Remembering Brian Blue

Brian Mark Blue, formerly Brian Henke, died on Saturday, March 8, after a long battle with cancer. He was 37 and is survived by his young daughter, Isabella, and his sisters, Heather Wildin and Hillary Brestar, among his many loved ones. (For a full accounting, please visit Brian’s obituary is here.)

On Friday, March 14, I attended his memorial service, arranged by Hillary and Heather.

brian2.jpgBrian was one of the most enthusiastic people I have had the pleasure to know. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Seattle in 1995 and started working at Scarecrow Video. I was down on the floor putting out new additions to the inventory when my defining moment came. I was merely an observer – I didn’t even catch the conversation that led up to it, it was some testosterone movie or bizarre cult film that Brian was trumpeting with all the enthusiasm and excitement he brought to any discussion of a film that captured his heart – but I remember the response vividly. Ariana, his good friend and co-worker, simply eyed him with a look of appreciative amusement and said, “Brian, you are such a boy!” He simply beamed with his cat-that-caught-the-canary grin. The key there is that she said “boy” and not simply “guy.” While the word carries with it a hint of adolescence and immaturity, I think it captures something pure and youthful and fresh in Brian. As those who knew him would surely agree, Brian’s unrestrained enthusiasm and excitement made him seem younger than his years, someone who still responded to the jaded world with eyes wide open, ready and willing to be surprised and enchanted whenever he was.

I worked with Brian for three years at Scarecrow. I saw countless films with him. I was at his wedding to Holly Blue (Brian took his wife’s name, explaining: “How could I ask a woman I love to take the name Holly Henke?”). And when I left the store in 1998, I trained him to take my position. At the time, Scarecrow was teetering on bankruptcy and leadership was in a state of chaos and denial. The stress was making me miserable and, with mixed feelings and a great deal of anxiety, I gave my notice. The owner, George Latsios, treated my departure like some kind of betrayal and barely acknowledged me as I said my goodbyes on my last day. I was feeling all but abandoned when Brian and Holly invited me to spend the evening with them and gave me a tremendous amount of support. They probably had no idea how important that was to me, but it meant the world to me.

Brian with IsabellaWhen Brian later left Scarecrow, he brought his enthusiasm to the Seattle International Film Festival and his sensibility to the offbeat programming of the festival’s Midnight Movie selection. More importantly, he became a father and lavished all of his love and attention on his daughter, Isabella. Even as our lives inevitably drifted apart, I could always count on seeing him at least once a year when he attended my annual Top Ten party. He never missed one, until his health finally overcame his energy.

Brian with sisters Hillary (left) and Heather (right)Everyone has treasured memories of Brian. I’ll offer my favorite. It was in June of 1999, during the final weekend of the Seattle International Film Festival. I met Brian and Patrick Mathewes for the Midnight Movie screening of “Unlucky Monkey” at the Egyptian Theater. All week, Brian had been trying to find a hard-to-get ticket for the closing night party. He already had one ticket, but he wanted to bring Holly. And his chance came at the movie. Before the movie began, the venue manager took the stage and told the packed theater that he had a ticket for the closing night party. Rather than a raffle or a contest, he offered a challenge: the first person come on stage and take off all their clothes. The words were barely out of his mouth before Brian was pulling off his shirt while scrambling out of the row, and he kept shedding clothes as marched up to the stage, until he tossed off his knickers and strode across the stage – the long way, I might add, from stage left all the way over to stage right – wearing nothing but a smile. He took his ticket, took a bow, and marched right back off. The crowd went wild, cheering his aplomb as much as his daring. He may have lost his clothes, but he wore his dignity and pride and sense of purpose like a suit and came out with that Golden Ticket for Holly.

A lot of Brian’s friends from school and from his Scarecrow years have moved out of state and were not able to return in time for Brian’s Memorial service. So I offer this as a place to share your remembrances.

Brian’s obituary is here and you can visit his guestbook to read comments and leave your own remembrances here.

Update: March 20, 2008 –

Scarecrow’s tribute section went up this week. If you are in Seattle, head on over to Scarecrow Video and see his favorite films gathered together. Kevin Shannon wrote me to say it is renting well.

Also, you can read the remembrance to Brian written by his friend and longtime coworker, Kevin Shannon, on the Scarecrow website here.

Printed below, with the blessings of Hillary Brestar, is the memorial that was read at Brian’s service:

Brian Mark Blue

December 24, 1970- March 8, 2008

Good evening, my name is Michael Wyer. I would like to thank you all for inviting me into this moment in your lives.

