Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Charlton Heston, 1923-2008
Movie legend Charlton Heston passed away on Saturday, April 5th, 2008. He was 84. Lydia, his wife of 64 years, was by his side.
The Oscar-winning actor, president of the National Rifle Association, and Civil Rights activist was one of the last remnants of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood. He starred in such monumental classics as Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, Touch of Evil, and the original Planet of the Apes, among many other films.
One of his last onscreen appearances was in Tim Burton's 2001 version of the science-fiction adventure Planet of the Apes. In the film, Heston appears in an unbilled, surprise cameo as a dying old chimpanzee, speaking to his violent son, the villainous Thade, played by Tim Roth.
On the DVD audio commentary track of the film, Burton recalls how exciting it was, working with this screen legend and hearing his booming voice in person.
Here's an excerpt of a review of Burton's film by Armond White of the New York Press from 2001. The review has a consideration portion focusing on Heston's brief appearance. You can read the full article, which also comments on the visual style, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter's performances, and likens the movie to social satire, in this link:
Charlton Heston reveals the discreet charm of the Hollywood conservative in Tim Burton’s reimagined Planet of the Apes. In the 1968 original Heston starred as an American astronaut who discovers a future evolutionary reversal–a society ruled by apes, with humans as the captive species. Now, in an unbilled cameo, Heston plays one of the apes passing a legacy of violence and vengeance to his son Thade (a snarling, snorting Tim Roth). Once again evolution has played tricks on mankind by reasserting the atavistic animal within. And Heston displays this with rousing, hilarious aplomb. You might recall Laurence Olivier’s deathbed scene in Brideshead Revisited but Heston’s from-the-mountaintop voice ("Damn them all to hell!") is irresistible. It echoes through one’s movie memories–parodying aristocratic hubris and Heston himself.
Bequeathing an ancient relic–a gun–to a pre-Neanderthal is an irony surely not lost on NRA zealot Heston who, earlier this year, appeared as a dangerous, rifle-toting nut case in the Warren Beatty comedy Town & Country. When one of Burton’s primates sees a gun and asks, "Who would invent such a thing?" the obvious answer to the question resonates as Heston’s private joke–a punchline that hunts down liberal alarmists in their tracks. Fully cognizant of the misuse of firearms, Heston’s gag doesn’t deny the risks that guns entail. (The sense of the scene recalls that Simpsons joke when Homer, told he can only purchase a gun after an eight-day security check, whines, "But I’m angry now!") Heston’s scene reflects the gun control debate with imaginative complexity–as such sophisticated moralists Sam Peckinpah and John Boorman once were able to do. He goes pop–without isolating the issue or taking it past ambivalence to partisan oversimplification. In fact, Heston’s character curses "the power of invention, the power of technology... Against this our [physical] strength means nothing." It’s a startlingly humane plea coming from a dying simian patriarch who was a nearly pacifist ruler hiding the secret of weaponry. Knowing the catastrophe of humans’ unchecked aggression, Heston warns, "No creature is as dangerous...as violent." This twist is richer than any right- or left-wing rhetoric.