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  1. #21
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    The Elephant Man: close to the memoirs but not the man



    David Lynch's 1980 film of the Victorian sideshow act turned celebrity is faithful to its source material but fails to get to the heart of the real Joseph Merrick





    * Alex von Tunzelmann





    Joseph Merrick was born in Leicester in 1862. From around the age of five, he began to develop a serious and progressive physical deformity. By the time he had reached manhood, he was appearing on the sideshow circuit as the Elephant Man.

    Wildlife



    The film opens with a screaming woman being terrorised by elephants. It looks like an art-house flourish, but it is part of the history. Merrick claimed that his mother, when pregnant, had been frightened by a rampaging elephant. Some biographers of Merrick have laughed gently at the idea that elephants rampaged around the East Midlands but, reportedly, one did escape from a circus in Leicester in 1862. So, while it's safe to say that it didn't cause Merrick's condition, the real elephant is a legitimate part of the story.

    People



    London surgeon Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) ventures into the darkest, clankiest, smokiest parts of the East End to view the Elephant Man (John Hurt), whose physical appearance in the film is precisely accurate. The Elephant Man is exhibited by a villain, Bytes, who treats him viciously. Treves attempts to communicate: "Now, your owner tells me � I mean, the man who looks after you � tells me that your name is John Merrick and you're English. Is that right?" No. His name was Joseph Merrick. To be fair on the film, though, the real Treves got that wrong in his memoirs.

    Business



    Treves claimed that the showman on whom Bytes is based, Tom Norman, spoke to Merrick "as if to a dog". In the film, Bytes is also a violent sadist. But historians have pointed out that Norman's rudeness may have been part of the act, in which Merrick pretended to be a half-human, half-elephant from Africa, and Norman his captor. In real life, Merrick chose to exhibit himself, was treated well at the sideshow and established an equal financial partnership with Norman � apparently a decent man. During 22 months of work, Merrick managed to save �50 from his earnings, around a year's income for a working-class family at the time. It's interesting that the film � and Treves � present Merrick as having no control over his sideshow career. Perhaps they think he will be more sympathetic if portrayed as a helpless victim. In real life, Merrick's enterprise and gumption made him an even more remarkable person.

    Travels



    The film switches the chronology of the real story around, so Merrick is taken in by the Royal London hospital, then kidnapped by the wicked Bytes, carried off to Belgium and locked in a cage with angry baboons. In real life, Merrick went to Belgium by choice after the tide of public taste turned against freak shows in Britain. His new business partner there, an Austrian, did not lock him in a baboon cage, but he did rob him. It is true, then, that Merrick made his way back to London in a state of distress. The horrible scene at Liverpool Street station in which he is set upon by a mob is accurate. In real life, only at that point was Merrick admitted to the London hospital.

    Romance



    At first, Merrick can't speak, so he is dismissed as an imbecile. As he begins to learn, Treves realises that the Elephant Man is not only sane but, as he put it, "a gentle, affectionate and lovable creature, as amiable as a happy woman". Treves claimed, as the film illustrates, that Merrick's "transformation" was brought on by his romanticised relationships with women, including Princess Alexandra, the actress Madge Kendal and, though she doesn't appear in the film, Queen Victoria herself. The film's depiction of Merrick's life in the hospital, and his desire to be a decorous young man about town, is its most moving and most accurate aspect.

    Verdict



    The Elephant Man is a mostly faithful version of Treves's memoirs, but the real Joseph Merrick was a stronger character than either Treves, or the film, allows.

  2. #22
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    The Film Society of Lincoln Center are screening"The Elephant Man" at the Walter Reade Theater on Thursday 11th March at 8:45. It's part of an Anne Bancroft retrospective, according to the flyer The Elephant Man was "kickstarted by Bancroft who passed the script to the producer, husband Mel Brooks". Should be a good print.

  3. #23
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    Just back from seeing this on the big screen, a really excellent flick - there's nothing wrong with it at all, acting, script, sets, soundtrack, photography and direction all excellent.