We are gathered here to commemorate the life of Brian Mark Blue. This last Saturday, after a long and courageous fight with cancer, Brian left his pain and suffering behind, and moved on.

This is a very difficult time for those Brian left behind. As humans we always ask WHY? Why him? Why now? Why does this have to happen? The search for the answers to these questions has consumed the lives of some of the best minds this world has ever seen. And still there exists no answer upon which all are agreed. As the poet James Elroy Flecker said so beautifully:

…we shall go

Always a little further: it may be

Beyond that that last blue mountain barred with snow,

Across that angry or that glimmering sea,

White on a throne or guarded in a cave

There lives a prophet who can understand

Why men were born…

No, I cannot tell you why we are born, or why we must die. But I can tell you this. Once, an unimaginably long time ago, the entire universe would have fit into the space between my two cupped hands. The universe has grown and changed in ways not fully understood since then. But one thing is understood. All of the energy and all of the matter in the universe today was present in that that first instant. All of it has changed form countless times, but not one bit has ever been lost. So this we do know, nothing is ever truly lost, it only changes form.

Rossiter Worthington Raymond (1840-1918) wrote:

and death is only a horizon;

and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.

And so it is with Brian. He has moved over the horizon. He has moved on to a place where the pain he fought so valiantly no longer holds him. Like the wild geese do in their season, Brian has flown over the horizon. To help us in our understanding Brian left us this poem in his journal.

Wild Geese- by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have the soft animal of your body.

Love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

Are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees,

The mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,

Are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

The world offers itself to your imagination.

Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-

Over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Brian’s place in the family of things was with the people that he loved.

He grew up in Illinois, the oldest child of three. He leaves here with us his two younger sisters, Heather Wildin and Hillary Brestar, strong loving women that surrounded him with their warm love as he fought his cancer and prepared for his journey over the horizon. Brian also leaves us with his two younger cousins, Darrin and Derek Hyde with whom he was very close.

And Brian always held a special place in his heart for his grandparents, Jeanette and Mark Sweet.

This love of family brought great comfort to Brian, and his family did not forsake him, visiting him and raising him up with their presence were Grandmother Jeanette Sweet and his mother’s two sisters Laurie Sweet and Connie Hyde. This is a touching tribute to their love and courage when we remember that their sister, and daughter, Brian’s mother Patricia Anne Henke, traveled over the horizon at the age of only thirty–seven, after her own battle with cancer. I am told Brian often wished that he would celebrate his own thirty-seventh birthday. Happily, that wish was granted.

Life, it is often said, is best thought of as a journey. Along the paths of his

journey Brian was able to explore who he was and who he wanted to be. He found, and married the love of his life, Holly Blue. So much did he love her that he took her name and kept to the end of his days. Holly gave Brian another gift, the greatest gift of all, his daughter Isabella. Brian’s devotion, dedication, and unconditional love for Isabella came from the deepest part of his soul. His smile when he looked at Isabella could melt any heart, and gladdened the hearts of his beloved parents in-law Richard and Barbara Blue.

Another of Brian’s great loves was film making. His ability to translate life’s experiences into film was a profound and moving gift that always made you want to know more about all the things that gave him his fierce drive for life.

Perhaps best of all, Brian was a friend that you wanted till the end. Even when the road of life became tough and rocky, he remembered to be grateful, and never missed a thank-you. As his journey came full circle, Brian held his head high and fought his battle with cancer with dignity and a strength that was a wonder to behold.

And now Brian has moved over the horizon from our sight. But he is not really gone. As Jeanne Willis wrote in her poem:

Inside our Dreams

Where do people go to when they die?
Somewhere down below or in the sky?
“I can’t be sure,” Said Granddad, but it seems
They simply set up home inside our dreams.”

So long as we hold Brian in our minds, he is never truly gone. I would like you to do this: Close your eyes and think of Brian’s face, listen inside of you and remember his voice as I read another poem Brian left us in his journal:

The journey– by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew

What you had to do, and began,

Though the voices around you

Kept shouting

Their bad advice-

Though the whole house

Began to tremble

And you felt the old tug at your ankles-

“ mend my life “

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

Though the wind pried

With its stiff fingers

At the very foundations,

Though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late enough, and a wild night,

And the road full of fallen branches and stones.

