Friday, May 27, 2011

In Honor of Great, Great Men: Christopher Lee

Today is Christopher Lee's birthday.

People might think this is an odd birthday for me to celebrate. Other people would only celebrate Lee's birthday due to one thing in his career--he was in the Star Wars prequels! He was in Lord of The Rings! He was Dracula!

But this man, who at 89 could probably still kick my ass and still have energy to kick yours as well, is a Great, Great Man not only for what he did on the silver screen, but for how he carried himself as an ambassador for his craft. I only had the pleasure of meeting him once, when he was promoting Gremlins II: The New Batch, but he treated me--some snot nosed kid playing at being a journalist--with respect, dignity and good humor. And that, by all accounts, is how he treated everybody. He is someone who enjoys people, enjoys his craft, and always assumes the best--which is why I suspect so many people he's worked with have become friends.

(Incidentally, two of the men he cites as being his closest friends ever were Peter Cushing and Vincent Price--could you just imagine being at a table with these three men, all of who had amazing lives outside of their acting careers, just talking?)

And while most people only celebrate him for one aspect of his career, I don't think anybody realizes the true width and depth of his talent, or his career. I don't think there isn't a film genre he hasn't worked in--including musicals; one of my favorite moments of his film canon is watching him play the villain in the highly uneven super-hero spoof The Return of Captain Invincible, where sings a musical number written by Richard O'Brien tempting the recovering alcoholic Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) with the Wet Bar From Hell. He has shown many, many, many times his talent for comedy, appearing in such disparate films as 1941, the aforementioned Gremlins II and--God help us--Police Acadamy: Mission To Moscow. And let's not forget the fact that he appeared as Death in the classic Saturday Night Live sketch with Lorraine Newman.

And what is my favorite bizarre moment in his career? At his age, he not only likes Heavy Metal, he records metal album with the likes of Charlemange and Manowar.

There is a good-if-not-great documentary made in 1996 about the man. Named The Many Faces of Christopher Lee, it's an hour of the man sitting in a room in his home where he keeps mementos from his career, displaying key pieces and telling anecdotes related to them. I recommend watching it today if you can find it to honor the man. If not, dig out your favorite Lee movies and revel in the artistry of this Great, Great Man.

Here's that musical number from The Return of Captain Invincible, "Name Your Poison"...enjoy!

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