Monday, June 15, 2015

833. On the Passing of Christopher Lee

I delayed this tribute a little because I suspected there'd be a flood of them.  Sure enough there was.  And of course Christopher Lee deserves it.  The funny thing is a lot of what he's known for today skims only the surface of his life, the recent past, what one wonders he himself might have considered all that important in his experiences.  But this is what many of us have to work with.

And that means two roles, Saruman and Count Dooku.  Peter Jackson's greatest accomplishment in his Lord of the Rings trilogy was in the casting.  In truth given such a ridiculous bounty and a relatively thankless villain's role contrasted against Ian McKellen, Lee was almost easy to lose in the shuffle.  Then George Lucas came along and added him to the Star Wars prequels beginning with Attack of the Clones, in which he becomes the embodiment of Sith potency.  I've long championed these films and many a head has been scratched in trying to figure out why.  One of the reasons is Christopher Lee.  Having been introduced to him, in effect, through a relatively disappointing role, I found his Dooku a revelation.  During his discussion with the captive Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dooku dispenses with his apparent innocence in such a casual manner, the mark of a truly confident actor, and of course it's the acting that fans most complain about in these films, yet there's Lee commanding the scene so effortlessly, setting the stage for Ian McDiarmid's best work as Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith, and it's here that perhaps the whole story Lucas has attempted to convey should be understood: Anakin Skywalker's fall is about frustrated youth, the extravagance of inexperience, everything we're denied so happily in the fallen world of the original trilogy with its very casual interpretation of heroism, the very thing Dooku shatters so elegantly...

The last time we see Lee in epic mode is in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.  It's more of a cameo than anything, but the remarkable thing is that Saruman is reclaimed from the abyss in an instant, summoned for a moment of great heroism, the complete opposite of everything we'd seen previously from him.  It is very much like a fond farewell, not so much to the character but to the actor.  I realized as I was watching what a cherished moment this was set up to be, and it is undeniably the best sequence in the movie, perhaps the true justification of Jackson's return to Middle-Earth.

All of which is to say, farewell Christopher Lee.  You accomplished many things in your life.  One of them was to imprint yourself into our memories, in a way that will only continue to unfold.  As they say, the road goes ever on and on...

8 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

Without LOTR and Star Wars people like you and me wouldn't know who he was.

Tony Laplume said...

Oh, I'd know who he was, but I just would've taken a lot longer to see his work. At some point I intend to go on a Dracula binge. Have no idea if and when that will happen...

Michael Abayomi said...

I had no idea he was actually that old (93), or that he sang symphonic metal, two things I have learnt about him since his passing. His role in The Battle of Five Armies is truly an appropriate farewell. He will be remembered.

Tony Laplume said...

The fact that he was a Nazi hunter kind of makes Lee an irresistible subject for a movie.

Spacerguy said...

Lees Hammer House productions were quite unique, although he doesn't say much in the Dracula ones I've seen. The reason he gave for this was the lines were so terrible he initially refused to star in them. In the end he made the movies because Hammer said he'd be putting a lot of people out of work. What could he do except star in them because the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the one. What a champion.

Tony Laplume said...

Classic.

Leslie S. Rose said...

Always a big fan of his. Loved his voice.

Tony Laplume said...

Part of why I want to go back and watch his earlier movies is to see how soon that distinctive voice developed.

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