Sunday, December 15, 2013

Alas, Peter O'Toole

"I'm WHAT?!"

I'm sad to bid thee farewell, Peter O'Toole, but the frank truth of the matter is that you were always a mystery to me. I've always liked the cut of you, enjoyed you immensely on talk shows; you were always as sharp as a stoned tack, but for some reason you had the most uncanny knack for selecting projects that weren't geared to grab me.

Forgive my candor, old bean, but it's true, lamentably true.

I put off LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, LORD JIM, BECKETT, THE LION IN WINTER and others until later in life, when I reached a point where I felt it was then or never. LAWRENCE aside (it was always your pinnacle, and it still shines brightly in HD), I found them all competent, even rewarding in fleeting moments, but they mostly left me feeling like I was sitting in a church to which I did not subscribe. You hit the ground running as King of the Roadshows, didn't you? To your credit, it was a canvas you could command - but very often these movies needed your grandeur to sell themselves.

I always thought you were best in smaller films that revealed your enormity of character. The films of yours that did attract me - WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT?, THE RULING CLASS, THE STUNT MAN, CALIGULA - I saw them right away; they all had points of interest and, again, were perfectly fine... but somehow they failed to unlock my unconditional admiration, too. And something's amiss when I still can't get into WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT? when it's got Fran├žoise Hardy, Romy Schneider AND Peter Sellers in the bargain.

You did make a marvelous Quixote in MAN OF LA MANCHA, I do admit - though, again, musical theater onscreen has never been my forte. MY FAVORITE YEAR was a special film of yours, but as charmingly acted and entertaining as it was, you were cast as a jubilant car wreck - as yourself, as many noted - so I've always attended your Oscar-worthy performance with regret about all the real years and opportunities you wasted in pursuit of a good time and a bigger blast. I look over your filmography and ask myself how so much money could have been generated for what amounts, really, to so little of lasting worth. I guess therein lies the real proof of your own value.

But what a face!
What a voice!
What an amazing character you were!

And there is something you gave me...

If ever I stopped what I was doing to listen, really hard and intently, at the quiet surrounding me, at any point in my life, and I could sense a happy, gallivanting disturbance in the faraway ether, I knew it was likely you, having at it in the midst of some mad offscreen adventure. The world will seem a good deal more still and sober, now you're gone, and that's why I'm saddest to see you go.

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