Thursday, June 11, 2015

RIP Christopher Lee

Just found out that actor Christopher Lee passed away a few days ago at the long-lived age of 93. Which saddens me, for ever since a young lad I always related to him on the little screen with an odd yet powerful mixture of respect and deep-seated fear.

My first recollection of him date back to the mid-70s, watching all those Hammer film re-runs alone or with friends on ABC's 4:30 Movie. Paired with Peter Cushing, I remember Lee quite fondly in The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, their various sequels, and a whole host of other, lesser-well-recalled flicks. To be honest, I always self-identified more with Cushing's rational, scientific, reluctant hero persona, but it was Lee's subtle (and often not so subtle) melevolent aura that made the movies worth watching.

Later on I gleefully watched him in The Man With the Golden Gun, as one of Bond's best-named villains, Francisco Scaramanga. He brought a potent combination of refinement and danger that would well best be honored by mandatory viewings from the potential crop of Euroweenie villains now seeking to oppose 007.

When I reflect upon it, I think it was that stare that did it for me. Lee had the stare of a great white shark, if those beasts had pupils and irises and the like. Or at least it seems so now. With one glance he was able to telescope to you or me, the viewer, or his on-screen antagonist (often the good guy), supreme yet subsurface menace. That he had you in the palm of his hand and could crush you at any moment it convenienced him. But there was that slight element of uncertainty where you were never properly convinced he wouldn't just crush you at random. Because that's what sociopaths do, and that he was in the majority of his movie roles that I watched, transfixed.

About six months back I somehow discovered he made an album of heavy metal music. In his 80s! I made a note to investigate this allegation, then promptly forgot it. Perhaps I, like a demented Hammer  villain, can torture my wife and children with youtube excerpts from this should I find it.

To a younger generation, Lee might be best known as turncoat Saruman the White from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. A few awesome facts must be stated here: Lee confessed to reading Tolkien's trilogy once a year for years on end and had a lifelong desire to play Gandalf on the big screen. Not sure if he would have worked best as Mithrandir (see that bit about the great white shark stare above), but he worked for me as Saruman, one of the better moments in a movie experience disappointing to me. Even cooler, of all the actors and creative personnel involved in Jackson's endeavor, Lee was the only one who had actually met J. R. R. Tolkien.

So, rest in peace, Mr. Lee. Know that you have fascinated me for nearly four decades. I have also introduced my oldest, Little One, to your work in the Hammer films Dracula and The Mummy, and will continue to watche you with my children for years to come.

Christopher Lee, 1922-2015

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