The actor Peter O’Toole lived a remarkable life on the silver screen. Though his personal life was marred with problems such as alcoholism and failed marriages, he left an indelible stamp on the potential of film as a storytelling medium in the 20th century. “Richard Burton said this of Peter O’Toole:
‘He looked like a beautiful, emaciated secretary bird… his voice had a crack like a whip… most important of all you couldn’t take your eyes off him… acting is usually regarded as a craft and I claim it to be nothing more except in the hands of the odd few men and women who, once or twice in a lifetime, elevate it into something odd and mystical and deeply disturbing. I believe Peter O’Toole to have this strange quality.'”
Two movies I have seen him in have certainly shown this effect. One would definitely be Lawrence of Arabia. The other one would be The Last Emperor. I have also seen him in Man of the Mancha, a commercial failure, but there is so much treasure in watching an actor turn an idea into reality, especially when the idea is a Quixotic one. There are probably many other movies where I think he demonstrates the qualities as described by Burton, but what is most fortunate to me is that O’Toole’s legacy and film credits should serve as a resource for future filmmaking. There are countless spiritual successors to the likes of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe- you can even call them Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt, Madonna, Lady Gaga, etc. But few people in this age look up to a type of divine-hinting role model. Someone like Joaquin Phoenix might be able to reach that height, rising above petty narrow-mindedness while having extraordinary talent in executing a role. I’m probably more aware than you that O’Toole was not a messiah. But living up to his ideals was not an entire failed endeavor either. His greatest quotes are not false or useless. In many ways, he expanded the possibilities of film and theater as a storytelling medium. Good narration is often lacking in today’s society. Most actors need to act and not just look pretty, but talent in certain cases is knowing the right amount of reflective pause. Call it an awkward pause if you can’t stand a stagnating actor who was drinking the other night, but in my mind, and from my experience, a contemplative glance in a world that has no time for reflection and no better plans would rather get back to making short new plans, is a rarity. Today’s society needs a spiritual actor in the likes of O’Toole. A diplomat of global influence. Not a congressman, who is limited to provincial affairs, but one who visits a place of apparent injustice and behaves with utmost civility and tolerance. Not to represent you or your gut reaction, but the journey man’s reaction. Peter O’Toole seems to suggest that, when you visit a foreign place, and if you don’t entirely plug your nose, cover your eyes and ears, you might actually look like a human at the end of it.