Some Thoughts on The Passing of Michael Ryan

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three caballerosI have never met a person as boundlessly enthusiastic as my Quebecois co-host Michael Ryan. We all have a reserve of positivity residing within us; some are smaller than others, but Mike’s was infinite. Upon seeing the news, posted to his Facebook page from his parents, Michele and Terry, that Mike had passed away, I was (and remain) heartbroken. In some small way, I feel as if I’ve lost a close family member, someone with whom I could heartily disagree on a weekly basis without worrying that I’d irreparably damaged our relationship.

I remember when Ricky D pointed me in Mike’s direction, after joining Sound on Sight as I began searching for my first co-host. I was stumped at first as to who could or would want to join me, but when Ricky mentioned Mike, he did so with a tone of “Oh, how could I have forgotten about him? He’d be a great fit.” And Ricky was right: Mike was a great fit, not only in his general passion for cinema, or his passion specific to the vast, all-encompassing world of Disney. Mike brought balance to the show; where I (and my other co-host Gabe Bucsko) would express frustration at, say, a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, he would embrace it wholeheartedly. The important distinction to make here, one I saw from a fellow friend, Kevin Marshall, today, is this: Mike was genuine. He believed in what he said, and so you did, too.

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I didn’t always agree with Mike, and recently, I’d begun dubbing him the most charitable man on the planet. I said this in such a way to be a playful jab, but I’m realizing only now that it was not only an accurate title to bestow upon Mike, but a richly coveted one. Cynicism is easy; open-mindedness is hard. Mike had achieved the latter, and though I mocked it, I may well have desired it too. His positivity knew no end, and yet he was perfectly willing to accept mockery heaved at him by me or anyone else. Partly, this was because the mockery was never mean-spirited; I think it was also because he knew his attitude was rare. He acknowledged and welcomed being called “crazy” for liking, say, Alice in Wonderland (the live-action Tim Burton film) or Cars 2. But he had his reasons. They may be esoteric, they may be pinpoint-specific, but they were honest and pure points.

Mike’s presence on the podcast was such that he allowed me to become his foil. His wide embrace of Disney meant that we would watch a number of films I found painful to varying degrees, allowing me to vent on the show. And then he would calmly, almost cheerfully, tell me all those flaws are why he liked the film. There was, I imagine, a certain level of glee he had when he got to hear me hit a fever pitch of anger when discussing a Herbie sequel or D3: The Mighty Ducks, because his counterpoint would only cause me to become more perplexed. Someone who hasn’t heard the show before might read this description and wonder how we survived so long without ripping each other to shreds, but it’s important to note that the podcast rarely ever got rancorous. As much as I didn’t enjoy some of these movies, and as much as I might wonder why Mike did enjoy them, the discussions springing from the viewings were frequently exciting and enlightening. I didn’t change my mind, but I at least was allowed to view a more open-minded opinion.

Mike was not just passionate about Disney, I should point out. If you only know Mike from the podcast, you only know a small part of this man. He was the festival director for the Young Cuts Film Festival, lifting up young filmmakers from across the world. He wrote for Sound on Sight, but he also was fiercely dedicated to wrestling. I admit to always being bemused at this passion, specifically when it manifested on his Twitter feed, as he live-tweeted wrestling events in Montreal, Ottawa, and beyond. But even then, I could not deny a simple truth: Mike believed in what he loved, and what he loved, he loved unconditionally. And he loved a great deal about this life.

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I could go on here for a very long time, about what I will miss about Mike, but I think what I’ll miss most of all is making him laugh. His laugh had an oddly melodic quality, and it tended to be long, loud, and proud. But I’ll miss making him laugh anywhere, whether via e-mail, on the podcast, or on Twitter. Mike’s Twitter feed was a communal place of goodwill, where he would reach out to new followers and old, and share his loves in pop culture, and share to the rest of the world what his followers thought of his loves. A retweet from Mike was an endorsement of diversity: he may not have agreed with what you said, but he would’ve championed your opinion as being worthy of consideration.

On Twitter and elsewhere, Mike enjoyed playing up the differences in our personalities–I was the hater, he was the lover. And it’s easy to boil him down that quickly, as the person who channeled his positivity into passion, though he, like any of us, had multitudes. But specific to the podcast, anyone who’s listened knows that this applies. To listen to Mike on the show was to hear a soundtrack of pure, undiluted enthusiasm. As I begin the process of accepting this loss, I’ve begun to acknowledge what I won’t get to do with Mike anymore. I won’t get to hear him tell me whether or not Planes met his expectations. I won’t get to hear him discuss watching direct-to-DVD Disney sequels, which he not-fondly referred to as “cinematic atrocities.” And I won’t get to meet him in person, as so many of his friends have. But I like to think that, for roughly a year and a half, I got to know him well, and know him to be a great, honest man. My thoughts, today and for a very long time to come, are with his family and friends. I’ll miss Michael Ryan more than I can say, but I hope to take his attitude to heart, as inspiration for the future.

— Josh Spiegel






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