In the glare of today's stars, how many yesteryear greats have you missed?
A blinding spell of brilliance. A performance so striking you’d rarely have seen the like before and doubt very much you will after, except from the same person. When the lights in front of you fade and the ones above come on, it’s all you can do to jostle and rush and reach out your hand in congratulation, or perhaps simply to be touched by a bit of greatness. But your hand meets emptiness. As the glare-spots in front of your eyes clear, you realise whoever it is that dazzled you, is gone.
As a self-confessed movie buff, I was ashamed and shocked to learn that Oliver Reed is dead. The shock is understandable; it’s the appropriate response to death. Ashamed I was because he’d died in 1999 and it wasn’t until five minutes ago that I asked myself why I hadn’t seen him on screen for so long.
How the hell did I not read up and watch pirated stuff on such an incredibly interesting actor?
You might remember him best from his inspired turn as Proximo in the Oscar-winning Gladiator. I count the scene where he teaches Russel Crowe a thing or two about playing to the crowd among the best in cinema. Reed gives himself to a memory of his almost entirely, and comes back to reality with just the right amount of disorientation. Tough to imagine that the words he said have all been written, that they weren’t spontaneous. Tough to imagine he was anything but a gladiator.
So it was seriously depressing to find out he was dead. Reed was one of the biggest stars in the U.K. He starred in the first film to say “f***” [I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967)]. He also starred in the first British film to be rated X just for the violent content [Sitting Target (1972)].
I might as well go underground and live out the rest of my time in a bomb shelter. If you think I’m being too tough on myself, you’re wrong. I would recommend you beat yourself up over this too. Why? I’ll tell you. There are two parts to this –
Part 1 – Oliver Reed
The obvious fact is that you missed Oliver Reed (those of you who already knew all about can skip this part. It could get rough.)
Right. Think you’re a movie buff? You think you know movies? You think you know all the good actors? You think you know the difference between ‘thespian’ and ‘actor’? Do you really? Then how on earth did you not celebrate Oliver Reed!?
Reed was among the few British stars that had no stage training whatsoever. He was a natural movie star made for the silver screen. Listen to his voice. He’s the Amitabh Bachchan of U.K.
And you completely missed him. Shame on you.
Part 2 – Who else have you missed?
The Reed tragedy throws in sharp focus a larger concern – who else have you missed? Please note the professional tone this article has taken on. I’m serious now.
The apparent profusion of movie content online is narrow. What you get is so often dished out by a small population of broadband-eating teens whose spectrum consists of kittens on one end and the Godfather trilogy on the other, with Justin Bieber, Twilight Saga, superhero flicks and promoted movie trailers in between.
What I was trying to say, rather politely, is that in this steaming mass of online compost lies buried some extraordinary content. The machine will not give you the good stuff unless you ask for it. And even then, you can only find bits and pieces of it.
Where’s the justice, I ask you, in burying and putting price tags on invaluable clips, comedies and generally other brilliant stuff while freely allowing multiple uploads of illegal content?
The answer, apart from “Life isn’t fair,” would be, “Read more history.” Read up a little on every sphere of entertainment that you love. The gems you might chance upon are worth the effort.
For those philistines who still think I’m overreacting, I leave the following passage, an account of Oliver Reed’s last meal –
He died of a heart attack in a bar after downing three bottles of Captain Morgan's Jamaica rum, eight bottles of German beer, numerous doubles of Famous Grouse whiskey and Hennessy cognac, and beating five much younger Royal Navy sailors at arm-wrestling. His bar bill for that final lunch time totaled 270 Maltese lira, almost £450.
(Anand Venkateswaran is fascinated with people and with words. So he writes about people. Even when he's writing about food, film or formaldehyde. Fatten his ego or spit in his punch, at firstname.lastname@example.org)