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Charlton Heston: Complex Icon

Although we haven’t addressed the passing of screen icons in this space before, when the man who represents the iconic Biblical character to many dies, it seems fitting to pay attention. Over at the Belief Net blog, Gareth Higgins has some interesting thoughts about this complex man and screen legend. Here are some excerpts:

Charlton Heston died this weekend at age 84….Although Heston was probably best known to a younger generation as the old guy who walked out of a Michael Moore interview in Bowling for Columbine. His was an ambivalent life – living through 14 presidencies (and personally befriending several of the most recent occupants of the office), supporting civil rights when it was unfashionable, switching his political allegiances, and latterly becoming identified with right-wing causes. Not often a subtle actor (although you could do worse than watch his performance in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil as a tribute), he represented a particular kind of vanishing screen presence who, like John Wayne, represented a vision of American greatness that depended far too much on the suggestion of invulnerability.


When iconic film actors die, something strange happens to our cultural consciousness — for the movies have captured so many of us like no other medium. The very fact that the projected image on a cinema screen is bigger than life makes people like Heston seem both larger than the rest of us, and somehow less human at the same time.

Heston was a man who appeared to try to live with integrity, and while many of his later political positions are troubling to me, looking back on an ambivalent life like his should not inspire judgmentalism at the expense of the recognition that my own life is subject to the very same competing poles — between private interest and the common good. And finally, if the stories we tell each other shape our attitudes, values, and beliefs about the world, then perhaps we might respectfully recognise that an era of American cinematic myth-making dominated by the notion of never admitting the possibility of error or flaw seems to be being replaced by something more nuanced, and perhaps more capable of leading us into a real promised land: one where we are honest about our weaknesses as well as our strengths.

You can read the whole post here.

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