Monday, October 11, 2004

Christopher Reeve, 1952-2004

I suspect many of us woke up a little sadder this morning upon hearing of Christopher Reeve's death. For a lot of people, he was not only a fine actor, but also a symbol of faith, hope, and perseverence.

Others can speak more eloquently about Mr. Reeve's quest to walk again, so I'll stick to the role which defined his career. Reeve inhabited Superman and his disguise of Clark Kent in a way that no other actor has. His Superman was iconic and charming, not overbroad; and his Clark was sweet, funny, and sympathetic. Reeve's acting ability was perhaps best displayed in about thirty seconds' worth of the first Superman, in a famous scene where Clark toys with the idea of revealing his secret to Lois Lane. With Clark's glasses as his only prop, Reeve shows the audience the transformation. His posture straightens, his voice deepens, and his unburdened eyes gleam with power -- and then, realizing the time isn't quite right, he collapses back into Clark's milder manner. That scene did more to advance the movie's watchword of "verismilitude" than its visual effects ever could.

Mr. Reeve couldn't help but realize the profound effect he had on a 40-year-old comic-book character. His nice-guy performance heavily influenced Superman's 1986 revamp. (Unfortunately, that revamp marked the official end of the "mild-mannered" Clark Kent, with which Mr. Reeve had had so much fun.) Reeve's Superman could say things like "I'm here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way," with a straight face, without sounding self-righteous or dense. It is probably not an exaggeration to suppose that Superman's past generation of writers, artists, and editors have, in one way or another, aspired to such an effective portrayal.

Christopher Reeve demonstrated tremendous skill as an actor, and even after his accident demonstrated tremendous resolve. He made us cheer both as a superhero and a man. Rest in peace.

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