A Movie A Day: Quint watches THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980) I am not an animal! I’m a human being! I am a man!
Published at: June 30, 2008, 12:16 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today is THE ELEPHANT MAN. I bought this DVD at Pedazo Chunk’s closing a few years ago, having seen many scenes and hearing great praise for the photography and the performances. Over the years I kept meaning to watch it and now I’ve finally done it.
What an incredible film. Powerful in every way. David Lynch’s direction, Freddie Francis’ cinematography, John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins’ performances…
John Hurt is a revelation in this film. He really does Boris Karloff justice, creating a creature that is more innocent, human and kind than many “normal” people. At first Hurt’s performance is only given in grunts and body language.
Lynch hides Merrick’s deformity from us for the first quarter of the film, keeping him in shadow and silhouette… and that iconic sack-head mask, making us, the audience, just as curious as the people paying to see him in the freak show.
When we see him, it is shocking and even as we begin to see him as a person, not a creature, it’s still impossible to take your eyes off of him. It is quite genius on Lynch’s part and a real testament to the performances in the film.
Watching this movie it really made me long for David Lynch telling a coherent narrative with real production value. When was the last one? THE STRAIGHT STORY? Don’t get me wrong, I love bizarre Lynch, but all we seem to get anymore is bizarre Lynch. He’s such a smart and inventive director and we don’t get to see films of his like THE ELEPHANT MAN anymore.
Hopkins is magnetic in the film and I especially love his inner-conflict in the second half of the movie. Is he just as bad as Freddie Jones’ carnival huckster, Bytes, who enslaved Merrick and ran him on a freakshow tour? Is he doing the same thing, but instead of carnie attendees it’s the upper crust and professionals? Does it matter that John Merrick is happier? Does that make what he’s doing right?
Really heady stuff that isn’t really resolved, at least not in a big “resolution” scene, which I loved.
Now, I couldn’t write this up and not have the famous “I’m not an animal!” quote in the subhead, but I think my favorite quote in the whole movie is the touching moment between Hopkins and Hurt in which Merrick tells the doctor that he’s happy. “I’m happy every hour of the day. My life is full because I know I am loved.”
This is a heartbreaking movie, with amazing black and white photography by Freddie Francis and performances that hit you deep in the gut, the brain and, most importantly, the heart. If you haven’t given this one a viewing yet, make it a priority.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Monday, June 30th: THE GOOD FATHER (1987)
Tuesday, July 1st: SHOCK TREATMENT (1981)
Wednesday, July 2nd: FLASHBACK (1990)
Thursday, July 3rd: KLUTE (1971)
Friday, July 4th: ON GOLDEN POND (1982)
Saturday, July 5th: THE COWBOYS (1972)
Sunday, July 6th: THE ALAMO (1960)
Now, fair warning… I have a little voice in the back of my brain telling me that I have seen the John Wayne THE ALAMO, but if I have it was early in my childhood and I haven’t revisited it since, so I’m going to include it on the list.
Tomorrow we follow Anthony Hopkins over to Mike Newell’s THE GOOD FATHER. See you folks then!