Tag Archives: John Gielgud

The Elephant Man (1980, David Lynch)

I am not being hyperbolic when I describe David Lynch’s narrative handling of The Elephant Man to be peerless. If I described it a splendid, there would be other films and narrative handling to compare with it. But this film is so singular–John Hurt as an exceptionally disfigured man in Victoria England, with Lynch concentrating on the medical and industrial revolution, the society, the ambitions of Hurt’s doctor (Anthony Hopkins) and then Hurt’s character himself. And Lynch does it all in grand Hollywood fashion. The Elephant Man’s greatest secret is its openness and accessibility.

Why wouldn’t the film be accessible? Because of Hurt’s disfigurements. Lynch doesn’t give the audience an easy path into the film and the visuals. In fact, he makes it worse with he and cinematographer Freddie Francis’s black and white photography, full of nightmarish images to get the audience thinking on their own. Instead, Lynch gives the audience a deadline. If the audience can’t get over Hurt in the makeup by point X, Lynch isn’t slowing the film for them. At what point is that deadline? Long before Hurt becomes the protagonist (with Hopkins giving it away) but sometime after Hopkins and Hurt meet. Lynch is careful with the emotions in Elephant Man. By the halfway point, the tragedy becomes intolerable; yet the film pushes on, through the intolerable, through the tragedy. Because the film’s openness and accessibility? It’s because of its humanism. Lynch, Francis, composer John Morris–they terrify the audience with the film’s visuals. Along with Anne V. Coates’s sublime edits, The Elephant Man is in a constant dreamlike state, yet undeniably real, which makes every moment even more affecting.

Francis’s black and white photography, the Victorian-era setting, Lynch’s magnificent Panavision composition–The Elephant Man looks epic. The black and white directly engages with the audience. Lynch already has them imagining the color in this historical reality, what else can he get them to imagine. But why are they supposed to imagine? Lynch asks the audience to imagine, to wonder, but he controls the question. He asks the question, steps back, presents the result. Peerless.

The film has wonderful performances. Hurt, on his journey to be the film’s protagonist instead of subject, does some truly phenomenal work. The script–from Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and Lynch–executes the transfer of protagonist over a somewhat lengthy sequence between the second and third act–just at the right time for Hurt. He’s ready (as his character’s narrative involves being subdued for Hopkins and the rest of the world, but eventually finds confidence to assert himself). And Lynch gets all these moments done right. It’s an impossibly heavy story, told in an aggressive fashion. It’s why the story can work as a big (or at least it looks big) studio picture.

Hopkins is excellent too. His role doesn’t have many subtleties, but its handful are all more than Hurt gets. But Lynch isn’t interested in Hopkins as a protagonist. He’s fine as a narrator, perhaps, but–even before Hopkins loses the lead spot–Lynch clearly doesn’t want him getting in the way of the film.

Freddie Jones is great as the villain. John Gielgud is great as Hopkins’s boss. Wendy Hiller is great. Anne Bancroft. Michael Elphick. Hannah Gordon has a very small part as Hopkins’s wife, but she’s great. All great.

There’s no way to improve The Elephant Man. It’s perfect.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Lynch; screenplay by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and Lynch, based on books by Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu; director of photography, Freddie Francis; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by John Morris; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by Jonathan Sanger; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring John Hurt (John Merrick), Anthony Hopkins (Frederick Treves), John Gielgud (Carr Gomm), Wendy Hiller (Mothershead), Freddie Jones (Bytes), Michael Elphick (Night Porter), Hannah Gordon (Mrs. Treves), Dexter Fletcher (Bytes’ Boy) and Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Kendal).


This post is part of the Love Hurt Blogathon hosted by Janet of Sister Celluloid.

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Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988, Bud Yorkin)

With the exception of Jill Eikenberry, all of the cast members from the original return for Arthur 2: On the Rocks. Cynthia Sikes replaces her. Eikenberry’s absence means she’s the only person who doesn’t embarrass herself. I’m sorry, did I say embarrass? I more meant humiliate.

Worse, director Yorkin and screenwriter Andy Breckman don’t just reserve the humiliation for the returning cast… the new cast members (like Kathy Bates, Paul Benedict and Sikes) humiliate themselves too. Watching Arthur 2, seeing actors who gave great performances in what are supposedly the same roles now giving terrible ones–Geraldine Fitzgerald is just awful, ditto for Stephen Elliott. Elliott’s the worse of the two, however.

