On Saturday I went to a memorial service for Ray Farkas. He died recently at 71.
I met him in the late-’70s when I was a teenager, and I knew then he worked in television, but for years to me he was just my friend Mark’s dad, a guy we had to hide from when we were raiding his liquor cabinet and/or refrigerator.
But that all changed in 1989, when I was watching a now-defunct CBS news magazine show called “W. 57th” and a segment called “Nashville” came on.
I’d made a pilgrimage to Nashville years earlier and fallen for the place, and this TV piece, in a matter of minutes, and with no voiceover, totally captured that city back when it was crammed with dirtball dreamers and guitars were just lottery tickets, before Garth Brooks screwed it all up by mainstreaming country music and bringing in all sorts of labels and corporate money. The film was so good it made me cry.
And, when the credits rolled, I saw it was made by Ray Farkas. He wasn’t just my friend Mark’s dad! He’s also a genius!
Everything I’ve seen by Ray in the years since confirmed this additional attribute. At his service, there was much talk about how before Ray Farkas came along nobody in TV news used all the long-distance camera shot and ambient-noise gimmicks found in that “W. 57th” segment and pretty much everything he produced in the last 40 years. They showed clips from Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, which Ray covered for NBC, and he was shooting his subjects from across rooms or highways even then. He had a style.
A few scenes from “Nashville,” which I hadn’t seen since 1989, were also shown. I cried all over again, as I know I would have even if Ray was still alive.