Charlton Heston’s Last Act

Those damn, dirty apes finally took their stinking paws off him.

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

Screenhunter_01_apr_10_1302In The Ten Commandments DeMille wanted to tell “the greatest story ever told.” He tossed the actors out in handfuls and piled on the sets as if he himself could speak the word to material things, thus making them be. But the movie is dated. The techniques, from the acting to the camera work, are trapped in a pathetic no man’s land between the era of early filmmaking from which DeMille was spawned and the technologies and sensibilities of another generation. The only one who could hold it together was one of the cogs in the machine, a granite-faced man who looked like a statue become flesh. Heston is what is great about The Ten Commandments, not Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille’s next move, right after the movie was finished, was to die.

Now Charlton Heston is just as dead as DeMille. The sad part about it is that, like DeMille, he lingered too long past his time. He was a guest on Saturday Night Live in 1993. I remember watching the episode in a sustained cringe. Some of the sketches may even have been funny. But Morgan_3it was clear that he didn’t really know why they were funny. He wasn’t understanding the world around him anymore. He had the lost look of a grandparent confronted with something a little too new, a little too far past the framework of reference. It is analogous to the difference between his youthful and bold defense of the Civil Rights Movement in the early ’60s and his pitiful trumpeting of stale NRA rhetoric in old age.

That is a troubling thought. One benefit of getting old, we like to imagine, is the benefit of gaining wisdom. Experience is supposed to confer a kind of wizened capacity for judgment. You gain a sense not just for how things seem to work in the moment, but also for how they really work, how they’ve always worked. But that isn’t how it often goes. Cecil B. DeMille became a clown. Charlton Heston became a damn fool.

More here.