Sunday, April 06, 2008

CHARLTON HESTON FLEES THE MADHOUSE 1924-2008



Charlton Heston wore his Republican tails proudly in a largely liberal Hollywood, but he always meant more to me than his politics might have suggested. How could he not be for a generation who grew up watching him save our souls in The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, and then our very lives in thrillers and disaster movies like Soylent Green, Skyjacked, The Omega Man, Earthquake! and of course, Airport '75 ("Climb, baby, climb!")? I will remember him most fondly from Touch of Evil and what he did to help Orson Welles get that directing job; as the arrogant, ambitious, misguided Major Dundee; watching Woodstock and mouthing the dialogue in The Omega Man; and of course, his most memorable role in arguably his best movie, as Taylor in Planet of the Apes. And I say without reservation, NRA president and the face of right-wing Republican Hollywood or not, he did not deserve the treatment he got in Bowling for Columbine.

R.I.P., Charlton Heston.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

He was also great in that "ant movie," Haskin's "The Naked Jungle," as a too loyal knight in the underrated "The Warlord" and as an illiterate cowboy in "Will Penney." He was surprisingly subtle as Cardinal Richelieu in Lester's Musketeer movies too.

blaaagh said...

Thanks for writing that, Dennis--especially the part about BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. I like and admire Michael Moore in many ways, but I don't know if I'll ever forgive him for that.

It's hard for me to express all the things Heston has represented for me, even having grown up as a "peace-nik," as my Army-brat cousin once called me--but I will say that as a kid I daydreamed about meeting him one day. My older brother had taken me to see PLANET OF THE APES, THE OMEGA MAN and SOYLENT GREEN (the last at a drive-in, memorably), and he and I shared an admiration for Heston as the down-to-earth, cynical, but damned-if-he'll-be-beaten post-apocalyptic man. (We also sat riveted in front of my aunt Gerry's color TV when BEN-HUR was shown for the first time). Post-college, while I was working three shitty jobs and trying to find a way to move to L.A. to be an actor, someone loaned me his autobiography, and I was taken by some of the same things I've admired in his acting: his passion, his willingness to be "big," to take chances, and his refusal to accept the status quo. That book helped get me through those bleak times, and to believe in my potential. I saw him speak at UCLA in the mid-80s, at one of their noontime lectures at Ackerman union. He was affable, engaging, and, when he performed a speech from THE TEMPEST, as Prospero, as bombastic and over-the-top as anyone could hope for. Glad I got to be in the same room as him.

I liked this bit I found in the Register-Guard this morning:

The New Yorker’s film critic Pauline Kael, in her review of 1968’s “Planet of the Apes,” wrote: “All this wouldn’t be so forceful or so funny if it weren’t for the use of Charlton Heston in the (leading) role. With his perfect, lean-hipped, powerful body, Heston is a god-like hero; built for strength, he is an archetype of what makes Americans win. He represents American power — and he has the profile of an eagle.”

bill said...

I recently saw "Major Dundee" for the first time. Man, Charlton Heston was awesome in that.

As for his politics: first of all, Dennis, thanks for the comment about Moore's disgusting ambush of Heston. Second, for decades, Heston was held up as the one of the main public faces of Conservatism, and largely ridiculed by liberals for it. But this is a guy who marched with Martin Luther King in 1963, and was against the Vietnam war. So instead of all of this being an indication of the complex, myriad views conservatives can have, that aspect of Heston is ignored, and Moore goes ahead and portrays him as a heartless racist.

And I'm not saying that anyone here saw Heston that way -- or even that any of you have such a narrow view of conservatism -- but I'm still seeing him portrayed that way by commenters on other websites. Heston did more for many of the liberal causes than most of these scumbags, but, in their ignorance, they still see themselves as morally superior.

Well. Where did THAT come from?? Anyway, again, please realize -- especially you, Dennis -- that this wasn't directed at any of you, or this site. I just needed to vent a little.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Great job Dennis - and blaaagh and Bill. I agree wholeheartedly. There's a difference between being a whacked out crazy Con like Mel Gibson and being a thoughtful intelligent Con like Heston. Just as there is a difference between being a Michael Moore and being an Errol Morris.

I loved Heston in his movies, his stoic style of acting, his heroism. A great guy I think. And speaking of politics, Sheila has a great piece on the Variations that includes a piece written by arch-liberal Richard Dreyfuss that transcends all political differences. It's a great tribute from Dreyfuss and I recommend reading it.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I'm a little under the gun right now, so I'll come back later. But I'm so glad to have had Bill and Blaaagh stop by to remind us all of some pretty important things about the way politics ought, and oughtn't, interfere with the perception of an artist. (I'd hate to have to pack up all my John Wayne DVDs for sale just because I'm a pinko liberal.) And thanks to Anon for reminding me of Will Penny.

And thanks to Jonathan for the heads-up on Sheila's article, which includes Dreyfuss' wonderful letter. This is a must-read.

Brian Doan said...

