Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Long Shadow

The death of Christopher Lee is truly an end of an era. Whilst logically it was always increasingly likely given his advancing years (he was 93 at the time of his passing) many of us nonetheless firmly believed that he would be around for years to come, or even that Christopher Lee would always be with us. Few people alive in Britain today can remember life without him.

Lee's death also represents the passing of the last stars of the golden age of postwar horror, joining Peter Cushing, John Carradine and Vincent Price in macabre rest, and it is apparent that we have lost more than an incredible actor but also part of our collective cultural heritage.

In a way we can be forgiven for imagining that he would always be with us –  a man who fought in WW2 and was a member of an elite special operations unit and became an international film star, singer, raconteur, cavalier and elder statesman of hard rock. It is obvious that they don't make 'em like that anymore.

Why do we adore him so? Other than his undeniable talents, his great body of work and the dry wit and open candour of his pronouncements it is due to the fact that his career and life spans the entirety of what would became 'alternative'/'geek' subculture in the UK. Recoiling like many others from wartime experience he found refuge in gothic horror escapism, and with Hammer and others embarked upon a canon of work which runs through alternative culture like a name in a stick of rock. From 'Dracula', 'the Mummy', 'Frankenstein', to 'the Devil Rides Out' and 'The Wicker Man', to James Bond and Captain America, to 'Gremlins 2' and 'Police Academy', to Terry Pratchett, to 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Star Wars', to many films with Tim Burton, and finally to operatic power metal. That represents the bulk of what is represented by 'alternative' popular culture in Britain in the postwar era, and without Christopher Lee it is pretty much unthinkable.

How can we follow that? Well, we will always have his seminal films, that wonderful voice and the half-life of his vast powers of awesome. With his films he will always be immortal. But what other qualities can we deride from his legacy? His professionalism, wit, breadth of interest and sense of class are things we can all aspire to; we are all artisans ploughing our own retrospective furrows, and maybe we can learn to take some joy and dignity in our work.

But finally, one thing we can learn is that we are all on our own now – the grown-ups of horror have all gone, leaving us to carry on the tradition. There are no Christopher Lees, Peter Cushings or Vincent Prices now – where are their equivalents? It is time for us all to pick up the gauntlet, the mantel, and the bloodstained ring which bears appalling occult resurrectional power; the actors, writers, producers, musicians, artists – it is now our turn. Rise up like legions of the undead and build the empire of British horror for the 21st Century!

As Christopher Lee himself might put it...”It is my will.”

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