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The Actor is Aurelian: Tribute to Rutger Hauer

A great actor is a shape-shifting chameleon. Speed with heart, agility with soul, and emotions from the richest of minds. But there is a class even above those captains and queens. There are those who go beyond mere transformation and emoting. They are painters with voices, singers with fluidity, muses and creators merged in timeless marble. If Perseus, Paganini, and Picasso had all coalesced in one unspeakably torrid night, their love child would still dream of being as sterling as Rutger Hauer.

Every element that makes a performer a true blue star–not the vanity-fueled plasticine dead-eyed creatures that crawl in equally vacuous entertainment blogs, magazines, and assorted big-budget wannabe hitmakers–no. Never when it comes to Rutger Hauer. We’re talking an interstellar point of light that can shine just as bright in a warm, moonlit sky as well as cold, coal-black one. No matter what role he was cast as or the quality of the film, Hauer’s presence illuminated it.

One could argue that the measure of a brilliant actor is proven not when they are in great art but when they are in mediocre and even terrible art. It’s easier to be great if the rest of the cards in the deck are all aces, but if all you have to play with are borderline unusable random number suites and you still end up flush with glory? Then the proof is nearly scientific: you are a gem. Case in point, Dracula III: Legacy (2005). This was the second sequel to the cinematic equivalent to full on the lazy-skewed-quit-excrement that is Dracula 2000 (2000).

Sequels to good original films are a roll of the dice when it comes to quality. Sometimes they are good and even more rarely, better than their originator. But sequels to films that were already nebulous in fun, art, and smarts are already operating on a low optimism quotient. However, when Hauer appears in Dracula III, the heart swells and the mind lights up. Is he used to his best ability? Hell no. It’s a sequel to Dracula 2000, not Romero’s Martin or even Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, but any Rutger Hauer is an instant gift to the viewer as well as the creator. Golden, in essence, talent, and presence.

All of that said, when Hauer got to be in genuinely striking efforts, it was at worst amazing and at best, a peek into aesthetic and heart-bound divinity. So many of these choice titles are ones that both casual viewers and cineastes alike came of age while watching. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is an obvious one, and for good reason, but there is also Paul Verhoeven’s Turkish Delight (1973) and, much later on, the underrated Flesh & Blood (1985), the fantasy classic Ladyhawke (1985), and the legitimately disturbing horror gem, The Hitcher (1986.) My gateway to Rutger Hauer as a child was the combo of Wanted: Dead or Alive (1986), growing up in a household that celebrated action and crime films. If you subtracted Hauer from ANY of these titles, you instantly have a less powerful film, which is less a slight on the directors and art and more of a testament to the man’s talent, charisma, and strength.

Hauer was able to effortlessly portray villains, heroes, anti-heroes, and characters who resided in the murky-gray area of morality, with the quality unifying every role being the physical form of a man whose presence emanated old soul. Every piece of fiction that I read flashes in my head like a film and since childhood, Hauer was one of the actors that my mind would almost always cast. This was not just simply due to burgeoning adolescent fangirling but also the fact that there was not a role he could not play. Hell, he was even funny in 1992’s Buffy, the Vampire Slayer!

Famed poet and real-life tragician (where magic and tragedy often collide) Percy Shelley once said, “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.” Rutger Hauer was a physically handsome man, which is a bit like saying Ava Gardner was pretty, but it was his ability to use his looks to subtly illustrate his character. With acting, Hauer was both the poetry and the mirror. For a man that was incredibly distinctive looking, he was able to use his physicality to illustrate the ugly and beautiful facets of the human condition.

Losing an artist like Rutger Hauer hurts. It hurts a lot but losing a human like Hauer hits even harder. With a storied career that started in the late 1960s and lasted to his passing, it’s hard to find anything genuinely disappointing or upsetting about the man. Even more impressive is that it takes hardly any digging at all to discover the charity work he did, especially for the environment and AIDS. With the latter, he founded the Rutger Hauer Starfish Association, a non-profit committed to both raising awareness about HIV and AIDS, as well as focusing on helping especially pregnant women and children with the disease. In a world where so many with a malformed heart and sociopathic mind have power, seeing an artist use his heart and clout for genuine good is like a lighthouse in the black inky sea.

Death is inevitable and something that hurts the living far more than it does those who have moved on to the next thing, whatever that may or may not be. Sometimes, like in the tarot, it is a symbol of transition and transformation. Either way, when a person shines that brightly in so many different ways, there is nothing that can ever truly snuff out their light. The vessel has done its time but the spirit and the art remain, incandescent, with shimmer in the iron and a creative heart that never, ever stops beating.

Now, to quote Bauhaus: “Call the curtain. Raise the roof. Spirits on tonight.”

About Heather Drain

Heather Drain is a fringe culture writer who has written for Dangerous Minds, Video Watchdog, Lunchmeat and Cashiers du Cinemart. She has also been a contributor to The Rialto Report, The Projection Booth, Paracinema, Cinema Head Cheese and, on occasion, as a guest writer at both Rupert Pupkin Speaks and Turner Classic's Movie Morlocks blog. Heather currently writes for Art Decades as well as her own site, Mondo Heather, and is the Music & Culture Editor at Diabolique Magazine.

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