Monday, March 3, 2014

Peter O'Toole: In Memoriam

As Lawrence of Arabia, his breakout role.
 I adore Peter O'Toole's work. As a kid I first saw him in Lawrence of Arabia. It was a wondrous film. It is still one of my favorites because of his and Omar Sharif's iconic performances. The brilliant direction of Sir David Lean and the phenomenal screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson with the Maurice Jarre's music and the amazing cinematography need no additional discussion. It deservedly won 7 Oscars. The film's artistry is ineffable and incomparable. For me in its ethereality it represents the human soul bleak, bare and beautiful.

Sir Laurence Oliver directed him in Hamlet in the 1960s.
 In more mundane terms the film resonated then. It resonates now and it will for all time. When we watch it we are seeing age old issues related to defining identity and our abject inability to reign our ungovernable natures. The film highlighted issues in the Middle East that are vital today: the politics of subtle imperialism and the easy bloodshed fomented by internecine conflicts. Yet O'Toole didn't want to be associated with the role and for years selected parts that would take him out of the shadow of Lawrence. In an O'Toole biography I read, it was said he thought that his Masada role would finally free him from Lawrence. In later years, he grew to appreciate the association with T.E. Lawrence and the unforgettable journey of the film which changed his life, indeed, all of our lives.
In the shadow of T.E. Lawrence
 O'Toole was a great actor who could never be typecast. In each role, he wore the cloak of the character, looked out through the character's eyes, swallowed the saliva of the character, walked in his shoes, or at least, did with the characters in his finest performances: The Stunt Man, The Ruling Class, My Favorite Year, The Creator, Becket, The Lion in Winter, even Foxtrot. He was as acute an actor in his later work; I remember a BBC production in which he was frighteningly evil: The Dark Angel. aka Uncle Silas. He reached into the depths of humankind's wickedness and was its embodiment. Truly, it is an amazing performance. Of course his role in Venus, for which he received his last Oscar nomination was impeccable.
Later years, the 1980s.
This sonnet is from me to Peter, who referred to himself as a retired Christian. God loves the creative genius of artists which He fashions and encourages. In the finest artistry, we see His face in ours. If we allow Him to speak through us, as you did, Peter, then He and you are in a state of felicity. For surely, you are one of His bad boy darlings.

                                         Peter O'Toole

A feisty Irishman an actor King,
You were in life. Beloved for your art.
You worshiped Shakespeare, did the classics bring
To understanding roles, with a poet's heart.
Your intellect self-schooled, and RADA trained,
Evolved beyond the cares of Corn Flake men.*
You scorned commercial "art." It diminished brains,
And trashed humanity's worth; not of your ken.
Your quality of spirit and your grace,
Were known by family and a loving few.
Your self-destructive threads and sorrowful traits
Revealed. That knowing, you to you stayed true.
Your gracious love shines out in graceful art,
Remembered, lifted up. God's blessed, you, hart.

*Corn Flake men was O'Toole's reference to the corporations taking over funding for films.

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