Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Remembrance of Peter O'Toole

I knew this day would have to come.

I never quite knew what to say on occasions like this. I only know to say that there is no movie that I love as much as Lawrence of Arabia, and that it is impossible to imagine such a film without the talents of Peter O'Toole.

I recently lent a friend of mine my 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray set of Lawrence. And I can rest assured that the film, and the work of O'Toole in it and in countless other movies across his lengthy career, will continue to astound, excite, and inspire viewers for 50 years to come, and more.

I recently wrote about what I think is the almost singular status of O'Toole staggering performance as T.E. Lawrence. My piece, which also doubles as a tribute to Vivien Leigh, can be found here:

O'Hara and O'Toole/Lawrence and Leigh - Thoughts o...

Looking at the clip I posted above, I'm struck by the way that O'Toole is able to convey so many different levels of Lawrence depending on who is watching him -- how his performances evokes two completely polar sets of reactions, one from the officers and soldiers around Lawrence, and one from the audience watching in the theatre or at home. I love the weakness of his voice, softened by his recent trials and tribulations, combined with his character's inability to admit; the way he mixes the upright Edwardian English officer with the more primordial wanderer, a man who prefers to exist in the vacuum of a desert, "riding the whirlwind."

I could try to write about O'Toole's performance for hours, but in doing so I would scarcely begin to mine the depths of what he could do with his voice and his body, and in his oh-so-piercing eyes.

So instead, I will let Peter O'Toole himself talk about his acting. This following video is taken from a BBC program filmed in 1963, while O'Toole was performing Hamlet on stage for Laurence Olivier. Here, O'Toole, Orson Welles, and seasoned English stage actor Ernest Milton discuss the play, the character, and their interpretations of the same. It's riveting television, watching these professionals discuss their craft with verve and intelligence and a knowledge of what makes Prince Hamlet Prince Hamlet than dwarfs the opinions of those of us who have never tried to embody that role.

Look how passionate he is, how confident he is in his intimate knowledge of the Dane. That is an actor.

And so, perhaps it is appropriate to close with some words from Young Hamlet himself:

"If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story."

But where O'Toole differs from Hamlet is that he needs no Horatio to remember him or tell his story. His accomplishments are all enshrined on celluloid. And the world is a little less harsh for it.

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