Hi Bill (and everyone!),
I agree about Moore and Heston-- I might have disagreed with Heston's politics (and agreed with Moore's for that matter), but ambushing a man with Alzheimer's and doing so to smugly present your own, self-righteous 'goodness' epitomizes everything that's wrong about Moore and his movies. And I think it's true that Heston's politics were probably more complex than people give him credit for.

I loved Dennis's remarks here, too, which remind me of that famous Godard quote about John Wayne:

"How can I hate John Wayne upholding [Barry] Goldwater and yet love him tenderly when abruptly he takes Natalie Wood into his arms in the last reel of The Searchers?"

That's not a slam against Goldwater (who I also admired), but another way of saying that art and politics intesect, but not always as cleanly or as clearly as we might like. Whoever Wayne was as a poltical figure, I'll never stop loving Red River. And I think we could say the same about Heston.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

This clip shows the BFC interview piece all the way through Heston's walkout. What's really specious is that it's not good enough for Moore to have ambushed Heston. The piece ends with Moore chasing Heston down, waving the picture of the little girl. We can clearly see Moore and Heston in the same shot moving down the walkway to Heston's house. They are the only two people in the shot. Then suddenly we're treated to an intercut of Moore standing and holding the picture and pleading with Heston to stop, from a reverse angle where, if we remember the shot from just seconds before, there was no second cameraman-- just the one shooting from behind Moore. So Moore, adapting the nodding head interviewer technique to his own ends, inserts footage of himself pleading to Heston, who by then was long gone, in order to make himself look extra sensitive and righteous.

And Brian, I think you're right. Everyone's politics are probably more complex than what we might imagine, and I think it's reasonable to assume, unless you're a self-aggrandizing whack job (like Mel or Mike?), this stands to be true for celebrities as well.

Still, I'm looking forward to finally seeing Sicko.

driveindude said...

I'm like the rest of you with the shared memories of going to see "Chuck" in Planet of the Apes, Solent Green ("Soylent Green Is People") & The Omega Man when they were first released.

My mother knew I was a big Charlton Heston fan and back in 1996 she was invited to the premier of his film ALASKA at the Cinerama Dome here in Hollywood. My mother has always had good luck and this night was no exception. When she got up to use the ladies room she managed to run into Mr. Heston as he was leaving the screening early and he offered his apologies for thinking he stepped in front of her, and my mother courageously acknowledged his apology and then proceeded to inform Mr. Heston that her son (Me) would just die knowing that he (Me) missed the chance to meet one of my film heroes.

The great Charlton Heston took my mothers hand, smiled that classic Heston grin and said, "You tell your son that I am the one who missed the chance to meet someone who admired my work," and with that he said "GOD BLESS" and left the theater lobby.

I'll never forget the look on my mother's face as she told me this story.

bill said...

Brian - I love that Godard quote, and he's right. Hell, as someone who leans more towards the right than most people around here, if I had the kind of scorched-earth policy towards the arts that some of the people who have been so disrespectful to Heston since his passing seem to have, I'd never watch another movie. It made my heart sink to find out that David Lynch bought into all that "Loose Change" nonsense, but I'm still going to watch his movies, because he's a singular artist, and I have no reason to believe that he's a bad human being.

Dennis - thanks for bringing up the invisible cameraman in "Bowling for Columbine". I actually went into that film with a very open mind, and while my blood was boiling well before his ambush of Heston, Moore's little "William-Hurt-in-'Broadcast-News'" moment made me want to punch Moore's teeth out.

bill said...

driveindude - Wow. What a fantastic story. It gave me chills.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yep, DID, that is a good 'un. I can hear him saying those words so clearly.

Rick Olson said...

Sometimes, folks have a problem separating the art from the artist, sometimes its impossible to do so (is it that way with Godard?), but it always was easy with Heston. And his politics, as are those of most people, defied easy categorization.

Didn't I hear something in the past couple of years about Heston saying that he considered a lot of the "cold dead hands" stuff just to be acting? Not that that in itself doesn't seem a bit disingenuous, but still. And he sure didn't deserve the treatment Moore gave him, you all nailed that one.

Bob Westal said...

My feelings about Heston the actor are even more mixed than my feeling about him as a person. Still, I must take strong issue with "Planet of the Apes" being his film, much as I like it.

It's either "The Big Country" or "Touch of Evil."

Campaspe said...

Bob, I like your taste in Heston movies, though I would say his best acting is probably in Will Penny, a role he seemed really to take to his heart.

Dennis, as always you open my eyes to things unnoticed before, as with the insert in BFC. I just wrote a scrupulously apolitical recollection of Heston at my place. But much as I appreciate the sense of courtesy and fair play behind you and your commenters' disgust with Moore, I have to cast a dissenting vote. Moore couldn't have known that Heston was ill when he interviewed him, and his treatment of Heston is no better or worse than many others. When, as Heston did, you voluntarily take on a hugely public role for the most famous lobbying organization in the U.S., you're putting yourself in the position to be criticized for your views. It's part of the job description. Calling Heston on the Denver NRA meeting and the group's influence is no more beyond the pale than the conservatives who mocked Sean Penn for taking to a boat after Katrina.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Campaspe, I truly did appreciate your piece on Heston, as I expected I would. Your reasoned and passionate approach to the passing of this man, an approach I enjoy in all your writing, does the world of film blogs (a practice much tarnished in the eyes of some) much credit and good grace. (To say nothing of the tickle and dignity-by-association I get whenever you stop by here!)

