DAVID LYNCH’S THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)

The Elephant Man (1980) David Lynch. Lobby card

Critics and audiences were surprised by David Lynch‘s Elephant Man(1980), which in itself is surprising. Apparently after Eraserhead (1977) became a cult favorite, the assumption was that Lynch was unable to tell a linear narrative. It’s the very old either/or label that audiences are prone toward. (Lynch would delightfully prove his narrative skills again with 1999’s quirky, but linear, The Straight Story).

The Elephant Man (1980) David Lynch. Lobby card

The only critic of note who was not surprised was Roger Ebert, in one of his most pedestrian essays. Hopelessly hindered by his belief in the bourgeois definition of “courage,” Ebert delivers a polemic,  writing that the death of *Joseph Merrick was, essentially, a suicide. Ebert further embarrasses himself in questioning the film’s point. We could just as easily question the point of virtually every film byTod Browning or Charlie Chaplin. Likewise, we could ask the purpose of an outsider art gallery. With dignity, grace, and sensuality, Lynch’s The Elephant Man edifies the outsider and obstructs our tendency to judge. Throughout his body of work, Lynch sympathetically locates the pulse of the alien, foreigner, and refugee with authentic depth. (Perhaps we should put Lynch into office instead of Donald Trump). Comparatively, Tim Burton is entirely artifice.

The Elephant Man (1980) David Lynch. Lobby card

Broken down, the narrative of The Elephant Man is quite orthodox, but Lynch imbues the film with such an imaginative touch that it never fails to feel like a revelation. Smartly, Lynch opens the film in a full-blown horror milieu with ecstatic black and white cinematography from Freddie Francis (a Hammer Studios regular), which paves the way to Lynch shattering all of our preconceived notions. He is aided considerably by Anthony Hopkins’ nuanced portrayal of Dr. Treves, who serves as the point of entry into the traumatic life of the so-called Elephant Man. Matching Hopkins is John Hurt’s sensitive, tour de force portrayal of Merrick. Together, the two actors locate Lynch’s rhythmic pulse.

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THE WOLF MAN (1941) & THE WOLFMAN (2010)

THE WOLFMAN 1941 lobby card. Lon Chaney, Jr. Evelyn Ankers

“Even a Man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”.

Even A Man Who Is Pure Of Heart

The best thing about the 1941 film is the tone-setting poem above, which was repeated at least one too many times in the original, yet it is absent from the 2010 remake except in the title. The Wolf Man seemed ripe for a remake since, of the original “horror classics,” it really wasn’t very good to begin with (the same goes for Creature from the Black Lagoon).

THE WOLFMAN 1941 lobby card.

The 1941 film has several strikes against it, the first and foremost of which is writer Curt Siodmak, who was a hack. The second is director George Waggner, who wasn’t really a hack but merely a competent, unimaginative commission director with no personal vision. Finally, there is “star” Lon  Chaney, Jr. The younger Chaney gets picked on a lot these days and always has. He deserves it. He was an idiotic, drunken bully who had an obsessive hang-up about outdoing his father. Since Lon Sr. probably ranks with Chaplin in the silent acting department, Lon Jr., the pale, watered-down copy, did not have a chance. It’s amazing that Jr. even thought he would be able to compete. That said, Lon Jr. did have a few good character roles in his career (damn few out of literally hundreds of films). He was quite good as the arthritic sheriff in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, as Big Sam in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, as Spurge in Raoul Walsh’s Lion is in the Streets and Bruno in Jack Hill’s cult classic Spider Baby. Like Bela Lugosi, he was best when he was actually being “directed.” Unlike Lugosi, however, Jr.’s signature horror role is not one of his best. That honor goes to his immortal Lenny in Lewis Milestone’s Of Mice and Men.  Continue reading “THE WOLF MAN (1941) & THE WOLFMAN (2010)”