I grew up in the sixties and seventies, and so I greet today's news of Charlton Heston's passing with more than just a twinge of sorrow. More than any other movie star of his era, Mister Heston helped to pave the way for my future consciousness. Only a short while ago, here in this blog, I wrote about my deep and abiding affection for "Airport '75". Given his longevity in the movie business, I must not be alone in my appreciation for his rugged bravado.
If he had only been the star of "Planet of the Apes", I would have been a fan. As Colonel George Taylor, he showed up in my world as the first anti-hero. He was a tough guy who left earth to explore the stars, if only to escape the mess that he and the human race had left behind. He was a cynical son-of-a-gun, and I like that. Imagine his shock at the realization that he had never really left at all.
But it wasn't just "Apes". He was also "The Omega Man", long before Will Smith, and a whole lot tougher than Vincent Price. He could handle a machine gun and ride a motorcycle, or do chemical research to find a cure for the blood-borne pathogen that created a world full of zombies. He watched "Woodstock" enough times to memorize the stage announcements and drove a convertible Mustang. Add this to Detective Robert Thorn, who told us what "Soylent Green" really was, and you've got the makings of a real counter-culture hero.
It was near the end of "Soylent Green" that I first fell in love with Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony: The Sixth. It plays over the assisted suicide of suicide of his mentor Sol, played by Edward G. Robinson. Besides being a lovely way to bring these two legends back together one last time after their epic beginning in "The Ten Commandments", it gave me a reason not to fear death: the music of Beethoven.
Then there was "Ben Hur". I loved that movie, even though I spent most of my youth terrified at the eventual appearance of the "Leopards" (lepers). The amazing set pieces, like the galley ships fighting and the iconic chariot race made it favorite Easter viewing. But the thing that I will always remember most is the image of Michelangelo's "Creation" from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel behind the credits. God's finger reaching out to touch Adam's was one of my first artistic inspirations. In college I even painted "The Sistine Floor" on one my dorm-mate's loft.
Can I forgive Chuck Heston for his right-wing NRA politics? I don't know if I have to. That wasn't the guy I was watching in the dark, for all those years. When I saw Michael Moore go after him in "Bowling For Columbine", it seemed like justice, but in hindsight, it just feels like opportunistic celebrity bashing. Do I agree with "My cold, dead hands"? Well, I guess now Michael Moore has his shot.