see page 37) disappointed Scheider, but it achieved box-office success. Spielberg, according to Scheider, "didn't think very highly of the film at all."

Still, it was financially rewarding enough to merit yet another sequel, Jaws 3-D (STARLOG #74). "I didn't see it," Scheider discloses. "I had absolutely no curiosity at all."

Although 2010 closes with some open-ended questions, and Clarke is planning another sequel, 20.001: The Final Odyssey, Scheider doubts there will be another cinematic follow-up.

"There are certain stories that lend themselves to sequels," Roy Scheider says. "And this isn't one of them."


(Originally published in Starlog Magazine #90. Copyright ©1984 Starlog. Images copyright ©1984 MGM.)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Natasha Shneider dead at 52

A Russian rebel became an American alternative rocker. Such events seldom happen and people rarely transform in corresponding a fashion, unless they first are cosmonauts on a mission to Jupiter, of course.


Irina Yakunina (Natasha Shneider) being amazed on board the Leonov.

Natalia Shnaydermanova was born in 1956 in Riga, Latvia, to a then-Latvian Jewish family. Moving to Moscow as a child and growing up there with her artistic family, music was a big part of her everyday life. Natalia's father Michael - "Misha" - was an accordionist and her mother Larissa was a Folk singer. Her sister Vera followed in her mother's foot steps and also became a singer. Natalia - also spelled Natasha - started playing piano early on, as did her 6 years older, Siberian-born brother Vladimir.

The 1975 album 'Sovremennik'
Natasha got a classical music education at the University of Moscow, where she in 1973 met her future husband Serge, at an underground rock session, no less. While in her teens, she and her husband joined the Anatoly Kroll-led, state sponsored orchestra Sovremennik, which played mainly jazzy, contemporary, Russian music. The name of the orchestra itself means "contemporary". Since the band was sponsored by the state, the repertoire had to be approved by the culture commission. This meant absolutely no rock'n'roll.


Her brother Vladimir meanwhile played in the nine-piece band Singing Hearts, who while being sufficiently successful were also tightly controlled by the state.


Emigration

In 1973 they collectively made the decision to apply for emigration clearance. They immediately started clandestinely preparing, gathering documentation, studying the legalese and so on, and the clarity of the decision became more and more apparent as time went on. The anti-Jewish sentiments in Russia played a not small part in their decision to apply. "Sure you feel it. You always feel it. They make you feel it, at every turn of your life - going to college, whatever," she reminisced. To make matters more complicated, Natasha became pregnant. "I did not want my son to be born in Russia," remembered Natasha. There was only one clear option in her mind. "I wanted him to be an American citizen."

The fact they were Jewish gave them a fighting chance to actually succeed, "much thanks to the pressure American Jews were putting on the Soviet state," Natasha noted. However, the process took months and months of negotiations and $700 per person. "Had we not been Jews," according to Vladimir, "we would not have been allowed to depart our native country." Upon filing their emigration papers all of their employments were terminated. "Serge and I had to leave our jobs," Natasha said. "We didn't have any income for about five months. We waited and were preparing psychologically and writing material."

Natasha, already several months pregnant at the time, clearly remembered the date they finally departed Moscow, December 30, 1975. As a final greeting from the authorities they were told the plane was overloaded and they had to leave their personal belongings behind if they wanted to board. The next flight to their destination was a whopping five days after their visas would have expired. After nerve-wrenching deliberation and after leaving their personal items and hard-earned instruments to their fate, they board the plane, only to find it empty except for one other small family in the farthest corner.

The state had said farewell.


Making New Music

They flew to Vienna for two weeks before moving on to Rome for a three-month stay. They were intent on reaching America, where they had relatives, to establish themselves as recording artists. Finally, on May 26, 1976, the Kapustins, Vladimir, and the Shneiderman parents arrived in the United States. Two months after they arrived, Serge's and Natasha's son Robin was born.

The Kapustins, backed up by Natasha's brother Vladimir, immediately founded a band upon arriving in the States. Being influenced by soul and rhythm'n'blues artists, the band played a unique style of R&B inspired disco with a classical European-Russian touch. Being Russian and playing 'black' music the name of the band predictably became Black Russian. The name has longer roots than that, though. Already in Moscow while listening to rock'n'roll on banned radio stations such as Radio Luxembourg and Voice of America, Natasha's group of friends were called 'the black Russians'. "There are many meanings in the name," remembers Natasha. "It means we are black Russians, not red Russians. And we were black sheep."

