Regular readers of the Rust will probably be of a vintage able to recall the Andy Capp cartoon strip drawn by Reg Smythe for the Daily Mirror newspaper. Capp was almost an early version of a British Homer Simpson, a working class Everyman from whose ‘ordinary’ interests in life – pubs, beer, betting, horses, pigeons, getting away with doing as little work (career-wise or around the house) – Smythe was able to mine a substantial whimsical vein of golden humour and quips.
Capp’s long-suffering wife, counterpart and butt of many of his jokes was ‘Flo’ (short for Florence) – no more physically attractive than he was – was a stereotypical working class woman, apparently content to indulge her stereotypical working class husband whilst retaining little or no interest in sex whatsoever.
In one strip I well recall, Flo came home from an evening out with a girlfriend and proudly announced to Andy that a man had walked up to their pub table and told her that she had legs like those of Sophia Loren.
From behind his newspaper Andy shot back with “Well, I suppose you’ve got the same number, two …”.
The last cell in the strip had an image of Flo looking directly at the onlooker with a bored “What can you do?” look upon her face.
In which context, I am happy to admit that, although my friends and indeed female acquaintances are unlikely ever to discuss my attributes in the same sentence as they discuss those of actor Liam Neeson, this week I found myself ‘feeling some of his pain’ as he announced his retirement from playing movie action roles at the age of 65 in a question and answer session at the Toronto Film Festival.
Self-deprecation and modesty are worthy characteristics, especially in the performing arts – a career choice that traditionally awash with towering egos harbouring a pronounced sense of self-entitlement – and, despite his late flowering as an action hero, particularly in the Taken movie franchise which began in 2008 (none of which I have ever seen), Mr Neeson has always retained a healthy attitude to the genre.
In 2013 – upon completing filming of the follow up (Taken 2) – he was quoted as saying “I don’t think there’ll be a Taken 3. She cannot get taken again!”
Taken 3 duly hit cinema screens in 2015.
His reported exact words in his retirement announcement speech in Toronto were:
“… I’m sixty-fucking five. Audiences are eventually going to go ‘Come on!’ …”
And you cannot help but admire someone who comes out and expresses a sentiment like that.
As someone of the same age as Mr Neeson, I am all too aware of the effects of passing time.
Apart from my habit of turning to the obituary pages and the ‘today’s birthdays’ section of the quality newspapers every day, for a while now I have been noticing more and more the number of times I see an actor or sports star whom I once admired (and possibly still do) on newspaper websites, or being interviewed on television, and recoil in horror and disappointment when I see how old, frail and decrepit they have become.
Thinking this reaction through, however, I can see that there are two sides to it.
The first is, of course, that ultimately there is no living species or thing that can roll back the inescapable ravages of time – and so to be shocked when say an actor in his ninth decade like Sean Connery (for me the greatest of all James Bonds) is seen strolling down a city street accompanied by an ‘assistant’ (carer) is plainly unfair.
However, the second angle on the issue is that one can respect and understand the life choices made by certain other Hollywood superstars – sometimes quite deliberately, sometimes not so, e.g. when an actress has made a career of being a doll-like sex goddess beauty and reaches the age of 40 to 45 only to find they fall out of fashion, even if this is only until they mature enough to be acceptable in ‘mother’ or ‘old bag’ roles – in retiring from public life before it retires them all on its own.
We cover this issue in one form or another from time to time on this website.
Sometimes it is in the context of sport and whether it is better (or best) to retire the moment you reach the pinnacle of your sport … or to continue on at least until you recognise there is no chance that you will ever repeat that success again … or even just to keep going for as long as you can, i.e. well after you have to drop down from playing in the top league or competitions and thus end up playing at the age of forty-something in a lower league, just continuing because playing is what you do and you love it so much that you don’t want to let go … at least, until you must.
I’d guess it’s easier for actors these days, of course.
With CGI and artificial intelligence advances being as swift and all-enveloping as they are, we’ve already examined the possibility that (for example) it won’t be long now before a totally-convincing hologram version of a young Jack Nicholson could go on playing ‘young man’ roles until the end of time, bringing him and his descendants a healthy revenue stream long after he has retired and/or, ultimately, died as well.
Maybe Mr Neeson should team up with the scientists and others pushing these boundaries and have himself made ‘twenty-something’, a ‘forty-something’ and ‘seventy-something’ versions of himself – each of them to be deployed working on different new movies, conceivably simultaneously – whilst he (the real Liam Neeson) sits on the veranda of his Malibu beach house and relaxes in his dotage.
I guess it’s just a pity that all-time great sports stars cannot yet create similar versions of themselves which could then carry on competing in the great sporting matches, tournaments and events of the modern era.
I’d love to see the 1912 Jack Johnson, for example, fight the 1954 Rocky Marciano in a genuine 21st Century ‘digital’ bout – just to see what the outcome would be.
Or even to see the 24 year old Muhammad Ali fight the 30 year-old version of himself.
I suppose it’s far too late now to create a 24-year old CGI/AI robot version of William Byford …