Sunday, April 6, 2008

On Charleton Heston and the Scenery Chewers

So, ol' Chuck Heston crossed the metaphorical Red Sea into the promised land the other day, which prompts a lot of discussion about what he'll be remembered for and what his qualities and weaknesses were.

Over at Althouse there's a strong faction who thinks his religious movies will carry him forward through time. But for the post-Boomer pre-X generation (and probably part of X as well), he'll probably be remembered for his post-Apocalyptic trilogy: Planet of the Apes, Omega Man and Soylent Green. (Less the last, since it didn't air on TV as incessantly as the first two.)

Those films are pretty dated, however, so perhaps the Biblical ones will win out. The most watchable, for my money, is Touch of Evil, which film Heston was instrumental in Welles being able to make at all.

I wasn't a big fan (see my Man For All Seasons story), and agree with some of the suggestions that it was a style, like that of Kirk Douglas, that's never really appealed to me. But I wouldn't lump in Burt Lancaster in that crowd and I wouldn't really call it scenery chewing.

The style of acting that has predominated in my lifetime has been a so-called "natural" style, where everything is sort of muted and "realistic". I put those terms in quotes because everything about drama is so artificial, arguing over one thing being more realistic than the other becomes a little silly.

Like Hitchcock not putting music in Lifeboat because "where would it come from?" (David Raksin told us his response to that was something like "Presumably from the same place the cameras come from.")

Or like English gardeners who argue over a manicured look and a "natural" look. The natural look is no less manicured, it's just a different--equally artificial--aesthetic.

And after enjoying years of William Shatner impressions, I realized that his "over"-acting is the only thing that makes the original "Star Trek" watchable for me. You have to admit, the fist-biting, pregnant-pausing, arm-sweeping scenery chewing distracts you from the fact that the scenery being chewed is largely cardboard.

Looking back, a lot of--let's call it "broad"--acting is the most entertaining part of a lot of shows, and while you might, for instance, laugh at the transparent gestures and facial expressions of silent movies, you do at least know what's going on.

So, you know, support your local ham.

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