ROCKET SCIENCE: Such Things as I will Never Understand

Frank Cotolo's Rocket Science

I saw a documentary about Industrial Light & Magic (I L & M), which thoroughly explained the evolution of digital special effects in movies. As part of the history of computer-generated imaging (CGI) directors and actors commented upon their experience working in movies using CGI for the first time.

One of those speaking is Robin Williams.

Robin discusses what it was like to run from a stampede of jungle animals that were not there at the time of filming because they would be created by CGI in post-production. His monologue continues through scenes of his character on the set of the movie. Robin does not become technical about his part of the process. He says something like “It just comes down to doing a lot of running.”

Much like Robin, I only vaguely comprehended the CGI technology in his segment of the documentary but seeing celluloid Robin hurled me into a deeper misapprehension than had to do with digital filmmaking.

The light and magic in the CGI process, as intricate and tedious as it became, was not enough light nor magic to make me understand why Robin went into a closet and hanged himself.

I L & M exists in an area of technology that has led to do far more than make humanity believe in a galaxy far, far away. The film process brought the same “magic” technology to the world of medicine and so, indirectly, the creative whims of George Lukas wound up saving real lives, as the intensity of digital visual technology explored the inner space of the human frame. Magic, indeed, or the closest thing science gets to it.

And still, Robin hanged himself in his closet.

Matthew D. Dovel, President of International Suicide Prevention, wrote, “There is only one way anyone can consciously make the decision to commit suicide. The survival instinct has to be activated to protect the soul from a perceived threat by one, or both of the other two components—the mind and, or, the body.”

I am no tech wizard but it is more simply understood how a highway overpass crumbles and falls in a Steven Spielberg movie without appearing to be anything but one hundred percent real to the optic nerve than it is to decipher why Robin goes into an ordinary closet and hangs there until dead.

The image of Robin hanging dead in a closet is a scene that defies light and magic. It is indelible. Therefore, I find it hard to believe.

I saw Robin for the first time decades ago when he was a fledgling force of standup comedy that attacked the senses. He spewed energy that was Jonathan Winters squared. No one was ready for it; few believed how efficiently it sucked the air out of the small room. We gasped, we choked on our laughter, and we tried to keep up with his breakneck speed.


Perhaps that was a clue? Coming of age at a breakneck pace will eventually cause one to purposely break his neck?

That still does not do justice to realizing the image of Robin hanging in a closet. It’s easier to accept CGI of the world’s implosion in 2012, per the movie, 2012.

Although I was brushing shoulders and working in comedy with Robin and that season’s crop of jokesters during his early career, I did not have any sort of relationship with him. I barely approached him for fear his energy would set me aflame. Two anomalies rarely merge. I did, however, understand how and why his forceful brand of vitality was based upon serious training—order from chaos—and I was not surprised when he won an Oscar in a serious role because I knew how thin was the line between Hamlet and The Tramp. Maybe as thin as between life and death?

Robin never truly peaked. Even as he, like other actors, began to co-star in movies laden with CGI, there was nothing but promise in his future. No part he could play was too small or two big. In all three of the mega-CGI episodes in the museum-night movies, for instance, he defined Teddy Roosevelt’s persona forever. His short-lived TV series in 2013 displayed how he had grown since his cartoon Mork character. In essence, he was one of the rare actors keeping his flesh and bone in pace with the meteoric progress I L & M was having in all mediums.

Then, in August of 2014, at age 63, he is found hanging in a closet.

None of the other personality suicides I lived through, nor any of the personal-related suicides I lived through, were products of light or magic. As well, even though I won’t ever understand the sure-fire science of CGI, it can be explained and it can continue to expand its functions and I will accept it all. We will all accept it all and come to expect it and we will think nothing of it, eventually.

Robin Williams hanging in a closet, dead by his own device, however, will never be explained, and it represents that the human condition is as out of control as it is able to create light and magic.

These are such things as I will never understand.

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1 Comment

  • Hi Frank! Happy to see you publishing! This is Kurt Bujack , Ampcast old timer. I have been writing drafts about a great story all about Ampcast. My first call was going to Jeff Straub, Texas Hot Radio. I just found out he passed away last month. Damn.
    Hope all is well Frank!
    Kurt Bujack
    206 432 5936

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