Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Man They Would Call Hannibal


I often find myself wondering what it is like to be famous, and yet among the zeitgeist be known primarily for a single thing. This day and age, it's almost the defining principle of fame. With so many quick to rise, quick to fall celebrities 'gracing' us with their own offerings to the ever winding road of societal desire. With that comes the level of iconic. An invisible line in which a particular fabric of art has become so intertwined with society that we refuse to acknowledge that the two were separate to begin with. Efforts at calling this out, splitting them apart and returning to an original time prior are met with violent backlashes of disinterest.

Hannibal Lecter. Anthony Hopkins. If you were to watch a commercial these days you'd be hard pressed to identify the difference. Well, that is if you're watching a commercial for The Rite. On some level I find this to be a rather saddening fact. Anthony Hopkins has donned the Lecter exterior thrice in my lifetime. Each to different effect. Yet, people seem to struggle with acknowledging Hopkins as anything more.

Since playing the role he has done everything you can imagine this way and that. Almost to absolute perfection in each case I might add. Just two years after Silence of the Lambs he wowed anyone strong enough to see such depth of reservedness and subtly in The Remains of the Day. With decorum and confidence he battled slavery as John Quincy Adams in Amistad. He dueled with a bear in the woods. Politicians and his own morals on Capital Hill. Took on the role of a Spanish swashbuckling legend. Matched words with Death himself. Made love to Nicole Kidman with flailing ethnicity. Recounted the life of one of the world's greatest conquerors. He even narrated a tale of a growing heart in a green creature void of love.

So much diversity. So much change, alteration, and varying degrees of characters from the comforting to the disconcerting. But in the eyes of society there's always Hannibal. Lurking behind every move, twitch, and glance. "I can't take him seriously in anything" a friend once told me when trying to describe why they never watch Hopkins many other films. "All I can imagine him as is Hannibal Lecter" they say. On some level I wonder how that makes me feel. Do I pity them for possessing so narrow a view they find themselves incapable of appreciating one of the great actors of any generation?

This is not an isolated incident, however. I notice it in so many facets of popular culture. When a role impacts us so greatly at just the right moment in our life it becomes hard for us to disassociate the two. And what a shame that is. Make no mistake about it, Hopkins is one of the all time greats. One of the record books I say. In his first feature film (The Lion in Winter - pictured above) he matched Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn emotion for emotion, scene for scene, as the blood mad, homosexual Richard the Lionheart. He showed us what it meant to be human through conversations with a man few admitted was at all. Invaded Europe in one of the greatest follies of World War 2.

...then again, there was that film with him in the ventriloquist dummy *shivers.*

2 better thoughts:

The Mad Hatter said...

There are a lot of actors who struggle with this...I know that for ages, Anthony Perkins would get quite angry if anybody dared to whisper anything about Norman Bates to him.

Even broderick got crotchedy about Ferris for a while.

It's funny though, the flip side of it all is people who do the whole convention circuit for one part they did many moons ago.

Gotta love that sort of duality in actors.

Yojimbo_5 said...

That's what happens when you do work that becomes so iconic it becomes a part of the zeitgeist. And "Silence of the Lambs" was Hopkins at his lazer-like best—so much of the time, he seems to be flailing around a bit...as in You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger...or your afore-not-mentioned Magic. He is never dull, however, even when unfocussed. Part of the problem is the role (Brian Cox's version was the most intriguing thing about Manhunter), but is also Hopkins', as he LIKED playing Lecter...enough to play it in three different movies.

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