I Feel Kind of Guilty About Dennis Farina

Here’s the thing: I read about Dennis Farina passing away yesterday and I felt terrible about it.

At home (I’m on vacation now), I keep lists of actors. It’s an obsessive-compulsive thing. I have lists of favorite actors, lists of actors whose films I have yet to see (oh, to actually watch something with Christoph Waltz… but I digress) and lists of actors who I’ve seen in some stuff but I don’t yet consider them “favorites.” Some time ago I put Dennis Farina on a sub-list of actors who I should eventually put on the not-yet-favorite list.

It’s true that I quite like him in Out of Sight, which I sometimes consider my Steven Soderbergh film if I’m not in the mood to lean towards Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Farina’s good in Out of Sight as Jennifer Lopez’s dad, the kind of guy who knows that his daughter, a U.S. marshal, wants a gun for her birthday.

I also recall his being the host of “Unsolved Mysteries,” a show which still makes me feel kind of creeped out. Most of that had to do with the music and Robert Stack’s somewhat unsettling voice (when he was the host), so I guess that’s not Dennis Farina’s fault.

What always bothered me, though, was Farina’s character on “Law & Order.” I’m a big, big fan of Dick Wolf’s entire L&O universe (though I’ve never seen “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” or “Conviction,” or that TV movie from the late 90s with Chris Noth) but I could never really enjoy watching Farina’s detective, Joe Fontana. It always stung that he replaced Jerry Orbach – no one was better than Det. Lennie Briscoe – who died later that year in 2004. (He was the same age as Farina: 69.) There’s one particular episode with Farina that irritated me: “Locomotion,” from season 15, in which Farina is so angered with the uncooperative suspect that he tries to make him talk by pushing his head down into a toilet in the guy’s apartment. It seemed so thuggish, so totally unlike what the great detectives from the first decade of the show would have done.

Anyway. I just feel bad about Dennis Farina passing away so young. I feel bad that I had the chance to see him in person at the Museum of the Moving Image at an October 2011 event and I decided not to go. (I guess I was busy with some college midterms.) The screening was for a film called The Last Rites of Joe May and Farina was there to discuss it and his career in general. I wish I had gone; it might have changed my perspective on this actor.

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