Rarely has the loss of a public figure meant as much to Glamwire as the loss of Christopher Eric Hitchens, who died Thursday night in Houston. He was a brilliant author and speaker, a gliterring touch of tweedy, Scotch-soaked England in the night, who dropped into the “Mornic Inferno” of Americana and loved it so much that he lived in Washington D. C. and died in Texas. As much as anyone, if not more, he was at the center of the first few films produced by some of the people behind this website.
I first saw Hitchens on September 1, 2001 at the Telluride Film Festival. He was on stage doing a panel interview with Michael Moore, and said something like “do u mean…we have everything to fear including fear istelf?” Here was a dude really having a blast with words. I had found a new hero.
Hitchens was a hero of language, and most definitely a hero of eloquence. We have no way of knowing what Benjamin Disraeli sounded like…but if anyone in modern times could give the world an idea of being so dazzling with words that everyone forgets everything else…spoken, as Disraeli spoke, with a top-of-the-line British accent…it had to be Hitchens. To me, and many other people, he was the most eloquent person alive.
I first met the journalist in 2004, when I filmed “The God Debate” one of his many debates on God, this time engaging “America’s Rabbi” Shmuley Boteach…I interviewed him extensively on that day….the kicker question I think was “Given your stance on the war…what was Anna Wintour like in the 70s?” He went out with Wintour at Oxford in the early 1970s. He seemed to take to me well from then on.
I loved dancing around language in the few times I had a chance to talk and work with Hitchens, and in 2005 I went to Washington to interview him at his pad at the Wyoming building, with Scott Pellegrino and Florence S. Lunn. He was bearded…and this man, who had leaned towards Bush for years…had written and spoken passionatey in justification of W’s middle eastern wars….during that interview unleashed his inner Trotskyite and throughout the interview was wildly humane, progressive and used the word “comrade” like once every sentance. You would ask Hitchens how he was and with that great mischevous look about the eye he’d always say “It’s a bit too early to tell.” It becomes a little bit more disarming when one says “It’s a bit too early to tell…comrade.” It had been a challenge for me in my life to get a few films up…when those films came up for whatever reason Christopher Hitchens wound up being the centerpiece of them. I felt in my lunar imagination that I could go toe to toe with him…and there was no one more interesting on the face of the earth to go toe to toe linguistically then this man.
I remember on that day he took us into his and Carolyn Blue’s bedroom to drink Scotch and watch Stones videos…he looked at Mick and again, with his famous gleam in his eye he said “theres nothing better than this” and he pointed to the tv with the Stones on it. He had a way of totally charming out of town journalists that came to his pad.
Hitchens had what I like to call “Professional Integrity” he would couch beliefs that were sincere in words that were designed to get the highest rate per word on whatever day he was speaking or writing. He absolutely loved to write…during one interview, he came in from another room looked at me, again with that great mischevous look, and said: “Just one more paragraph” and went back into the room to write another paragraph. He had a way of charming bookish, disheveled dudes, and I’m assuming, he had a away charming just about anyone.
I did not know Hitchens well and can barely claim to have known him at all. But somehow, though the work of a talented producer named Scott Pellegrino, he forged a huge part of my early film work, and as I move forward he is deeply deeply influential on current work. Hitchens very often would not show up for other people that were way more established than I was: he just seemed to like me and Scott. If you were to tell me that after I first photographed him in 2001 that I’d be giving him the piece below as a gift in his place several years later I would’ve been really shocked. It was a delightful occurence in my life. Someone who really was an intellectual star. You do an event and 25 college aged men stand in a semi circle around you after the event. This was alot of what a Hithcens tour looked like, and it was great to see.
This is an incredibly sad day: one of the most beautiful sounding voices of our time will no longer speak.