[Xpress Movie Reviewer and Coordinator] Ken Hanke’s passing [June 28] fills me with memories. It would be a stretch to claim we were friends. I merely interviewed him. Twentieth Century Fox had decided to release the first four surviving Charlie Chan films on DVD, and someone wisely figured that these movies starring a white actor as a Hawaiian Chinese detective needed some “special features” to provide context for the films.
My company, Cloverland, got the job. Was there anyone we could contact who could even talk about these films intelligently? We called Ken, and he professed that he had not seen the films in years, that he didn’t know what he could add, that he felt it was a somewhat hopeless task. Clearly taking pity on us, he said he’d give us an afternoon if we could make our shoot work with his schedule.
With virtually no budget, I flew to Asheville in January 2006, where Ken took me under his wing. He knew the films inside and out. He added a great deal. He made the entire experience a pleasure. After the interview, we talked film, and the depth and breadth of his knowledge of movie history became clear.
We never had the budgets to justify returning to Asheville as more Chan titles came out — but we did. I flew back three more times, enticing Ken to record audio commentaries, provide interviews and share more of his knowledge of film history.
The last trip in 2008 was the most enthralling. We interviewed Ken not just about Charlie Chan, but about silent film director F.W. Murnau and Alfred Hitchcock. In both cases, he added details that escaped some of the world’s foremost scholars who had published works on both these cinematic giants. Ken’s comments were, as always, astute, accurate and entertaining.
The DVD/Blu-ray industry changed that year, and our company began to shift to other kinds of work. Life did not give me an excuse to return to Asheville. Yet, I feel like I have lost a comrade in arms, a fellow lover of cinema and history, another movie buff who saw something more in those moving images than just stars and simple stories.
My heart goes out to Ken’s wife and daughter. They should know that everyone who worked on the Fox projects with Ken — from the occasional crew members who came with me to Asheville to the editors and sound mixers who only saw him or heard him on tape — they all loved his depth of knowledge, his acerbic asides, his passion for movies and his inimitable style of humor. My great regret is that I did not get to spend more time with him.
— John Cork