Appraisals and appreciations of Paul Newman haven't been in especially short supply since his death last weekend; Robert Redford even got two chances at a eulogy, with his ABC rough draft giving way to an essay in the new issue of Time Magazine. We love a good Butch and Sundance/Sting story as much as the next grieving viewer, but nothing has yet proved as illuminating as Sam Mendes's reminiscence rolling out in next week's New York Magazine. The last man to direct Newman in a feature film, Mendes may not have acquired decades' worth of personal dirt to dig through, but with veteran cinematographer Connie Hall on the set, he didn't really need it:
He was 76 when I worked with him on Road to Perdition. Conrad Hall was the cinematographer. He was about Paul’s age, maybe slightly younger, and he’d also shot Harper, Cool Hand Luke, and Butch Cassidy, so he had seen Paul from the age of 40, and there they were in their seventies, still shooting together. It was very moving. At one point he was shooting a close-up of Paul looking into a fire, and I turned round and Conrad was crying as he lit the shot.
I asked him what was the matter, and he just said, “He was so beautiful.” And I said, “Well, he’s beautiful now!” And he said, “Yeah, but he was so beautiful.” I think he was crying for both of them. But whereas Conrad, you see, was sort of not at peace with the idea of death and growing older, Paul said several times, “Yeah, I’ve had some great innings, it’s about time I give all this up. It’s all a bit silly.” There was this real sense of grace and dignity. He had nothing left to prove. He knew what a fortunate and wonderful life he had led, and he was very willing to admit that. That really lent him an aura of a minor deity to me. He had sort of ascended already.That's just the first segment; there's much more where it came from. And while our job is to perhaps summarize this in some pithy, innocuous way, some stories really just demand telling themselves. So bravo, Mr. Mendes, and for what will in all likelihood be the last time, RIP, Mr. Newman. That is all.