But little by little,

As you left their voices behind

The stars began to burn the sheets of clouds,

And there was a new voice

Which you slowly

Recognized as your own,

That kept you company

As you strode deeper and deeper

Into the world,

Determined to do

The only thing you could do-

Determined to save

The only life you could save

So long as we can do that, so long as we remember Brian, he is never truly gone, only just flown, like the wild geese, over the horizon.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

5 thoughts on “Remembering Brian Blue”

  1. It’s very sad to know I’ll never get to see Brian again,..I enjoyed working with him at Scarecrow Video,..and as Sean stated earlier -he was a very passionate and enthusiastic film lover,..and as such..was a joy to work with and talk to. This is a tragic and unfortunate event..my condolences to his family and loved ones. Rest in Peace Brian..
    Johnny

  2. A beautiful and touching trubute, Sean. Brian will be missed and fondly remembered. I am glad to have shared the time that I did with him.

  3. I remember an editorial cartoon that appeared when Jim Henson died. In the cartoon, Kermit sat on a rock, center-set in a large pond. A single tear had fallen from his left eye, and splashed in the pond. At first, you thought, “Yes, of course, Kermit, too, is sad today.” But then you became aware of something else: the ripples in the pond, from one small teardrop, extended as far as you could see. This is how I felt upon hearing the news of Brian’s passing.
    Brian was not famous. Brian was not known and adored by thousands. But enough people knew him, and knew him fairly well, as his heart was so often worn in plain view, the word of him will spread, and stories of his vibrant enthusiasm and passion will live on for a long time to come.
    Like his one of his many mentors, Scarecrow founder George Latsios, Brian never ceased to amaze me with his seeming endless zeal for film. When he died last week, it was five years and two days after George passed. George loved Brian so much that, though he was only 12 years older, he treated him as a favorite son. George even named his home-brewed point-of-sale system after him. When you would work shifts with them both, you would often hear George calling out for “Mr. Brian!” to answer some question or help him solve some puzzle or other. There might have been three managers on shift, but you would still hear, “Mr. Brian!” No one else would do.
    As I, and other current and former co workers have said, may he now be meeting up again with (Scarecrow founder) George over Chinese food, Brian defending how it could be that his favorite, Bruce Willis, could ever have deigned to grace a film by Michael Bay.
    When I first started here at Scarecrow, Brian had already been here for a year and a half. I worked with him for five years. As a new employee, he was always eager to help, and to teach me. But he was also a little hard to figure out. Brian was forceful, yet timid, somehow. Even when talking directly to you, he would hardly ever look you in the eye. He was often oddly quiet, too. But if right itch was scratched, look out, he was a force to be reckoned with. Then it would appear as if he’d never stop talking.
    He had great energy. But it was all over the place. He was a colt: all jump and no journey. But, as you got to know Brian, you got to know his journey. His was a learning quest. Whatever he wanted to know about, he just dove in. Head first he would go, usually, sometimes tail first, sometimes facing forward and leaping, and sometimes falling on his butt. Whichever way it came, he was always learning.
    But saying, that, I can also say that he also never took things too seriously. When he was energized about something, his zeal would become palpable, affecting, and just plain fun. His smile and laughter was as infectious as it could get. He would talk about a film he liked and it wouldn’t take long before you had to go see it yourself.
    And he was such a nice guy. I almost never heard him say anything negative about anyone. Even when he was down, he always appeared upbeat, and he would never bring you down. And I never heard him complain. He might express his unhappiness over something or other, but it would never be in a self-pitying tone.
    Strange as it sounds, one of the best things I liked about Brian were his failures. He had this habit of reaching high and far. Some people reach a bit, but Brian reached with all he could muster. He was all about potential. So what if he fell back now and then? He never took “No” lying down. He pushed himself, sometimes into places or situations that he had no right being. He succeeded quite often, but when he failed, he also learned from it. It would never stop him from trying again, either. He was persistent, almost always moving forward, assessing, but not looking back, heading directly into and toward the things he loved best. And, in the end, the things he loved best, were his daughter, his family, his friends, and movies.
    That he has been brought down at this time when he was just beginning to contain and channel his energy, coming into his own as a person and as a Daddy, makes the horror of this all is so much sadder still.
    But now that he is gone, I am grateful for the opportunities I had to get to know Brian. My memories are rich with affection and appreciation for him that I will always have, and I will always remember his great laugh, his infectious passion, and his courage and great love for his family up to the very end.
    Certainly, I will miss introducing each other to movies we love, and sharing our thoughts after. “You liked that?” “Ah, you’re nuts!” But movies were not the sum of the man, by any stretch. As I came to know Brian over these many years now, movies were just a way to reflect the passion he held for nearly everything.
    His passion was so strong, his generosity so great, that he does live on, here and now, and so his legacy lives on, too, for anyone who ever had the good fortune to know him.
    Thank you, Brian. Peace to you, my friend. (Until I see you again, that is. “You think what?!”)

