Howdy! Welcome back to Catching Up on The Classics! Hope you’re well and are surviving as best you can. This volume I’ll be discussing my thoughts on The Elephant Man, The Road to Perdition, and The Wicker Man!
The Elephant Man (1980)
Directed by David Lynch (and in my eyes his best and most accessible film by miles), ‘The Elephant Man’ tells the true story of Joseph Merrick (the film changes his name to John). After being born with a terrible and still unidentifiable disease that caused tumours and abnormalities to his body, Merrick spent many years in a traveling freakshow before being rescued by Dr. Frederick Treves. The two develop a friendship and it’s made clear that though Merrick was born different, he is an intelligence and kind man who is feared purely because of his appearance.
I found this film to be utterly remarkable. Shot in black and white with some truly groundbreaking makeup effects, it feels like it’s been lifted right out of the contemporary setting of the late 19th century. John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins star as Merrick and Treves respectively, and both do a remarkable job. Despite his entire face being covered with prosthetics, Hurt delivers a truly heartbreaking performance as the misunderstood title character, and Hopkins is perfectly balanced as an institutional man of science that must somehow find the true humanity beneath his actions.
Beautifully shot by Freddie Francis and hauntingly scored by John Morris, ‘The Elephant Man’ is a classic that has truly stood the test of time. Gothic, romantic and emotive, it’s Lynch at his most conventional, and yet his unique sensibilities manage to add just enough spice and bravado to create a perfect caricature of Victorian England. It’s a human story of love and acceptance at a time when we need it most.
Road to Perdition (2002)
After Sam Mendes’s debut feature ‘American Beauty’ broke all sorts of records, he had a tough act to follow. Instead of playing it safe, he once again proved himself a competent and confident director with his second film; ‘The Road to Perdition’. Tom Hanks stars as mob enforcer who must go on the run with his son to seek vengeance on a mobster who murdered the rest of his family. Dealing with themes of vengeance, regret, morality and most of all, the consequences of violence, it’s a cathartic piece with stunning visual storytelling.
The Oscar-Winning cinematography by Conrad L. Hall (his final film) is truly breathtaking. From grand landscapes to tiny details, every shot is a painting that begs to be paused and admired. The additional cast is a who’s who of talent, including Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Stanley Tucci. Newman particularly delivers a powerhouse performance despite being 76 at the time of filming. A noteworthy actor is Tyler Hoechlin who plays Hank’s son, and his emotional journey throughout the film is something to behold.
The score by Thomas Newman is again a fabulous sweeping atmospheric journey with beautiful melodies and quirky instrumentation. Every one of Newman’s scores help to build a world, and by using such rich and unique instrumentation, every world built feels original and lived in. The story is one of inevitability but also of hope, and the cyclical nature of the narration means the story feels beautifully complete. It’s a slow film by ‘crime’ standards, and Mendes lets the story breathe naturally, but this ultimately creates a far more powerful narrative.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Hailed as one of Britain’s great horror films, ‘The Wicker Man’ is a classic folk tale of faith, cultism and society. After Police Sergeant Neil Howie is sent to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle in search of a missing girl, he begins to discover that the islanders have begun to practice paganism, much to his devout Christian horror. Edward Woodward stars as Howie, with Christopher Lee delivering a superb performance as Lord Summerisle, the reigning power over the island.
At just 87 minutes, the film is a swift snapshot of cultist horror, with a dark premise and an inevitable finale. The story is simple but effective, and the unique tone is quite something to behold. At no point is the film *actually scary*. But this I mean there are no real jump scares or horrible images. In fact, a lot of the film is very pleasant indeed, with maypole dancing and springtime celebrations adding colour and joy to the proceedings. And yet, slowly but surely, the disturbing nature of the tale weaves its way into the viewer.
It’s a clear influencer of ‘The League of Gentlemen’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’, with outside forces coming in and attempting to disturb the status quo of an isolated place, and yet never being able to escape the inevitability of their story. The film itself is very simply made and hasn’t necessarily aged well, but that doesn’t detract from it being an entertaining romp. An interesting exploration of faith and society, it’s a great horror for those that don’t like ghost stories and jump scares.
Thanks for joining me on another volume of Catching Up on The Classics. See you next time for another instalment!