As for leads Liza Minnelli and Dudley Moore–who were so precious and cute and good in the original–oh, they’re bad. Minnelli’s better, but only because Moore’s debasing himself in this one.

Besides a fifty-three year-old Moore no longer being adorable as an obnoxious drunk in the lead, the problem is the script. Yorkin’s direction is definitely lame, but Breckman’s script is atrocious. He tries to mimic the first film without actually developing the characters. There’s an unclear interim between the two films (it ranges from three to six years, never the actual eight) and it just goes to show how little thought Breckman puts into anything here.

Arthur 2: On the Rocks does have one big distinction–there’s nothing good about it. Even Burt Bacharach’s score is lousy. It’s a dismal, long, unfunny debacle.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bud Yorkin; screenplay by Andy Breckman, based on characters created by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Burt Bacharach; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Robert Shapiro; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dudley Moore (Arthur Bach), Liza Minnelli (Linda Marolla Bach), John Gielgud (Hobson), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Martha Bach), Stephen Elliott (Burt Johnson), Paul Benedict (Fairchild), Cynthia Sikes (Susan Johnson), Kathy Bates (Mrs. Canby), Jack Gilford (Mr. Butterworth), Ted Ross (Bitterman), Barney Martin (Ralph Marolla) and Thomas Barbour (Stanford Bach).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | ARTHUR (1981) / ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS (1987).

Arthur (1981, Steve Gordon)

Steve Gordon died the year after Arthur came out, so he never made any other films, which is an exceptional tragedy. Arthur is a singular comedy–it’s a mix of laugh-out-loud comedy, romantic comedy, sincere human relationships and genuine character development. The first two are not mutually exclusive, but I’m not even sure Woody Allen’s managed to combine them with the second two (two of Woody’s regular producers, in fact, produced Arthur). Gordon frequently gets affecting hilarious scenes going–usually involving John Gielgud–and the film’s a joy to watch.

For the last third, Gordon takes a hint from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and sets everything at one location. (Oddly, as Dudley Moore shuffles in–the character’s a complete drunk and Moore’s got some incredible bits with how far he’ll go to protect his alcohol–I thought it’d be interesting if Gordon did the Deeds close, but didn’t even realize he had until I started typing this post up). It’s a good format for the close, but also the only part where Gordon stumbles. He offers the film’s most profound moments, then shies away. Worse, he continues this absurd life-threatening subplot, which kind of worked as a joke in a scene in the middle, but at the end… it had me thinking about framed bellboys instead of the movie itself.

The acting in the film is all excellent. Gielgud’s performance as Moore’s exasperated but loving butler is exceptional. The scenes with him and Moore are all great, just getting better as the film goes along. Moore, as the leading man, is a comic genius–he can make his heel of a character utterly sympathetic from the first moment on film. Also great are Anne De Salvo, Ted Ross and Barney Martin. Strangely–or maybe not–Liza Minnelli’s best scenes are the ones without Moore. She and Moore are good together, but they’re very cute, and when it’s her and Martin or her and Gielgud, the scenes just have a lot more resonance. It’s a romantic comedy, of course she’s got to have scenes with Moore, but the rest of her scenes–even the brief second watching her at work–are when it’s obvious Gordon was really writing the character.

For a while, I thought Arthur was going to be that supreme example I’d compare all other popular comedies against. The way Gordon serves actual human regard with the funny stuff, it’s incredibly rare (because the laughs Gordon goes for are cheap, popular laughs). So, it might not be the ultimate comparison, but it’s still great.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steve Gordon; director of photography, Fred Schuler; edited by Susan E. Morse; music by Burt Bacharach; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Charles H. Joffe; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Dudley Moore (Arthur Bach), Liza Minnelli (Linda Marolla), John Gielgud (Hobson), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Martha Bach), Jill Eikenberry (Susan Johnson), Stephen Elliott (Burt Johnson), Ted Ross (Bitterman), Barney Martin (Ralph Marolla), Thomas Barbour (Stanford Bach) and Anne De Salvo (Gloria).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | ARTHUR (1981) / ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS (1987).