  4. i was supposed to meet Brian Blue before i started working at Scarecrow. he was going to be a Film Instructor at Discover U & i was signed up to take his class. i can only remember 2 of the films he was going to analyze now, but they show the width & depth of his incredible, passionate film knowledge–Fresh & El Marachi. the class never happened, & i am sad i didn’t have the opportunity to know him sooner than i did.

    when i got to Scarecrow, i was terrified. all those films i had never heard of, people w/degrees who were on planes of film knowledge i could only dream of aspiring to. and of course Brian was one of them. but when i found out that he only had a G.E.D., (just like me), that he too was self-taught, i felt a secret kinship w/him. i always felt that if i could just be 1/4 of what Brian was, always studying & improving on his knowledge of film (at rest i rarely remember him w/o a book in his hands), caring about others, both co-workers, customers & friends, that if i could do that, i would consider my life a success. i am crushed i never said that to him. he really went out of his way to teach me the technical aspects of the store, Cinemania, the Blue Books, all the resources Scarecrow provided, so i could be more self-sufficient. he was always patient & kind with me. (which we all know, is hard to do at times!) we bonded over Bruno–one night when we were closing he put on Hudson Hawk & we discovered our mutual love of the Bruce. we found out that we both wanted to marry David Addison (in some form). my comfort level increased thereafter due to his easy acceptance of me & i always looked forward to working w/him, both for the atmosphere of total professionalism mixed w/fun he created, but to learn more from him too.

    since Mr. Axmaker had the nerve to steal my “naked Brian” story from me, (as i was there too), i will just add my own particular angle to it as it were. i was sitting in the 3rd row at the Egyptian & had no idea that anyone i knew was there. it had been quite some time since i had worked at the store. so when they announced if you got naked on the stage you got to go to Austin Powers 1 (closing night film that year @ SIFF)& everyone in the audience was laughing & daring their friends to do it, imagine my surprise when, 30 seconds later, the naked guy in front of me on the stage was Brian! i don’t know if anyone ever sat in the 3rd row of a theatre only to recognize a naked ex-co-worker from a 30 degree angle, but i must say we should all be so lucky! we both waved at each other, & i couldn’t help but feel how much less fucked-up the world would be if we were all as comfy in our skin as Brian Blue. as he had reason to be. my respect for Brian increased enormously that night. it was the only day in my life i was ok with no longer working at Scarecrow, because i think i might have found seeing him the next day just a little too intimidating!

    the last time i saw Brian was at SIFF, years later. Bella had arrived, & he was bursting w/pride & love. it was the last year he ran the Volunteer program, & when i mentioned i hoped to volunteer the next year, he told me to use him as a reference. Brian being Brian, still taking care of others.

    i’ll always think of him as My Naked Caregiving Film God.

    i am so sad he’s gone, & wished i could have said goodbye. but at least we have 50% of his DNA walking around in the form of Bella. it’s a wonderful legacy for her & us.

    i am so sad i was unable to be there at his Memorial, i thank Kevin & Sean for doing so (among others) & sharing it with all of us. my heart goes out to you, Holly & Bella, Hillary & Heather, & all of Brian’s & Holly’s families, at this time. you are in all my thoughts. know anyone who knew him, & i am fortunate to count myself in that number, will miss him very much too. MW

  5. My name is Michael Sherman, and I worked with Brian at Scarecrow back in the early 90’s. I am very sad to hear about his passing. I have been out of Seattle for years, and I am grateful to the folks who have kept me updated on the lives of folks from Scarecrow who I miss very much. Brian and I were hired around the same time, and I always enjoyed scrambling around the rows of brilliant films with him. He was passionate, friendly and imaginative and a very empathetic and helpful person. I have tremendous memories of my time at Scarecrow – with all its ups and downs and zaniness – and all of the famous and not so famous characters who came by – and Brian was always a part of that with me. I extend my prayers and sympathies to all who know him, and to the family he leaves behind. As I have a little daughter now myself, I feel sorrowful and grateful to have known him when I did.

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