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The Elephant Man Special Edition

4

“You’re a mad man! I love you! You’re in!” With those words, producer Mel Brooks signed up David Lynch after gawping through his surreal debut Eraserhead. It’s just one of many recollections on the disc’s 24-minute interview with Lynch, whose second film again eyeballs a strange man’s lonely existence in a nightmare-world: John Merrick, aka ‘The Elephant Man’, a grotesquely deformed twentysomething who started in a freakshow and ended up one of the most famous men in 19th Century London

Previously seen messily C-sectioning in Alien, John Hurt here becomes the monster himself, thanks to a grotesque prosthetic, designed using actual plaster casts of Merrick’s head and limbs. But without a face (buried behind a mass of protruding bone and fungus-skin) or a voice (fighting through wheezes and gurgles), Hurt draws out Merrick’s humanity through the most sensitive gestures and utterances. “There was no need to improvise anything, it was so exquisitely written,” explains Hurt, on his own excellent interview. Delicately probing futile passions and human horrors, Lynch’s most compassionate film until The Straight Story nearly 20 years later sees London surgeon Dr Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins, wonderful) trying to restore dignity to Merrick, who timidly reveals a gentle soul trapped in the body of an ogre.

Oscar nommed eight times, Lynch’s film won nothing – not even DoP Freddie Francis’ captivating black-and-white cinematography, which turns Victorian London into an underworld of fog and shadow. But inside the cosmic bookends is a fable full of pain and tenderness: Merrick reading Romeo And Juliet to an actress, breaking down when Treves’ wife (Hannah Gordon) shows him a glimmer of kindness, being brutalised by his carnival captors and choosing to “sleep like a normal man” under the black sky. Available separately or in a boxset with vanilla editions of Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE, the disc also offers a 20-minute featurette on the life of the real Merrick. As ever, a Lynch commentary is too much to hope for...

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    • AnneFay

      Nov 17th 2008, 15:28

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