As for Moore and whether he could have known Heston was ill, perhaps you’re right. If he was depending on the accuracy of information provided to him about that matter, who’s to say how good his team is at providing it? And obviously you’re right that celebrities who take on such high profile lobbying roles ought to expect a level of scrutiny far beyond someone who simply comes out and endorses John McCain or Hillary Clinton. My problem is that Moore is the ultimate controlling force over what he shoots and what ends up in the final cut, as well as the issue of irresponsibility and self-aggrandizement that so often comes up in his films. I don’t find it unreasonable to expect/hope that Moore as an interviewer could have assessed the situation once he arrived at the actor’s home, and then made a choice of humanitarian restraint and/or empathy upon encountering an obviously enfeebled Heston, rather than pressing on at all costs to make a political point he could have made without humiliating the man.

bill said...

Campaspe - The problem isn't that Moore interviewed Heston at all. It's that 1) he got the interview dishonestly; 2) he painted Heston as a racist, even though the man's entire life up to that point contradicts that portrayal; 3) he manipulated the footage to make it seem as though Heston was completely callous towards the death of a young girl; 4) Heston announced his Alzheimer's diagnosis in August of 2002; Moore's film was released in October of that year. If you were Moore, once you learned of this in August, along with the rest of the world, wouldn't you have reconsidered the interview footage? Wouldn't you have cut it completely? I know I would have, and I bet you would have, too. So why didn't Moore?

driveindude said...

Right on the money Bill.

It's called integrity.

Give this movie a look see: http://www.michaelmoorehatesamerica.com/

Tucker said...

I don't have much of an interest in discussing Michael Moore for a post about Charlton Heston. But I have to say that Moore, though I generally like his politics and sometimes his films, is also exasperating in his too frequent disingenuous documentary tactics. Too often he goes for effect when he should be going for truth, and he goes for self-promotion when he should step aside. I say this even though I realize Heston was a legitimate target as the spokesperson/president of the NRA. One gets the feeling that Moore was more interested in creating a scene for entertainment's sake than for the benefit of the topic at hand. He undercut his own film's strength by pulling a stunt, as it were.

As for Heston, was was marvelous. I have nothing more to add. So many have already said it better than I. Thanks Dennis for this post.

driveindude said...

Here's a trivia oddity for us Heston fans. In the tradition of Graman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, The replica Chinese Theater inside the old Disney MGM Studios has it's own "Stars in Cement" in front of the GREAT MOVIE RIDE. Mr. Heston was invited to replicate his Hollywood footprints and in doing do became the only celebrity to misspell his own name. See for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Heston.JPG

Bob Westal said...

Campuspe -- well, I guess the explanation is that I haven't seen "Will Penny"!

As for M. Moore -- it's been awhile but I went from being something of an apologist for him on that film to being a great deal more skeptical because I saw how he basically pulled some stupid editing tricks to make Heston look worse. It's funny, but before now I never even made the connection with Alzheimer's -- I remembered Heston going public with that long AFTER the film came out.

The weird thing about it is that "Columbine" was actually the film that persuaded me that gun control wasn't as crucial an issue as I had previously believed and I now have no problem supporting a pro-gun progressive (though I'd prefer we treat guns something like the way we treat autos). All in all, Moore's question -- "Are we gun nuts, or are we just nuts?" is as salient as ever, it's just sad he thought he had to resort to this sort of thing to make his film work. Moore can be so right and so wrong at the same time, it's kind of frustrating.

Robert H. said...

"... And thus The Cid rode out of History, into Legend..."

paraphrased, but it's close enough for the occasion - from EL CID.

That moment, at the end of EL CID will raise goosebumps on your flesh.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Bob: Will Penny is pretty wonderful. Now, if that ever makes it to the Egyptian...

And an amen to your ambivalence about Moore.

Robert H: To my ear, Heston's finest moment in El Cid is his reading of the line, "For Spain!"

Isn't it great to remember some of the man's work that doesn't come immediately to mind?

bill said...

Has anybody else here seen Fraser Heston's "Treasure Island", with his dad as Long John Silver (and Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins, by the way)? It was made for cable, back in the late 80s, early 90s, and it's absolutely terrific. It's sadly also close to impossible to find these days. If you can track it down, though, please do so. Heston is wonderful.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

And it occurs to me, no one, at least here, has mentioned his very funny cameo in True Lies, where he parodied his own stiff-upper-lip, serious-yet-camp reputation (much as he did as Armageddon's portentous narrator) as the big boss spy overseeing Schwarzenegger's assignments.

But of the performances of his I have yet to see, one looms large: The Big Country. I'm waiting for the big screen on this one, because every time I run across it on TCM I find myself resisting the opportunity to shrink it down to TV size. Maybe one day I'll cave, but I'm hoping some kindly revival programmer nearby will come and rescue me.

driveindude said...

Heston was also great beside Brian Keith in Mountain Men.