I'm not sure what younger generations think of Sir Christopher Lee. When I became aware of him through The Man With The Golden Gun, I first learned that he was the definitive actor behind Count Dracula. More recently, he's been Count Dooku in the Star Wars franchise and Saruman in the Lord of the Rings franchise. I still cannot forgive Peter Jackson for omitting him from Return of the King. He's always been a fascinating character to me, and his life still continues to surprise me. He was born in 1922 and his resume is shockingly impressive. He will soon be appearing in Martin Scorsese's first 3D adventure Hugo, and earlier in the year he appeared on Italian symphonic power metal band Rhapsody of Fire's album "From Chaos To Eternity," as narrator. He's also worked with Manowar. Did you know that Lee has even fronted his own metal band?
He was also an influential figure in Military Intelligence, along with his step-cousin Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels. His distinctive and revelatory voice has earned him two spots in the Guinness Book of World Records. One for being the oldest actor to voice a character in a video game, and one for the first spoken dialogue in a massive multiplayer online role-playing game. One could easily get lost on youtube for a day experiencing the wide range of accomplishments from Sir Christopher Lee, and about the great friendships he cultivated in his life, like with fellow actor Peter Cushing.
I've recently discovered that there is a Christopher Lee Handbook, detailing all of his awesomeness. You can also check out his personal website for some great youtube interview exclusives. http://christopherleeweb.com/ Sir Christopher Lee has truly lived a legendary life, and I, for one, know I could learn a great deal just by studying his example.
Monday, October 24, 2011
I am weird; yes, but the question is why? For my kindergarten yearbook, our class was given a blank space and told to write a sentence on what stories we liked to read. What did I write? "I like the classics." I loved the Great Illustrated Classics series. They were timeless stories that spoke to me, a hundred years after their original publication. I still enjoy them today. At parent teacher conferences in junior high school, teachers noted that I would always sit up straight and perk my ears when they were reciting a historical story. That's the answer. I like good stories, and I haven't changed.
October 25th saw the release of The Conversation on Blu-Ray. The Conversation is a psychological thriller written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. After the success of The Godfather, Coppola agreed to make Part II, if he could make The Conversation in between. The film stars Gene Hackman, who is in pretty much every scene. There's not a lot of action in the film, but once you're invested, it becomes very intense. It has an incredible rhythm to it, and Walter Murch does a fantastic job at producing a crucial soundtrack (and not of the musical variety). This is a deep character study from Coppola, and I don't know how many folks my age would have the patience to experience it. This is another reason why I'm weird. Nothing bores me faster than generic action. Unlike the average movie executive, I don't require an action scene or shock moment every ten minutes. One of my instructors once complained that Will Smith's movies have potential, yet just when they get interesting, ten minutes have passed and there's a requisite action scene. My family was watching I Am Legend one night, and I got my watch out. Every ten minutes was an obligatory action scene. I think a lot of people can sense this, they feel parts of the story being forced into something it's not. Kevin Costner talks a little about this on his Open Range commentary. Films need to take their time to develop, and shouldn't be molded prematurely to satisfy a focus group.
Auteur filmmakers always made films that had something to say to the audience. They were communicating their life experience through motion pictures. They were created with a singular vision. Filmmaking is the most collaborative art form that exists, but you can easily identify The Conversation as being the work of a singular vision. A huge problem I have with reboots and remakes is that that singular vision is diluted by many various factors. From previous stories to a devoted fan following, it's difficult not to stray from one vision in order to satisfy various factions. The James Bond character is the work of Ian Fleming. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman took the reigns to carry on that vision for the cinema, choosing directors who could maintain that vision. They have strayed from time to time, but the name James Bond means something to you. The worst possible decision the current producers made was choosing a director who opposed that vision. The result was the atrocious, Bourne-ified Quantum of Solace. The films that have stood the test of time from the Golden Age of cinema, achieved a singular vision. The mediocre, forgotten films from that period all strayed from their original vision and tossed in what they felt the audience wanted, even if it didn't fit the narrative or character. Films today ooze gratuitousness of every sort. Remember, The Conversation is Coppola's follow-up to The Godfather and Gene Hackman is only a couple years in his career after The French Connection. It seems plausible to me that the audience may have expected something a bit different from what they got in The Conversation. The film wasn't a blockbuster, but it still made plenty of money. Today it is considered a masterpiece, and worthy of study. Nothing turns me off more than a bit of gratuitousness thrown in from a suit to please a focus group. I'm weird like that too.
What is the root of my weirdness? I think it has to do with the modern vs. the timeless. I can read Jules Verne or Robert Louis Stevenson and feel alive. I can read James Patterson and feel lifeless, like I'm meant to be a consumer, and Patterson is a vehicle for advertising. I can watch Stagecoach and feel a connection to my fellow man. I can watch Saw and feel like mold polluting the world with my fellow man. I can watch American Beauty and enjoy my time in the sewers of humanity, or I can watch The Conversation and try and gain understanding. The Masters John Ford and Akira Kurosawa started their careers being optimistic and hopeful, but ended their careers being a bit jaded and more pessimistic. I choose to believe that if we learn from those who have gone before, we could live more significant lives. I don't read novels to escape, watch movies to kill time, I choose to read the classics and watch films from the Masters because they can cultivate and enrich life, not keep me distracted while I'm dying. When things are 'modernized' they usually lose heart, soul, and substance. The art I enjoy is art that is timeless, based on absolute truths that speak to me the way they spoke to people a hundred years ago. That's why I think I'm weird.