Understated and masterful in its use of costumes, makeup, and low-budget camerawork, David Lynch’s portrait of John ‘The Elephant Man’ Merrick stands as one of the best biographies on film. From his discovery by Dr. Frederick Treves (Hopkins) in a carnival freakshow, to his rehabilitation in the hospital and acceptance into London society, to his ultimate demise by suffocating, John Hurt’s vibrant portrayal of Merrick is an emotional tour de force that sheds much light on the man now best known for occupying Michael Jackson’s mantel. Lynch may very well be the only director who could have done the subject justice, and despite a few forced scenes with Merrick meet-n-greeting various English socialites, the film stands as one of the highlights of his career.
The newly-released DVD offers up two documentaries in addition to the crystally-presented film. First is a short bit profiling the makeup effects designed by Christopher Tucker; second is a how-the-film-came-to-be short, which is actually quite a curious tale, involving a babysitter’s screenwriting boyfriend and the oddball conflagration of David Lynch with Mel Brooks (whose company produced the movie). Curiously, little else is added about Merrick himself.