Sunday, April 06, 2008

Heston Noir

Fuck George Clooney.

I know I shouldn't admit it, but his lame attempt at humor when stating that Charlton Heston had been absent-mindedly repeating the announcement of his Alzheimer's diagnosis has prevented me from appreciating any Clooney movie since.

I realize it was Heston's later conservative politics, especially his advocacy of gun rights as President of the NRA (a cynical PR move on that organization's part) which drew the ire of the new Hollywood stars. Many who seem to forget that Heston marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. too.

That said and for what it's worth, as a gun rights supporter, I cringed whenever I saw the elder Heston stumping for the cause. Sure, Michael Moore is a shameless self-promoter (and all around shit). But Heston took a bit too long to figure out that HE was the butt of a joke at the end of Bowling for Columbine.

Much has been written about Heston playing "larger than life" characters. Moses and Ben Hur of course. He also saved scores from disaster in Airport '75 and Earthquake. Even his role in The Omega Man has a Christ-like feel to it.

However, I generally appreciated the darker, more mortal and down to earth side of Heston's personna as exhibited in Touch of Evil, Planet of the Apes (how much more "down to earth" can you get?) and Soylent Green.

I wonder if George Clooney would have the guts to risk his "high-minded" film image to play the less than heroic characters Heston did in each of those films.

For instance, in Touch of Evil, as Mexican narcotics investigator Vargas, he's so consumed by the pursuit of corrupt cop Hank Quinlan, that he's oblivious to the torments suffered by his wife. At the end, Vargas knowingly engages in the same sort of questionable evidence gathering he despises in Quinlan to trap him.

By the way, regarding Touch of Evil, the New York Times obit incorrectly stated:
Another legendary Hollywood director, Orson Welles, cast him as a Mexican narcotics investigator in the thriller 'Touch of Evil"
Actually, it was HESTON, who had already been cast in the movie, that convinced Touch of Evil producers to give Welles the director's gig. Of course, one could argue that ultimately Heston didn't do him any favor as Touch of Evil effectively finished Welles' Hollywood career.

There's no scene more satisfying for me than when Vargas single-handedly mops the floor of a seedy border-town bar with bunch of sneering Mexican gangsters. It's shot in a style that I suspect influenced a similar scene in Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon with Mickey Rourke.

Then there’s the other part that Heston is most widely remembered for, the cynical, world-weary Taylor in Planet of the Apes.

When Tim Burton remade Planet of the Apes, he had Mark Wahlberg play Captain Davidson as the type of gung-ho guy that Heston’s Taylor would have mocked relentlessly in the original.

The only time Taylor laughs during the entire movie is AT one of his fellow astronauts who, in some futile attempt at patriotism, has planted a small American flag in the ground.

The irony for Taylor in Planet of the Apes is that one so down on humanity is ultimately forced to defend it in the face of the vicious ape oppressors.

At the end, when it's revealed that he's been home the entire time, Taylor is mad at his fellow humans for blowing themselves up. BUT, I’ve always felt that he was also more than a little bit pissed at himself for looking stupid after realizing that the apes he had argued with earlier about mankind were right all along.

Forget about the god-like characters who could part waterways and land crippled aircraft, it was the everyday bastards that Heston played for which I will remember him most.


Sheila O'Malley said...

Wonderful post. There was definitely a fearlessness in Heston in playing these parts - so many actors have a need to be liked (I say that as an actress myself!) -and it's difficult to play a part where you are not ingratiating to the audience. Heston never had that problem - he seemed to relish those darker (ie: more human) elements of his parts - and I do admire that in him. Thanks for the tribute.

GCCR said...

Thank you for the nice comments and NOT deleting my remarks from your site ;)