  4. #24
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    I believe that David Bowie played Merrick on stage at some time in the past to good reviews - all done up in a loincloth but with no prosthetic makeup. His study of mime in his early years clearly helped him.



    I haven't seen the film for a while - but am going through a period of watching things like "The naked Civil servant" and "1984" also with John Hurt. Surely a blu-ray release might be out there?

  5. #25
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    I have a friend who was lucky enough to have seen David Bowie on Broadway in The Elephant Man and loved it. There is actually a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, distancing itself from any stage production of Merrick's story.

  6. #26
    Senior Member Country: United States will.15's Avatar
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    I saw the play on TV with the original cast. I thought it was pretentious drivel. The movie is far better,

  7. #27
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    It's out on Blu-ray soon.

  8. #28
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    This is one of the most moving films I have seen. I saw the play in NYC about thirty years ago. It was just as powerful as the film, but very different: the stage was almost bare and the effects were achieved through acting and direction.



    Carol Shelley played Mrs. Kendal. It was one of the finest performances I have ever seen. I later saw her in New York in Noises Off - and she was outstanding in a completely different role.



    Both the play and the film were excellent.

  9. #29
    Senior Member Country: Canada Zlatna's Avatar
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    Fabulous film, and I'd say that even if Hannah Gordon weren't in it. Although her brief appearance as Dr. Treves' wife adds much IMO.











    Anthony Hopkins, Hannah Gordon and John Hurt from "The Elephant Man"

  10. #30
    Senior Member Country: England cumberbatches_woman's Avatar
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    very poignant film, ive seen it countless times and it always manages to have the same effect, i do rememeber reading the story about The Elephant Man when i was about 13 years old, both John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins are a joy to watch.

  11. #31
    GRAEME
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    Would it be terribly unsporting of me to point out that despite cast and subject matter, this is entirely an American production?

  12. #32
    Senior Member Country: Wales
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    Casting makes it British enough for me, if we relied on British only funding of films there would be slim pickings to gorge on and really this extends to directors ect. I would guess the only country funding themselves mostly would be India.

  13. #33
    Senior Member Country: Vatican Sgt Sunshine's Avatar
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    Still tops my list of favourite films.....

  14. #34
    GRAEME
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sgt Sunshine View Post
    Still tops my list of favourite films.....
    Just not British Films.

  15. #35
    Senior Member Country: Vatican Sgt Sunshine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GRAEME View Post
    Just not British Films.
    That could be the reason why it never appears in any top 100 Brit film lists.....Even so no matter how it was financed/produced it stands out IMHO as the finest film I've had the privilege to watch....
    In which case "Gandhi" tops my list of British films.......Presumably that one is fully British....?
    Cheers
    Sgt S

  16. #36
    GRAEME
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sgt Sunshine View Post
    In which case "Gandhi" tops my list of British films.......Presumably that one is fully British....?
    Cheers
    Sgt S
    A co-prod with India, but it counts!

  17. #37
    Senior Member Country: Vatican Sgt Sunshine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GRAEME View Post
    A co-prod with India, but it counts!
    Great value at the moment with the Blu-ray only �5.63.....

  18. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by GRAEME View Post
    A co-prod with India, but it counts!
    So if a film is made with India in co-production its OK but not if American money goes in ?

  19. #39
    GRAEME
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard_in_wales View Post
    So if a film is made with India in co-production its OK but not if American money goes in ?
    Don't be silly.

    Gandhi is a UK-India co-production. So it can count as British.

    The Elephant Man is a USA production, pure and simple. No UK involvement in the finance. So, technically, it is not a British film.

    Now, if you want to argue about what is and is not a British film, please go ahead - there are plenty of threads on this forum that have done so.

  20. #40
    Senior Member Country: Wales
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    Don't follow your logic Graeme, British cast, lot of British crew, British subject, British locations = British film ? Anglo-American film?

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