Christopher Reeve, I mean.
I truly believe that if the green kryptonite hadn't gotten him first he'd have walked again.
He had already done things his doctors had thought impossible. And someday a lot of people with severed spinal cords are going to get out of their wheelchairs beacuse of what he put himself through.
Digby has a nice appreciation. Tacked on to the bottom of it though is some pitch-fork waving by the right wing blog mob. Which just goes to show that there is just about nothing these days that doesn't get turned into a question of "Which side are you on?" Even the death of a good and brave man.
The gist of the raving is that Reeve is going to burn in hell for his support of stem cell research. The effect of it is more proof that an awful lot of people who style themselves Christian, aren't. And an awful lot of people who call themselves pro-life, aren't.
And it shows that ideological purity is incompatible with intelligent film criticism.
Several of the ravers in the mob make a point of dismissing Reeve as an actor, as if they think that his not being a great actor undermines his political arguments. What they really mean of course is that his politics make it impossible for them to admit he was a good actor.
These guys must have reacted as violently to Sean Penn's winning the Oscar for best actor as I did to Titanic's winning for best picture.
Liberals do this too. Find one who appreciates the talents of Charlton Heston. Odds are he's a geek with a sci-fi jones who wants to tell you what a work of genius the original Planet of the Apes was.
But watch his work as Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers. He has two beautiful scenes where he underplays marvelously, holding his own against Michael York and blowing Faye Dunaway off the screen.
Took us almost three decades after his death to come around on John Wayne.
I'm not about to claim that Reeve was in the same league as Heston and Wayne. Certainly he wasn't a great movie actor like Jack Nicholson or Sean Penn---by the way, Paul Newman and Tom Hanks are better because they aren't hams.---but I'm not sure it's because he lacked the talent.
I think it was because he lacked the opportunity.
Reeve never had another movie role as good as Superman.
But he was brilliant as Superman.
As a friend of mine wrote on hearing the news, "He turned a B film into an A film, just by doing his work. Superman, clear and simple. He's everything the authors had in mind, everything we that read the books saw in our minds."
It wasn't just a matter of his looking the part so perfectly. It wasn't just that he looked good in the suit. The suit was designed to make anyone who wore it look like Superman. It wasn't even one suit. It was half a dozen. The designers built a suit for flying, a suit for standing, a suit for sitting, a suit for inside, a suit for outside. Reeve had to work out to develop the muscles necessary for the part. (Trivia: his trainer was David Prowse, the guy inside the Darth Vader costume in the original Star Wars films.) But his performance was what brought the suit to life.
I like Tom Welling, the actor who plays Clark Kent in Smallville. When the time comes for him to put on the cape he's going to look terrific. But he is already as old as Reeve was when Reeve was cast in the first movie and he hasn't come near equalling the wit and charm that Reeve brought to the part and with which he transformed it. George Reeves was also a witty and charming Superman, but Reeve took things a step farther.
Reeve figured out that Superman had additional powers. Along with super strength and super speed, he had super brains, a super sense of humor, a super heart, and a super sense of humility.
In the first movie, in the scene where Lois is interviewing him on her terrace, she asks him why he's there or what he believes in, I forget exactly, but Superman says that he's here to fight for "Truth, Justice, and the American way."
Reeve tosses this line off, quickly, quietly, and with a trace of a smile that lets us know that Superman knows this is hokey, he knows that people are going to make fun of it, that he finds it kind of hokey and funny himself, and he means it.
He was subtly slipping in a lesson on morality with this, teaching that along with all the other virtues---charity, mercy, forebearance, courage---it's necessary to practice humility, which is the virtue of being able to see oneself as God sees us, as somewhat ridiculous, and find it funny.
And of course his portrayal of Superman's portrayal of Clark Kent was a comic tour de force, as was, although more subtle, his portrayal of Superman gone bad in the third movie.
Sometimes actors are perfectly cast. Sometimes an actor can take a part and reshape it to fit him. In doing so, if he's very good, he rewrites the part, makes it his own, forever. Jeremy Brett did that with Sherlock Holmes. Every actor who plays Holmes after him, if he knows what's good for him, has to, to some degree, play Jeremy Brett playing Sherlock Holmes.
Reeve did that with Superman. Unfortunately, he never found another role that fit him even half as well. He was too pretty, too big. He was built to play heroes in costume epics. It's easy to picture him as a cavalry officer in the Civil War, as one of Napoleon's marshalls, or King Charles' most dashing cavalier. In the early 80s George Lucas was planning to start making his Star Wars prequels pretty soon after Return of the Jedi, and I hoped that he'd have sense enough to cast Reeve as Anakin Skywalker. All the evidence in the first movies suggested that Anakin was a grown man when he went over to the dark side and not the sullen and pouty teenager he's turned out to be. But Lucas decided he'd rather wait until the technology caught up with his "vision," which turned out to be merely a dream of prettier toys, and although he's credited with changing the whole course of movies by his lonesome, he did not impress upon Hollywood his idealistic view of heroes. Reeve came into his prime in a time that despised costume epics and thought Rambo and the Terminator were heroes.
From what I've read, after the Superman movies Reeve did his best work on stage,
and I wish I could have seen him play Achilles in The Greeks. Almost all the rest of his movies are forgetable, but I really like what he did in The Bostonians. As the ex-Confederate officer Basil Ransome, trying to make a go of it as a lawyer and writer in Boston, he was in a way parodying his own situation. Basil is a once upon a time hero constrained and belittled by life among people who have no use for his Romantic version of masculinity. Vanessa Redgrave's portrayal of the repressed Yankee female Romantic Olive Chancellor makes the movie, but Reeve holds his own against her and I think carries the day.
He was also good in the made for TV movie (remember those?) The Great Escape II: The Untold Story. As Winston Churchill's cousin---believe it or not---he quietly played against type: he was stolid, ungainly, unhandsome, heroic only in the most human way. It's a two parter, and only the first part, the part that is truest to what actually happened is worth watching, but Reeve is why you'll stick with it through the second part.
I haven't seen it, but I've been told that Somewhere In Time is wonderful. Well, not in so many words. Women whose opinion I respect have tried to tell me but their voices trail away in mid-sentence, a far away look comes into their eyes, they place their hand over their breast in a Be still my heart kind of way, and then they sigh that sigh that lets a guy know he does not measure up to some unspoken Romantic ideal.
Still, not much there for a Christopher Reeve film festival. But most actors only get to star in a couple of first rate movies. How many truly great movies has Tom Cruise appeared in? Or Robert Redford? Reeve's chance happened to come right at the beginning of his career instead of in the middle.
And then there was his second career.
He was one of my heroes.
He was Superman.
So I have to say it. You should say it with me. It never got said in any of the movies, a big mistake, but we can say it now.
Look! Up in the sky!
It's a bird!
It's a plane!