The Elephant Man (1980)

Description[from Freebase]

The Elephant Man is a 1980 drama film based on the true story of Joseph Merrick (called John Merrick in the film), a severely deformed man in 19th century London. The film was directed by David Lynch and stars John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon, and Freddie Jones. The screenplay was adapted by Lynch, Christopher De Vore, and Eric Bergren from the books The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences (1923) by Sir Frederick Treves and The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu. It was shot in black-and-white. The Elephant Man was a critical and commercial success, and received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture in 1980. London Hospital surgeon Frederick Treves discovers John Merrick in a Victorian freak show in London's East End, where he is managed by the brutish Bytes. Merrick is so deformed that he must wear a hood and cap when in public, and Bytes claims he is an imbecile. Treves is professionally intrigued by Merrick's condition and pays Bytes to bring him to the Hospital so that he can examine him.

Review

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.

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