A glorious life on the boards and in front of the camera has drawn to a close. John Neville, the rejuvenator of Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the star of Terry Gilliam's glorious THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, has passed away at the age of eighty-six.
Aside from his brilliantly blustery performance as the fabulist Munchausen, Neville was probably best known to worldwide audiences as the Well-Manicured Man on THE X-FILES. But in reading up on his storied career, it's probable that his best work was viewed by the lucky few who saw him play Hamlet, Richard III and, in a landmark 1956 production at the Old Vic, alternating the roles of Othello and Iago with Richard Burton.
Personally, I am grateful for his tenure as the artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where I saw a life-changing production of THE TEMPEST in 1992. The inventive integration of lighting and minimalist set design opened up the world-building possibilities of theater; you didn't need a huge rotating barracade or a plunging chandelier to awe the audience. Yet like those great shows in the '50s at the Old Vic, it lives only in memory.
Fortunately, Neville's work will long be remembered, and if Baron Munchausen is ultimately considered his career peak, so be it. It's a film and a performance that was undervalued in its day, but is still, at best, a cult favorite. Hopefully, with Mr. Neville's passing, it will now be appreciated as one of the great family films, a tribute to unfettered, unhinged imagination.
"Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash, and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
Thank you, John Neville. Play him out, Mr. Kamen.