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As Long as We Remember...

April 14, 2008

Charlton Heston: A Commentary

Steven R. Berryman

I would never pretend to write a biography or obituary for Charlton Heston, and certainly have nothing first hand to offer as does The Tentacle’s Roy Meachum, but I have been affected by his life and his death. And his work.


Actors who “play themselves” and are also heroes in a real vernacular sense are not the cinema vogue any more. Pity.


Small wonder that movies these days rely so heavily on special effects and gimmicks and “screenplays.” It is because authenticity as portrayed by the actors themselves is a rare commodity!


When novels became themselves on the silver screen, and actors were chosen to fit the part, there was a much closer association between audience and cinema.


I long for those days; and that – at least partially – explains the problems, marketing-wise, with viewership, or “box office” sales these days.


 If viewership kept up as a percentage of population, then the popcorn you purchase would not have to cost 10 cents per kernel in order to subsidize the problem!


When my parents allowed me to stay up late, I watched such classics as The Ten Commandments and more on the old UHF stations like Channels 20 and 50. Moses never was so authentic to the spirit of the Bible, at least according to a 10-year-old, like I was at the time.


Burning bush. Golden Idol? Who would question it?


Much more important to me, Charlton Heston became the role, with all of the self-righteousness deserving in the role, and I never questioned it despite the problems with technical flaws in Technicolor.


After all, the Uptown Theater on Connecticut Ave was my stomping ground. I saw 2001 a Space Odyssey in 70mm in 1970 at 12!


The likes of Mr. Heston, as I call him as I have not been to the AFI Theater in the Kennedy Center enough to use “Chuck,” are not often duplicated.


John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and a few others come to mind. The authenticity is rare, especially under the auspices of the star system. Okay, Yul Brynner and Henry Fonda and a couple of others, too.


I loved the first Planet of The Apes movies, and had so much fun that I missed the social commentary at the time! They even had playing cards as they do in Major League Baseball to celebrate the phenomena it caused.


I get it now.


Indeed, where else had righteous indignity ever met humanity with so much force without a self-serving compromise?


“Chuck,” as he is known by friends, commented that he was disappointed that humans, presumably as a species, had not come so far…


…And then there was the classic “Statue of Liberty” scene at the end of the original that I would never repeat as future viewers may still enjoy the revelation themselves. As a child of the Cold War. I have never forgotten it.


And then there was Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, who also rightly belongs in the category of actors who portray themselves. During this time, Mr. Heston was a doctor, alone in the world in the future-world of The Omega Man. This was the film developed from the Richard Matheson novel “I Am Legend.”


My gun collection still reflects this from the movie, but that’s for another column. I cannot get myself to see the new version with Will Smith, as the flavor was already perfect in the original.


There was even a bi-racial relationship, a true oddity at the time, and daring.


And then came the National Rifle Association.


The God-given right of all Americans to keep and bear arms became his personal crusade. Better than Ronald Reagan, President, an actor that met his calling.


At a NRA Convention he was honored with a rifle from the Revolutionary War, and used it as a timeless prop. As he held the gift high above his head, he said: “I have five words for you: From my cold, dead hands.” He served as a very successful president of the most famous association in America until recently.


The word “selfless” comes to mind.


Because one is an authentic hero, is it somehow too jingo-istic? Can trendy Brad Pitt or handsome, but hollow, George Clooney (ever see Three Kings?) replicate a Charlton Heston, perhaps in some newly improved and updated way?


I think not.

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