|Illustration by Mike Lee|
EARLIER THIS DECADE, WHILE PERFORMING standup comedy in all the usual low-end outlets, I developed a routine tracing the evolution of Charlton Heston's film persona, slightly. The routine's key determinant was the patient, Hestonian recitation of the phrase “Oh. My. God” while creating a minimalist kinetic montage of Ben-Hur, Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Soylent Green and The Ten Commandments in a span of no more than 14 seconds, at the end of which the audience would burst forth with uncontrollable indifference.
Heston, I felt, represented something more than hyperenunciation and melodrama flexing the jaw of Filmericana; whether we like it or not, Heston — actor, patriot — resonates in our media psyche as ersatz religious icon, a 6-foot-3, golden-maned Moses (while the real Moses probably looked like the spawn of Danny DeVito and Howie Mandel); as our first Tough Love; and as the final American façade, embroidered with humanity's post-apocalyptic grimace in Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green and the National Rifle Association.
heston intr.v. To scowl while unabashedly enjoying the veneer of one's reactionary baritone ravings. [After Charlton Heston (1923), American actor and patriot.] Following the Mapplethorpe opening, the docent's husband hestoned all the way back to the Lexus.
About a month deep into the Heston standup routine, one of my friends called one afternoon with what he considered good news: “I'm remixing sound on this thing for PBS. It's narrated by Heston. Come on by.” An hour later we sat before the console, watching the head of Heston frozen in silence on several monitors. Controlling the freeze was quite a treat. A tap of an F-key would release the head into its familiar, grandiose animation — reminiscing about London's post-WWII theater scene, in this case; another tap would make it stop. Cleanly.
This went on for an hour or more, cutting and pasting and pausing and drinking quite a bit of coffee, for it was, unfortunately, the only recreational drug available, and we couldn't just say no. We studied his moves, marveling at his consistency, wondering what it was that made him behave as if he were some sort of . . . Heston. It was almost fun: Heston could not conceal his delight at hearing the sound of his own voice. And he didn't even need to make words: He reacted with masturbatorily ecstatic brow-twisting between the words — to mmmmmnnns and uhhhhhs and uhhnnnnmmmms — as he stroked the hard exoskeleton of his big brain for anecdotes. His trademark hyperenunciation was a thing of wonder, surpassed in its brilliance only recently by Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith in The Matrix:
“Humannn beeeings arre a diseeeease. You arre a cancerrr of thiss planett. And weeee . . . arre the cuuuuurre.”
Blammity-blam! Flappity-blappity! Dunga! Dunga! Dunga! The opening sequence from The Omega Man, Warner Bros.' rendition of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, illustrates how eloquently the past's fiction of the future sometimes accidentally speaks. (Heston plays Jesus armed to the teeth.) And it's only 1.2Mb in glorious QuickTime (https://freespace.virgin.net/andrew.smith49/charlton/
omega/opening.mov). Recommended: Loop back and forth, full screen, all night long as ambient party entertainment (looping requires a registered QuickTime player).
Spend an afternoon at the Violence Policy Center (www.vpc.org) and you'll find plenty of good reading, including a section on “The NRA and Charlton Heston” (www.vpc.org/nrainfo/ heston.html). Here you can enjoy such modern conveniences as the full text of Heston's infamous speech before the Free Congress Foundation in 1997, RealAudio excerpts from the same, documentation of Heston's pro-gun-control stance in the late '60s and the VPC's 1996 study “NRA Family Values: The Extremism, Racism, Sexism, Legal Woes and Gun Industry Ties of the National Rifle Association's Board of Directors.”
Weighing in also at 1.2Mb, a QuickTime version of the original Planet of the Apes theatrical trailer from Reel Classics (www.reelclassics.com/Audio_Video/
planetapes.mov) features not only our man Heston but a sporty, newsreel-style voice-over, the kind of voice you sooner expect to announce the arrival of a Sandy Koufax fastball than a human with the power of speech. Play it backward to hear Satan's own anti-gun-control diatribe.
The proprietor of the Internet's first Charlton Shrine (https://home.earthlink.net/~darkr/charlton/) has subdivided his site thusly: Guns, Women, Guns & Women, Home Address, Filmography, Soylent Green, Politics, Sounds and Pictures. The proper conclusion to this week's Hestonian foray can be found in the code of one of these sounds (https://home.earthlink.net/~darkr/charlton/apes20.wav), a 100K WAV of the following Planet of the Apes exchange:
“Do you have any weapons? Any guns?” Colonel George Taylor asks Dr. Cornelius (Roddy McDowall, back when someone named “Roddy” did not necessarily appear in gay porn).
“The best!” Cornelius replies. “But we won't need them.”
“I'm glad to hear it,” Taylor replies, for it is written in the script. “I want one anyway.”