Saturday, February 10, 2007

Death, death, death!

Positively my favourite moment in cinema comes from the third part of Lord of the Rings. The Roherim - if that is the spelling - arrive during the battle of the Pelenor Fields (?) before Minas Tirith ... I think Tolkein fans will simply have to attribute my erratic spelling to my virus ... and King Theoden rides along their ranks shouting "death" and touching all their spears with his sword. I know it doesn't quite happen like that in the book, but so what? It is great cinema, and I still remember watching it for the first time, and feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as, to the accompaniment of the folksy violin Rohan melody, the horsemen of Rohan charge to their death or to the destruction of the forces of Mordor.

Death is much in the news at the moment. I refer not to the death everyone seems to be so excited about. I refer rather to the death of Ian Richardson whose demise deprives us of one of the greatest Shakespearean actors since World War II. I was alarmed when I saw his picture, since at first I thought Charles Dance had shuffled off this mortal coil, and that, accordingly, the portrayal of the Dickesian baddy was perhaps at an end. That day will surely come, but thankfully not yet. But what struck me about Richardson's obituary was not his many achievements, but the sheer humility of the man, notably, his avowal that it was Alec Guinness who had taught him to act for the camera.

In the way my mind is wont to wander these days, I took off on a flight of reminiscence about Sir Alec Guinness, whose My Name Escapes Me is No. 2 on my list of all-time great autobiography titles (No. 1 being Eric Sykes's inimitable If I don't write it, nobody will). Guinness made his money late in life thanks to negotiating a royalties deal for his minor role in Star Wars. Musing over the script of the first film, Harrison Ford told George Lucas candidly, 'You can write this shit, but you can't say it, George.' Which, of course, makes Guinness's achievement all the more commendable.

If there is any synchronicity here, it is simply that this is the second time this week I have stumbled across the Guinness trail. I covered a review of David Lean's Great Expectations with my cinema class the other day, in which film Guinness plays Magwitch, if I am not mistaken. And, feeling great sympathy for my students, whose course requires them to watch the appalling Paris, Texas, I recommended Guinness's tour de force Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he plays eight members of the same family, all of whom are assassinated. Death, encore une fois. It is hard now to get the measure of such a thing. I cannot think of any film that even comes close to this vauderville-like capacity for make-believe and acting acumen, all wrapped up in the same performance. Eddie Murphy has since caught the vauderville, but hardly the acting acumen. (Can I have 'acting acumen' or is that forbidden by the Abused Alliterations Act?). I found myself walking away from the cinema class, thinking it was about time I taught the students the expression, 'Mine's a Guinness'.

Which all brings me in another word-association-football kind of way to the news from HQ that my eldest nephew and godson has done us all proud and turned in a sterling performance as Mercutio - Death, once again - in Oldham Sixth Form College's production of Romeo and Juliet.

He's a talented chap, and so, in the time-honoured family tradition, I couldn't resist a swipe at him this evening.

'So', I texted him, 'I heard you died on stage'. And apparently, it just sailed right over his head, for he thanked me in his response.

I'd probably have to be a Richardson or a Guinness to get that line just right.

No comments: