Today! Because people are frightened by what they don’t understand –
The Elephant Man (1980)
Directed by David Lynch
Starring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins (x2), Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud (x2), Wendy Hiller (x2), Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon, John Standing (x2), Helen Ryan, Kenny Baker (x2)
An absolutely riveting, heart-wrenching biopic of severely deformed 19th century Londoner Joseph Merrick, brought to life by the disparate talents of director David Lynch, actor John Hurt, and producer Mel Brooks. Lynch was hot off his very Lynchian glorified student film Eraserhead – as bonkers a movie as has ever been made – and Mel had recently wrapped his Hitchcock parody High Anxiety, so naturally these two Americans had to get together for a black-and-white period British freakshow drama. Really though, both have a strong streak of outsider characters populating their films and shows, and treating them sympathetically, so it may not be as far-fetched as I’m supposing.
Besides the tremendous performances – Hurt and Hopkins as Merrick’s doctor, primarily – and those gorgeous b&w visuals, the movie is a towering triumph of film make-up. Merrick’s deformities were so massive that it required near full-body coverage for Hurt – a process that allegedly took seven to eight hours a day. Burying your lead actor under massive prosthetics poses an obvious challenge – how does an effective performance emerge when you can barely see the actor – but Hurt is riveting throughout – even if completely unrecognizable. Another good actor example of physical immersion into roles, good and bad, is Gary Oldman – terrifically effective as the massively scarred Mason Verger in Hannibal, and (in my opinion) somewhat less so in his Oscar-winning pile of make-up work as Churchill in The Darkest Hour. Come on, is there one minute of that movie where you’re not just saying to yourself “Oh hey! Look at how much make-up Gary Oldman is wearing!” Maybe it’s just me.