Wheeler Opera House to honor Lorenzo Semple’s creative genius
September 22, 2014
Aspen will pay tribute to screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, the creator of the campy TV series "Batman," who moved his family to Aspen from Los Angeles in the 1970s, with an evening of clips and stories Tuesday night at the Wheeler Opera House.
Semple died in March at age 91.
Presented by Aspen Film and the Aspen Writers' Foundation, the tribute promises to be an entertaining evening including a compilation of highlights from Semple's work and stories from two of his children: Aspen Daily News columnist Lorenzo Semple III and novelist Maria Semple.
"It's going to be a fun night," his son said.
Semple's most enduring creation was the absurdly comic Adam West "Batman" series, which began in 1966 and quickly became a pop-culture treasure. In the screenwriting career that followed, Semple penned political thrillers, schlocky cult classics, big-budget remakes and a James Bond film.
In the prime of his Hollywood career, in 1974, Semple packed his family into a station wagon and left for Aspen. For more than two decades, he was a fixture in town, writing scripts from various downtown offices and turning his home into a salon-style intellectual hub.
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Semple had an uncanny eye for the bizarre that shined through in much of his work.
"His campy style was all about looking at things and being able to find humor in them where it might not be obvious," Lorenzo Semple III said.
Conan O'Brien homed in on Semple's groundbreaking approach during an interview on "The Nerdist" in 2012, crediting the "Batman" TV show for changing the game of comedy with its straight-faced absurdity.
"I still think 'Batman' is pound-for-pound the funniest show ever made," O'Brien said. "It's so insane, and Adam West has such conviction about what he's doing. … They're so far ahead of the curve."
The curated film clips on tap for the tribute include choice moments from "Batman" and from films including the paranoid thrillers "The Parallax View," "Three Days of the Condor" and "The Drowning Pool," cult classics "King Kong," "Sheena" and "Flash Gordon" and the Sean Connery comeback Bond movie "Never Say Never Again."
A young Jessica Lange fights off King Kong in Semple's 1976 remake of the Hollywood classic, cursing him as a "damn chauvinist ape." West's Batman climbs up a rope ladder toward a helicopter while fighting off a shark. Tanya Roberts, as the jungle queen Sheena, gallantly rides a horse painted as a zebra across a faux-African landscape.
West praises Semple's vision of "Batman" in an interview clip, saying, "I'd never seen anything like it on television or even in the movies."
Semple himself shows up talking about his approach to the off-the-wall "Flash Gordon" and shares a few gems about being on eccentric producer Dino De Laurentis' set. A 2007 clip of Semple and producer Marcia Nasatir from their gut-busting movie-review Web series "Reel Geezers" also is included.
"It struck me how many great actors he got to write lines for," Lorenzo Semple III said.
That list includes early turns by stars like Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen, Melanie Griffith, Kim Basinger, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway along with legends like Jason Robards, Connery and Paul Newman. The great Max Von Sydow played villains in three of Semple's films — "Never Say Never Again," "Flash Gordon" and "Hurricane."
Maria Semple and Lorenzo Semple III also shared a local stage this spring at a Writers' Foundation event in which they discussed Maria's novel "Where'd You Go Bernadette" shortly after their father's passing.
"Of all the wild accomplishments and wonderful things he did, he might have been most proud of his decision to move the family to Aspen," Maria Semple said of her father that night.