Thursday 6 June 2013

Peter Cushing – Dignity In Gore

Fans of all that is uncanny, eerie and kitsch in modern British culture were united recently in celebration of the century of the birth of Peter Cushing on 26th May. It was a celebration of not only one of the rarest and both perfect careers in British film but also one of the most nicest blokes to ever grace it.

Cushing's measured on-screen dignity gave a touch of class to a career which included pretty much every corner of the horror/Sci-Fi genre. He performed as Dr Frankenstein, and remains the quintessential Van Helsing; he played the Doctor in two classic film adaptations of 'Dr Who'; he gave Darth Vader evil support as Grand Moff Tarkin in 'Star Wars'; he was a stalwart presence in the longest golden age of British horror with Hammer Studios; and he even appeared in 'Space 1999' and in 'The Avengers'. You name it, Cushing did it – and did it with the cool detachment and acting chops which marked him out as one of the greatest acting talents of the period.

Away from the sometimes ostentatiously garish product that Cushing was often associated with during the 60s and 70s, he was a modest and quiet man who lived an unassuming life in Whitstable, where he cut a reassuringly normal presence in marked contrast to some of his roles. He was devastated by the loss of his wife Helen in 1971, and many of his contemporaries felt that he did not get the recognition he deserved during his lifetime for fine performances in an 'alternative' subculture which was only just taking shape.

There are two ways to pay tribute to Peter Cushing at the time of the centenary of his birth. One would be to watch one of his (many, many) films; they are reminiscent of an era when British horror, gothic and sci-fi culture was churned out and resonated with a mass audience. Will the creative industry or the humble layman fabulist ever regain the confidence to create films like 'Horror Express' again?

The other would be to channel the spirit of Cushingian decorum and professionalism. One of the key strengths of Peter Cushing's acting was to play any role straight and with (often undeserved) respect; he played a straight bat on some gruesomely uneven scripts. He didn't half-ass it or play for laughs. There is a scene is 'Dracula AD 1972' where Cushing has to pretend that is has taken him all night to work out that "Alucard" was Dracula spelt backwards. He did it, though. That was the secret of his awesome power.

So the next time when you're stuck in an interminable meeting, or doing a shit gig, or are simply lost in the illogical muddle of life, then simple remember the brass dignity that got Peter Cushing through films such as 'Blood Beast Terror' or 'Scream and Scream Again!' and strap it on like a pro.. As the man himself said, “An actor`s job is to entertain and I`m glad to say that my films succeeded in that respect”. Whatever you do, do it with conviction. Keep calm, and entertain.

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