Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ten Reasons Christopher Lee is the Most!

Today, Christopher Lee turns 90 and Psychobabble surveys decades of reasons why he’s still the most.
1. Has any actor ever portrayed as many iconic characters as Christopher Lee? He equaled Lon Chaney, Jr., by playing four of the major movie monsters: Dracula, The Frankenstein Monster, The Mummy, and Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde (renamed Dr. Marlowe and Mr. Blake). He also filled the shoes and cloven hooves of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Fu Manchu, Rasputin, Lucifer, Tiresias, Saruman, and the Jabberwocky. That’s quite a cv.

2. Christopher Lee had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the studio and role that made him famous. He has been known to refuse to sign memorabilia depicting him as the title vamp in Hammer’s Dracula pictures. At the same time, he has been strangely devoted to Hammer. In the studio’s earliest days, he was quick to defend its films against its many critics by describing them as “adult fairy tales” rather than “Horror,” a term he loathed. In later years he often narrated documentaries about the studio and answered the call when it revived in 2007 to take a role in its comeback flick. The Resident was a pretty bad movie, but it was still nice to see Mr. Lee’s face follow the Hammer logo once again.

3. After playing the Count in the romantic tradition of Bela Lugosi a couple of times, Christopher Lee got the chance to be the first actor to really portray Dracula as Bram Stoker described him in Jesús Franco’s excellent Count Dracula (1970). Lee wasn’t the first to don a mustache to play the vampire. That distinction goes to John Carradine, but Lee was the first to resemble Stoker’s Dracula and perform in scenes and speak dialogue far closer to the source novel than we’d seen in any earlier Dracula film.

4. On screen, Dracula had a first-class nemesis in Van Helsing. In real life, Christopher Lee had a wonderful friend in Peter Cushing. Though the serious Lee and the jocular Cushing could not have had more different personalities, they remained close friends and were always quick to defend each other to jerky journos looking for discord behind the scenes of those nasty, nasty Hammer gore fests.

5. Christopher Lee’s closest Horror associate will always be Peter Cushing, but he was also involved with the genre’s definitive star. Christopher Lee was both a co-star of Boris Karloff (Corridors of Blood, The Curse of the Crimson Altar) and a next-door neighbor. In his autobiography, Tall, Dark, and Gruesome, Lee wrote, “When we came out of our houses simultaneously, people expected to see body-bags dumped on the pavement”!

6. Christopher Lee is literally the most! At 6’5” he is one cinema’s tallest leading men.

7. Christopher Lee is a man of numerous talents, not the least of which is his stunning bass. He first got to show off his singing abilities in his best film, the 1973 Horror musical The Wicker Man. In 2010 he released his very own album, the wacko “symphonic metal” opera Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross.

8. Paul McCartney loaded the cover photo of Wings’ excellent 1973 L.P. Band on the Run with familiar faces: boxer John Conteh, journalists Michael Parkinson and Clement Freud, actors Kenny Lynch and James Coburn, and of course, the three members of Wings. But by far the coolest face belonged to Christopher Lee.

9. OK, so the Star Wars prequels weren’t too hot (and The Phantom Menace was downright wretched). Still, it was pretty groovy that George Lucas selected Christopher Lee to play the villainous Count Dooku in Episodes II and III. Lee’s casting was a neat way to link the new films with the original trilogy because of his unbreakable association with Peter Cushing, who’d played General Tarkin in 1977’s Star Wars. And let’s not ignore the significance of his character’s name: “Dooku” may sound like something you’d find in a diaper, but “Count” is another unmistakable reference to Lee’s best known role. It was a cool move for some pretty uncool movies.

10. Even as Christopher Lee turns 90, he is just as in demand as ever. The 21st century has been one of the most active eras of his career. According to imdb, Lee has loaned his voice and face to some 30 films and television series since 2000. They have included such major releases as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and upcoming Hobbit movies, the Star Wars prequels, several Tim Burton films, and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. After all these years, Christopher Lee is still creating new cinema icons. That’s the most.
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