The passing of Peter O’Toole that prompted this issue’s column also creates an occasion to appreciate his cinematic legacy. I have written in the past about his first triumph, Lawrence of Arabia, and a while back in these picks raved about his last brilliant performance in Venus. His work in Becket, Lord Jim, The Lion in Winter, The Ruling Class and My Favorite Year are all worth seeing if not for the first time but second or more. Also worthy of note and watching are one of my all-time favorite films and two recent ones he made in which O’Toole shines:
Movie: The Stunt Man
I love movies about making movies, and this one is of the most telling about how reality, the film and its creation can swirl together to create yet another alternate reality. An escaped convict stumbles onto a film set as he is being chased and causes a stunt to go wrong and its stunt man to die. The film’s egomaniacal and manipulative director, played by O’Toole, swoops down as if from on high in a helicopter shooting the scene to offer the fugitive a refuge if he replaces the dead stunt man. The film captures how a film crew and set become their own world apart from everything else, and O’Toole no doubt channels the many directors he has known into a bravura performance that’s one of his best. The tale behind its own director’s struggle to get this wonderful and vivid movie made and shown is one of those “only in Hollywood” tales that even has its own documentary, The Sinister Saga of Making ‘The Stunt Man’.
Movie: Rock My World
An upper-crust English couple who are down on their luck and short on funds are forced to rent out their mansion to a rock band needing a place to rehearse for their next album. Embarrassed by their turn of fortune, the lord of the manor, played by O’Toole, and his wife pretend to be the butler and maid. This fun little film offers not only a deft poke at British status and manners but also a rare true-to-life portrayal of how bands interact, and is rich with sweetness, gentle humor, warmth and the character growth that comes out of diversity.
Movie: The Final Curtain
O’Toole plays an aging English TV talk show host who becomes engaged in a pitched and ever-escalating rivalry with a younger competitor as he is dying from cancer and engages a writer to pen his memoirs and preserve his legacy, as it were. It’s a wickedly cutting look at fame and success and the desperate measures that people will go to in order to maintain their dubious public stature, and a delightful romp full of laughs and twists.
From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2014
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