Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Peter Cushing

For my movie-viewing pleasure this Halloween, I mostly restricted myself to Hammer Films. (With the exception of the infamous CALIGULA of which the less said, the better.*) As much as I’ve loved their films since childhood, I’d really only seen the “big” ones like DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS or CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN because they were the ones that were shown on TV. As a result, I hadn’t yet been exposed to some really good stuff like BRIDES OF DRACULA or PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. (Yes, Christian, it was good. I was just sleepy.) So, by adulthood, my exposure to Peter Cushing was somewhat limited and I mostly knew him as the evil Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS. Tarkin was a really bad guy and, according to Princess Leia, had a “foul stench.” This really didn’t endear Cushing to my nine-year-old self at all. Which is too bad because Peter Cushing was the tits.

This year, working through as many of Hammer’s horror films as I can get my hands on, I’ve grown to realize just how incredibly awesome Peter Cushing was. Whether he was playing the noble Van Helsing in the Dracula films or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the slimy Victor Frankenstein in a multitude of films, he made even the worst of them entertaining. Cushing started with Hammer at a relatively advanced age (in his forties) and so I’m amazed, as I discover my own new aches, pains and twinges each day, that Cushing was able to perform most of his own stunts, even into his sixties! In BRIDES OF DRACULA, he bounds around the set, jumping from ladders to hay bales to staircases with agility and grace. And his performances were never less than top-notch. He obviously took his craft very seriously and brought dignity and class to a genre that sorely needed it. By all accounts, Mr. Cushing was also a true gentleman in every sense of the word, famously apologizing to his female co-star when the studio insisted (despite Cushing’s protests) that a rape scene was necessary in one of the Frankenstein movies.

I’ve been watching a lot of interviews with Cushing on YouTube and he was gentle, humorous and charming to the end. Tragically, he lost his beloved wife Helen sometime in the 1970’s (right before filming TWINS OF EVIL) and was quoted as considering the rest of his life after that point merely “marking time” until he could be with her again. That’s so sad, it breaks my heart. I hope they’re together now, somewhere, and he’s happy again. He certainly deserved it.

Likenesses are not my strong suit but fortunately Cushing had very distinctive features that must have been a Director of Photography’s dream. Every once in a while I see someone and that urge to draw them kicks in. Usually it’s a pretty woman but lately, I’ve been absolutely needing to draw Cushing. I think it came out pretty good and I’m surprised at how quickly it happened. I did this drawing in less than an hour which is fast for me. I think it’s a fairly accurate likeness (I drew from a photograph.) but I think I somehow missed that little twinkle in his eye that you can see in a lot of his films.


* I don’t really like porn. In all honesty, I find it repetitive, frustrating and eventually downright boring. Unlike pro football, sex is something that’s more fun doing than watching. I’d rather be teased, which is why I enjoy the Hammer films so much. But I’d always wanted to see CALIGULA because the idea of a big-budget, all-star historical epic crossed with a triple-X-rated porn movie was too much to pass up. But it was a huge disappointment because it felt like they shot a genuine Hollywood movie and then, without telling the stars, cut in some barely-relevant boom-boom. Problem is, the Hollywood part was very brutal and gory and, in my opinion, gore and sex are two great tastes that do not taste great together. It was very disturbing and a huge turn-off. (With the exception of Helen (THE QUEEN) Mirren who was absolutely stunning back then.) Funny story, though. The morning after I watched this atrocity, I was flipping channels on the HDTV Suzanne got me for my birthday and when it got to some local religious programming, it froze. The remote wouldn’t work and the controls on the TV didn’t respond. I couldn’t even turn it off. It was as if the TV, feeling I needed redemption, was going to force some proper viewing on me. I was alarmed about the problem but couldn’t stop laughing. I guess the TV felt like it had cleansed itself because it’s working fine now. Hilarious.


Leanne said...

Pssh! And you said you weren't good with likenesses. That sketch is awesome, Matt!

After going through all these Hammer films, I have a pretty mad crush on Cushing right now. The guy is too cool for words. He is a wonderfully diverse actor, and always brings a great sense of class to each role he plays. I like him more and more with every film I watch. So, since we've watched about 10 Hammer films he's been in so far, I like him quite a bit already. And we still have a ways to go.

I'd love to see your take on Christopher Lee sometime...

Warren said...

The Hammer films were blessed with talents like Cushing and Lee. They could make the worst movie watchable.

The drawing is gorgeous! And it makes me think how cool it would be to have a horror comic that was based on the general vibe those old movies had.

DonsSword said...

Cushing and Lee were so dependable. U knew that even if the movie was going to suck, they would be thoroughly watchable.

Brian said...

I think the your Cushing is top draw and that you really did capture his personality.

As for "Caligula," having taken all those years of latin in school, I went to see it in the theatre, with a date, no less, when it originally came out and the level of violence in it was a complete turn off for me.

I'd like to think Penthouse was just making all that cr@p up, but according to two of my classics professors who consulted with the City of Boston when they were considering banning the film, it was historically accurate.

Heywood Jablomie said...

Yeah man quit talking down on your work! That picture came out great-I love it!

I'm sadly in the lost not having seen any of the Hammer films, but since you've been talking about them I've been trying to save up to get some of them.

As for Caligula-I got a laugh out of it. The hype soo did not match the film. I was a huge history buff back in HS and everything that man did was just crazy!! The 2 scenes though that will forever stick out in my mind though are the 'Ring & The Fist', as we used to call it & the 'Mowing the Headweeds' was the other. Just crazy stuff and yes the 2 genres totally don't work together.

Craig Zablo said...

You nailed that sketch Matt!

Chris Gardner said...

Matt, I'm telling you, this is beautiful. Such a pleasing drawing in every way. I'd eluded to this a ways back on your blog... you have such a classic sensibility to your work, comics could only benefit from more artists like yourself. And yes, the "twinkle" in the eyes is the hardest thing to capture, artists have been chasing that forever, and they always will. Great, great stuff. -Chris.

Matt Wieringo said...

Thanks for the compliments everybody. Especially you artists. That means a lot to me.

Parker said...

Great Cushing! The naughty bits added in Caligula are so gratuitous and embarrassing especially because they're even on some different stock of film, clearly lit and shot by someone else (one of your porn veritae types, natch). I can just imagine the actors after they saw those cuts added in!