Saturday, August 13, 2011

My review of The Elephant Man

The music in the film was excellent I must say. I highly enjoyed it. It...did an excellent job establishing the mood of the film. Pathetic description I know, it was good though.

it didn't win Best Makeup at the Oscars because there was no makeup category then. However the uproar about the fact that this wasn't even given a special award (as was the case in the past for amazing makeup) led the Academy to create the best Makeup category. However, the Academy heads still refused to give this film an honorary award. As such, it went 0-8 at the Oscars.

First off some background, I'm sure you all know that this is about John 'The Elephant Man' Merrick. Well, his name was actually Joseph (not John) Carey Merrick. Treaves deliberately changed his name in the book he wrote. No one knows why. Merrick was born apparently perfectly healthy to his parents Joseph Rockley Merrick and Mary Jane Merrick. He developed his deformities at a young age. His deformities continued to grow and eventually led to his death. Merrick's condition was undiagnosed at the time of his death. Later studies of his skeleton and the casts made of his body led researchers to suggest he suffered from neurofibromatosis (NF), a genetic condition that 1 in 4,000 persons suffer from. The NF Foundation used the movie as a fund raising tool and credited it with making the disease more widely known. Later examination, including CT scans of the skeleton, lead researchers to believe he suffered from proteus syndrome, a much rarer condition than NF. In 2003, researchers using surviving DNA samples from Merrick were able to determine that he definitely suffered from proteus syndrome, and probably suffered from NF as well, hence his unique condition.

Acting/characters: The two performers who truly carry the film are John Hurt as Merrick and Anthony Hopkins as Fredrick Treaves. Hopkins was outstanding. And how good was Hurt may you ask? Well let me put it this way, John Hurt was so good in this film that I am rethinking my position that De Niro definitely deserved his Oscar for Raging Bull. Don't get me wrong, he did amazing and I'm not sorry that he won, I'm just thinking that Hurt could have gotten it too. The supporting cast (which featured such greats as Anne Bancroft and John Gielgud) were very good too. However, the supporting cast was relatively minor as most of the scenes focused almost exclusively on Hopkins, Hurt or both. I can't think of anyone else who had more than 10 minutes of screen time. That fact makes the performances by Hopkins and Hurt even better because they had to carry the whole film. They did an amazing job at it. Also it must be noted how young Hopkins looks in this film. I am used to seeing him post Hannibal Lecter (and as a random coincidence I am wearing a Hannibal Lecter T-shirt) so seeing him as young as 43 is interesting. Anyway, the acting was great. 10/10

Plot: It was pretty straightforward which makes it one of the first Lynch films to be so. Usually with Lynch films there is some portion of the plot that is...dreamlike. Something that is unusual for a normal plot. But, this one was relatively straightforward which proved to me that Lynch can make whatever kind of film that he freaking wants to. The plot itself was very interesting and I never found myself bored by it. I know that critics such as Roger Ebert tend to criticize this film for 'excessive sentiment.' Well, It is a sentimental kind of film but I don't think it's exactly excessive here. I think Lynch does a good job balancing the horror of what happens to Merrick and the hopefulness that he has when he is being taken care of. It was very well done. 10/10

Screenplay: "I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!" The most truthful words in the film to be sure. I enjoyed it. It helped the story along very well and I it was very powerful I feel. The mark of a truly great script is that it gives the actors involved a lot to work with. I think that it is clear that it did. I know that is was based a lot off of the book that Dr. Treaves wrote about Merrick. Having not read the book myself I cannot fully state the extent that it borrowed from it. But it really worked well. Very well. 10/10

Likableness: This is a spectacular film and one that I would highly suggest to anyone who has yet to see it. If nothing else, see it for the stunning black-and-white cinematography and the even more stunning performances by the two leads in the film. I highly enjoyed it and I would not have any qualms about seeing it again. Is it something to watch very often? Depends on who you ask. It is not a lighthearted film. It is very heavy. But it is definitely worth a look. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I wouldn't have said no to both Hurt getting the Oscar and this film as well actually. I know many will disagree but I feel that way. 10/10

Final Score: 40/40 100% (N)
Tomatometer rating: 91%
Tomatometer rating if my review was added: 91%

TRIVIA TIME: 1. Director David Lynch originally tried to do the makeup for the Elephant Man himself but simply wasn't able to.

2. Following the death of the real Joseph "John" Merrick, parts of his body were preserved for medical science to study. Some internal organs were kept in jars, and plaster casts were taken of his head, an arm, and a foot. Although the organs were destroyed by German air raids during the Second World War, the casts survived and are kept at the London Hospital. The makeup for John Hurt, who played Merrick in the film, was designed directly from those casts.

3. The Elephant Man makeup took 7 hours to apply each time. John Hurt would arrive on set at 5.00am and shoot from noon until 10.00pm. Because of the strain on the actor, he worked alternate days. After the first day of shooting, when actor John Hurt was exposed for the first time to the inconveniences of having his make-up applied and walking around in it, he called his wife, saying, I think they finally managed to make me hate acting.

4. When Frederick Treves sees Merrick for the first time, he sheds a single tear. Anthony Hopkins thought of his sick father at that moment to help him to cry.

5. This film was executive produced by Mel Brooks, who was responsible for hiring director David Lynch and obtaining permission to film in black and white. He deliberately left his name off the credits, as he knew that people would get the wrong idea about the movie if they saw his name on the film, given his fame as a satirist. Mel Brooks hired David Lynch to direct the film because he admired Lynch's work in Eraserhead. David Lynch was working as a roofer at the time he was offered the chance to direct.

6. Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of the good doctor Frederick Treves in this film is reportedly what inspired Jonathan Demme to cast him as the evil doctor Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. (Hopkins later said that he felt the sharing-and-caring role of Dr. Frederick Treves a rather dull one.)

7. Frederick Treves, great-nephew of Dr Treves, appears in the opening scene as an Alderman trying to close down the freak show.

8. When Merrick returns to London, he is chased by an angry mob, and flees underground. The shot of the crowd descending the stairs in pursuit features David Lynch in full costume.

9. Due to the constrictive deformity of his mouth, Merrick never spoke as clearly in real life as he does in the film. Dr Treves often had to act as Merrick's interpretor for visitors. Those who knew him well, such as hospital staff and friends, grew used to his impeded speech but it remained indistinct and worsened as Merrick's condition deteriorated.

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