Tuesday, April 08, 2008

So let it be written, so let it be done

This is probably the first post I've ever done upon request (see last post) and while it's one that I was thinking of doing, it was probably destined to be a part of that long list of ideas which never became posts, me having saved the half-completed versions of them, only to eventually delete them when it was clear they were way past the point of relevancy. But our good friend Coop (formerly known as 'The Colonel') asked if I have any thoughts on the late Charlton Heston, who passed away this weekend at the age of 84.

I've written briefly about Heston here once before when I touched upon the fine 1973 film Soylent Green, albeit very briefly. But as Coop put it, Charlton Heston really was one of the last true legends of the Silver Screen and perhaps I should share some of my thoughts and recollection.

Like many people, my first memories are of inevitably watching The Ten Commandments around Easter. The film still airs every year and it really hasn't lost much in the fifty-two years since it was released. Of course many of the effects are still impressive and there's a lot to love about this epic film. But one thing that's always struck me, is that despite its epic scope and visual splendor, it is Heston's unwavering performance which carries the film. At close to four hours (!!) there are so many times that the thing could drag, but Heston's conviction in his performance never wavers. For so many people he IS Moses and I don't get why they try to remake the thing. No one else could play that role.

The awesome Ben Hur came three years later, for which he won his only Oscar, once again in a performance so great that he doesn't allow the visuals to overwhelm him at any time. The chariot race is quite possibly the greatest action sequence ever filmed and the film as a whole is a wonder. It's not surprising that it won 11 Academy Awards. Of course he followed with many similarly styled epics like El Cid and and Khartoum, proving that no one was better suited to handle the lead in 'big' movies like this.

Of course he went beyond this. In an example of his range, take a look at a film which didn't make a big splash in its day, but is now rightfully considered a masterpiece. In Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, he plays a Mexican (!!) police detective opposite Welles and he's totally convincing in what may be the best film noir ever made. He's great in more off-beat 70s fare like The Omega Man and Soylent Green, neither of which could be considered 'great' films, but perfect entertainment if you have nothing to do on a Saturday night (as is often the case with me). And his rare villainous turn in Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers is sinister and deftly comic. The Three Musketeers is actually one of my very favorite books and if someone were to tell me that Charlton Heston was to play Cardinal Richelieu in a film adaptation, I'd have not believed it. But once again, he makes it work.

Though he slowed down in the 80s and beyond, I recall a few weeks ago on a lazy Sunday afternoon while I was channel surfing and Wayne's World 2 came on. I knew the movie well and when his brief cameo was coming up, I called my mother into the room, knowing she'd get a kick out of it. It's just such a cute scene and you can't help but end up with a big grin on your face after having watched it.

Of course he was almost as well known for his politics in later years, something as a fellow conservative I should be proud of. Truth be told however, I'm not a huge gun nut and while I do support the rights of people to bear arms from protection or sport, I'm also pretty pragmatic about it. Do we really need armor piercing assault rifles? Not really. Background checks are most certainly a good thing and I do think that many of those NRA people are pretty extreme. But I must confess I do agree with Heston's simple logic, that "any gun, in the hands of a good man, is no harm to anyone, except for bad people". As an aside to this, I won't even mention a certain filmmaker who took it upon himself to ambush an aged Heston, in a move I'm sure made even many liberals sick.

Many people also are keen to note that he became 'more conservative' over time or whatever, that he was a huge early supporter of civil rights, marching with Martin Luther King. For some reason though there seems to be a suggestion that just because he held many conservative views, it nullifies his very early supports for civil rights. Just because you hold views in favor of the Second Amendment and oppose abortion, it doesn't mean that you're some sort of bigot who opposes civil rights. Politics aren't that simple and Charlton Heston goes to prove that. As I've always said, being a conservative means that you have to follow a strict guideline and the same should apply to someone who is a liberal. Indeed only a fanatic (as Churchill said) is someone who can't to change their mind and won't change the subject. Heston was also someone who was a strong opponent of political correctness run rampant in our society, something else which endeared me to him.

Yes, he truly was one of the greats and I'm sad to see him go, though not shocked. I will share my favorite memory of Charlton Heston though. In one of my English classes a couple years back, we were watching Kenneth Branagh's version of Hamlet, featuring Heston in a cameo as the Player King. Someone commented on his performance, that he belonged to something of an older school of outdated acting or some other dig like that. They went on to suggest that "could you imagine Heston trying to play Hamlet"? I immediately felt it my need to defend his performance, for in fact he was one of the only big Hollywood stars in a cameo who didn't come across as ridiculous. Though a brief role, it was one which suited him perfectly. And as I pointed out at the time "Could you imagine Branagh or anyone else playing Moses or Judah Ben-Hur"? Not a chance. In fact there are many actors who make fine Hamlets, but how many could be Moses? Only one. Only Charlton Heston could act so convincingly opposite a bunch of guys in monkey suits, screaming "Damn you all to hell" or "Take your stinkin' paws off me" or "It's a mad house!" or (my favorite in the film) "Would an ape make a human doll that TALKS". One of a kind, truly.

And now this post which I wasn't going to even do has officially taken me an hour. But would I have actually gotten anything done? Probably not. Rest in peace Chuck, we'll miss you.


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