Working odd jobs during the day - Vladimir as a security guard and Natasha as a hotel desk clerk and later as a fashion model - and playing gigs at night, they worked very hard to get established. The older Serge already had a degree in organic chemistry and found work at a cosmetics company. Yet, the focus was on music.


The First Album

The 1980 album 'Black Russian'.
After a year and a half in New York the trio's demos were finally heard by Guy Costa, a Motown vice president, who ended up as the group's manager. Leaving their son Robin with the Scheiderman parents, the trio moved to Southern California in 1977 only to find that their liaison had been fired. The times, in a manner of speaking, were hard. They lived in the basement of a Russian church and continued to work odd jobs outside the music business to make ends meet. Finally the group signed a deal, in November of 1979.


The deal with the record company was, in the words of the Kapustins "for an album and a half." In 1980, after four months of intense production, the band finally released their debut album, the self-titled Black Russian. Consisting of a solid but groovy foundation of disco beats layered with classical themes the music was, for wont of a better word, unusual. Having a unique sound was not a blessing, though. The quirky music, while liked by critics, meant it was destined to not shift many units.

A 1980 review in Playboy called it "Tshaikovsky with drums".


Acting

Despite some glowing reviews the album did not sell well at all. Desillusioned, the Kapustins ran into hard times. By 1982 they had divorced and Natasha reverted to her maiden name, now using the spelling Shneider.

Taking a break during shooting of 2010.
Frustrated she turned to acting, trying to find roles in various productions. Her self confidence, her looks, and her fashion model experience eventually landed her a small part in 1983 as Ludmilla Moroz in the TV series Hill Street Blues, in the episode "The Russians Are Coming".

Meanwhile, director Peter Hyams had decided he would use "nothing less but genuine Soviet actors" in his latest production, 2010. Hyams contacted movie producer and director Paul Mazursky, who had interviewed hundreds of Russian emigres for his film Moscow on the Hudson. One of the names on Mazursky's list was Natasha Shneider. Hyams read her file and set up a meeting with her.

"I met with the producer and director Peter Hyams," Natasha said, "and we talked for four hours. He never asked me whether I had studied acting. I was very surprised with that." The New York-born director seemed more interested in what kind of person the actress was. "We talked about philosophy," she said, "and notions on life. Strange, isn't it?"

"He said he saw everything he needed to see," she said, "on a test I made for another film." The 'other film' was Gorky Park.

Director Hyams picked Shneider to play Irina Yakunina, the Soviet scientist. While a relatively minor role, it was to become her most visible foray into acting. It seemed acting was only a temporary gig for her. Even in the press releases for the movie, she stated that she "hopes to resume her solo singing career after filming 2010". Sure enough, after 2010, Shneider only had two more acting gigs. One in 1985 as the character Laura Gretsky - acting with her real life son Robin - in the episode "Bushido" of the TV series Miami Vice, and the other as the Polish character Wanda Yakubovska in the 1986 movie Spiker.

Years later her final movie-related project was composing the theme song 'Who's in Control?' for the 2004 movie Catwoman, starring Halle Berry.

The movie bug, it seems, never really bit her.


Eleven 'til Midnight

Natasha on stage.
In 1987 she was re-married, to Chilean-born guitarist Alain Johannes, and they released the album Walk the Moon, to little fanfare. In 1990 the couple founded the band Eleven, and started denting the Billboard charts.

Meanwhile, the couple did many collaborations with luminaries such as Chris Cornell - of Soundgarden fame - co-writing his probably most famous solo track Flutter Girl. Subsequently they toured with Cornell in support of his album Euphoria Morning. Other collaborations included playing on Queens of the Stone Age's album Songs for the Deaf, and touring in support of their Lullabies to Paralyze album.

In August of 2007 Natasha was diagnosed with cancer, variously disclosed as lung cancer and cervical cancer. She started an aggressive chemo-therapy regimen and was already deep in battle with the disease when she made her final appearance, recording harpsichord in 2008 for the Louis XIV track 'Guilt by Association'.


Natasha never got to see the year 2010 for herself. She passed away July 2, 2008. She was 52.



[After writing this article, we were informed Natasha's older brother Vladimir Schneider passed away in 2012. He was 62.]