Thursday, October 4, 2012

Charles Bronson, the Quiet One

While watching the wonderful Vincent Price film House of Wax (1953) the other night, I noticed an oddly familiar face playing a deaf mute named Igor, a staff member of a wax museum studio. The face bothered me; darned if it didn't look like Charles Bronson.

When I investigated, sure enough it was the great quiet tough guy, in his very early movie career (then named Charles Buchinski), before he assumed what would be his stage name. As I figured, Bronson has been gone for a while, dying in 2003. He's one of those late actors that you just don't hear about anymore, unlike tough guys Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum, who, despite being dead, live on as muses or idols for a certain type of musician or artist (Tom Waits, Jim Jarmush, etc.) 

Though a great icon, Bronson fell a bit on the wrong side of the spectrum. His features were unusual; they were rugged but not concurrently seizing in the correct way (a hint of the asiatic perhaps?) His roles tainted him for the young and hip, dark leather-wearing band crowd (for whom a special political perfume is needed.) He had too much the whiff of rightist vigilantism about him, his most famous role being the protagonist in Death Wish.

And by extension, dare I say... Bernie Goetz, the real life vigilante. This type of vigilantism, once the stuff of folk-hero mythos and TIME magazine covers, does seem somewhat dated. It hasn't aged well in the following decades, what with a changed context of "going postal", Oklahoma City, Militia Movement, and a litany that forever grows.

But back to the early Bronson, mute Igor:

Directors of the Vincent Price horror films really had fun. One ingenious trope is that of the living head amid the inanimate, such as Igor holding watch amid wax dummies. Another great use of this was in a much later film, Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1973), wherein death-head scarred Vincent Price coyly watches Egyptoligists in a tomb, camouflaged as he is by lifeless skeletons.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sandy Duncan, urban-mythic Cyclops

When one can't chart the history of associations that have allowed him to arrive at a thought, it's called the Sandy Duncan Effect. I found this out recently--she just popped into my mind, the same way she has done for fellow bloggers. We don't know why we think of her, we just do.

She is a still-living personality that I seldom consider. This makes her image all the more vivid, lit in front of a David Lynchian purple velvet curtain in the spotlight of the mind's eye.

It could be argued that Peter Falk is the patron saint of this blog. His character Columbo has inspired a great deal of entries, being that the series has compelled me to google a panoply of character actors. I revere Falk. His cyclopian aspect makes him all the more special. His Columbo character has keen insight, Odin-like. He is locked into an archetype, like the original cyclopses, seeds of  Uranus' castration.

I assumed there must be some such aura surrounding Sandy Duncan, one of the first one-eyed celebrities I became aware of. Well I remember the fascination, within the knotty-pined and cane-covered TV world of childhood family rooms, when my mother related to me the story of Duncan's cyclopia. Doubtless Duncan was performing in a variety show, full of sugar-sequined curtains, when mom explained that the actress had had a brain tumor, requiring the removal of her eye, to be replaced by a glass eye. It was astonishing; there must be a divine feminine force that propelled her glass eye into a field of high performance, looking so real. Unlike the expressions of her male counterparts, (think of the glare of Sammy Davis Jr., or Peter Falk's inscrutable, swart pebble under his crusty brow)  Duncan's eye was amazingly life-like.

How do such urban myths evolve? Now I have found out it is hogwash. Sandy Duncan never had a glass eye. We may bemoan much of this digital age, but at least the new access to information makes these urban myths easy to bust. Some of the magic is lost, too.

 I look back to my times in school, hearing the strange pronouncements of teachers, who  sometimes built whole lessons--neigh, whole units-- around pixie dust.
My favorite of these fallen myths is the one woven into my memories of Social Studies, maybe 8th Grade. With the look of a pastor, voice full of awe and portent, our beloved teacher relayed the sad story of  Kitty Genovese, victim of modern society. She screamed for help in the Babylon of New York (remote and dark city of imagination, decadent as the original Babylon of mustached caliphs and sword-dancers.) Her cowardly neighbors lay in bed, callously ignoring her, letting her die. This story has since been shown to be inaccurate.

 Now, parents and authorities have lost their power to myth-shape.
I find that the certainties of childhood have largely fallen through the thin ice. Myths develop because of our wish for certainty, for explanation.