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Thursday, June 11, 2015

RIP Christopher Lee

Hello Chaos fanatics! I know I've been away a bit, but its my busy season at work and it has been virtually non-stop. I even haven't been able to paint as much either... However, I am putting the finishing touches on a few things and I'll be showing them soon (by middle of next week).

I was at work this morning when I saw the news on Facebook about the passing of legendary actor Christopher Lee. Geez- it's been a rough year for that, first Nimoy, now Lee. However, neither could have many complaints- both lived long and full lives and accomplished so much as actors. Both have certainly made indelible contributions to geekdom (or nerddom or whatever you want to call it).

Unlike Nimoy, who was typecast as Spock, Lee played a variety of roles; while most were of the villainous variety, each role was quite different. So he could go from playing a snarling Dracula to a suave James Bond villain to a Sith Lord, to a mad scientist, and, finally, a white wizard with ease- and while his distinctive voice was the same, his demeanor and acting differed greatly.

Just as an example, look at the last two huge characters he played- Saruman and Darth Tyranus. On paper, both are similar. They are both traitors to their orders, they are both "masters" of their arts, they have joined with a "dark lord", they plan to plunge their respective worlds into war- yes, they have many such similarities. Any actor playing both roles might be tempted to play them similarly, since they are indeed rather close. Lee, on the other hand, played both quite differently:

Lee's Saruman had a semi-crazed look in his eyes; it was almost as if communicating with Sauron was warping him completely-  stealing his very sanity. In Fellowship, after consulting the Palantir, Saruman sits, clutching a book- half crazed, half terrified- communing with Sauron is breaking him. The Orc comes in and then Saruman says, almost fearfully, "We have work to do". In Two Towers, when he sends his Urak Hai to war, his speech is practically genocidal, and quite unhinged ("To WAAAAAAAARRRR!!"). When his end comes in Return of the King, he is wild, wantonly attacking Gandalf, his face a mix of fear, hate, and yes, self-pity. His abuse of Wormtounge has consequences that he never would have dreamed of- stabbed in the back by his stooge. The shock on Lee's face is priceless. The cur has bit the hand of his master.

Meanwhile, his portrayal of Darth Tyranus is very different. In Attack of the Clones, this former Jedi turned Sith is a master of being calm, cool, and collected. His every utterance is of an even tenor, designed to sow confusion as to his true purpose (his whole scene with Obi Wan- what incredible misdirection). Tyranus is in command, no matter the situation, and is seemingly always a few steps ahead of the hapless Jedi. His utter disdain for Obi Wan and Anakin borders on humorous contempt ("Surely you can do better"). His battle with Yoda in AOTC is legendary, with Lee being the coldly evil Sith while Yoda is a whirling dervish of justice. But again, Tyranus plays Yoda, manipulating his emotions (knowing he'll save the Jedi over finishing Tyranus). However, in Revenge of the Sith, the tables are turned, and it was Tyranus who was being played. Lee's face says it all in that final scene- he looks at Palpatine, realizing the betrayal while also, you get the impression that he is also thinking that he should have seen it coming. And his refusal to beg for his life just adds to the character (the story goes that Lucas wanted Tyranus to beg, and Lee said his character wouldn't do that).

Lee was terrific in nearly everything he did, whether its The Wicker Man or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He brought a weight (gravitas) to just about every role, and even bad movies were made better by his presence. I certainly haven't seen all his films (well over 200). I know I'll be drawn back to LOTR and SW over the next few days, but maybe I'll try to see one that I haven't seen yet.

Until next time...