Well today has been a sad one for film fans. Mere hours after news broke that the portrayer of Fagin Ron Moody had died at the age of 91, it was announced that Christopher Lee had also passed away at the weekend. The word “legend” is attached to many people these days, but Lee was one of the few fully deserving of that description. A man who led a life before show businesses almost as interesting as the film career that followed (he was basically James Bond), Lee was a giant of the industry and a master of his art.
DRACULA, THE WICKER MAN, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, LORD OF THE RINGS, STAR WARS, and so on. Lee was a film icon who brought to life (or afterlife) some of the most memorable characters – notably villains – in the history of film. The first half of his monumental career boasted an iconic Count, a low-key creepy Lord Summerisle and an entertainingly warped mirror image of James Bond in Scaramanga. In his later years he became equally beloved and detested by a new generation as Saruman and Count Dooku in The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars Episodes II and III respectively, and in both franchises he have weight to reams of complex fantasy exposition and turned booming out silly names with a straight face into an art form. His career spanned such a long time and he was such a prolific performer that everyone, no matter their age, will remember him for at least one role.
Much like his contemporary Vincent Price his career could have been a non-starter because of his imposing height, but again like his American counterpart Lee turned his physical attributes to his distinct advantage and was always a memorable presence onscreen even in smaller roles in the likes of GREMLINS 2 and most of Tim Burton’s films over the last decade.
For many, he is the once and future Dracula, or else the monstrous foil to real-life best friend Peter Cushing’s well-spoken heroes in a number of other Hammer productions. For me, because I’m in my mid-twenties, Lee will always be Saruman. He may have really wanted to play Gandalf (he would have been far too harsh) but he was perfect casting as the fallen white wizard, and Peter Jackson surely found it a great help to have a Tolkien expert (he read LOTR annually) on set to check out any doubts on Middle-Earth lore or Elvish pronunciation. One of the most touching, amusing moments from Jackson’s mountain of behind-the-scenes footage is the crew being equally fascinated and frustrated by Lee telling yet another remarkable but long-winded anecdote as they try to reset a scene in pickups for THE HOBBIT.
It’s a tired phrase, but you can’t say the man didn’t have a good innings. To lead such an interesting and varied life, and to carry on working right until your time to shuffle off this mortal coil is truly enviable. We’ve lost an icon of cinema this week, but he leaves behind a frankly ridiculous body of work to trawl through (including the odd heavy metal album); a thoroughly worthwhile endeavor if you have the time, or plan on living for as long as the now late great Christopher Lee. SSP