The Elephant Man

DVD Rating: ****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Read Angus Wolfe Murray's film review of The Elephant Man
Elephant Man

Very rarely do you come across the perfect extras package on a DVD. Either they are stuffed with brain wasters, such as Behind The Scenes docubores and banal cast interviews with actors telling you what a great time they had on the shoot – it’s called Sucking Up To The Management - or there isn’t anything there except a trailer and a commentary from the director and production designer which turns into a meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society.

The extras on this special edition are neat, tidy and interesting. There’s no messing with irrelevant sub-extras. It’s the genuine article.

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Joseph Merrick - The Real Elephant Man is a featurette, narrated by Jonathan Evans, archivist at the Royal London Hospital Museum. He tells Merrick’s story, based on the evidence he has, which is considerable, and explains where the film strayed occasionally from the true path. This is history as its most erudite.

The interview with John Hurt is a recent one. He appears thoughtful, charming and modest, full of praise for the writers, actors and director, whom at that time was virtually unknown, “like a young Jimmy Stewart,” having made the low budget indy shocker Eraserhead and nothing else. Anthony Hopkins was particularly helpful to him, as was Hannah Gordon. “I was terrified of John Guilgud. I was so much in awe of him.” It was a 14 week shoot in London, with rehearsals. When it was over, he had to go to America for five days to finish the prologue sequence on Heaven’s Gate. “This cost as much as the whole of The Elephant Man,” he remembers with a smile. Paramount Pictures didn’t know how to market the film and so did practically nothing. After the first preview screening, the head of Paramount told him, “Well, John, it’s always difficult to sell a monster movie,” which “was an extraordinary thing to say since that was exactly what the film wasn’t.” Despite the studio’s lack of help with promotion, word-of-mouth ensured box office success, as well as eight nominations at the Oscars of that year (1980) – they didn’t win any, but were very much in contention.

David Lynch always looks immaculate. His eloquent, immensely sensible views on filmmaking defy a reputation for the weird and the incomprehensible. “I love ideas,“ he says. “A script is organised ideas.” After the controversial Eraserhead (“with the baby”) he didn’t know what to do next. A producer friend suggested four projects, the first being The Elephant Man. When Lynch heard the pitch, he accepted immediately, ignoring the others, worked on the script with the writers and tried to find a studio to finance it. He failed until Mel Brooks came along. Before committing his production company to this greenhorn director, he wanted to know what he had done and insisted on watching Eraserhead. At this point, Lynch feared the worst, but when Brooks came out of the viewing room, he rushed over to Lynch, embraced him and said, “You’re a madman. I love you.” With his help, they gathered a cast for The Elephant Man “that came from beyond the beyond great.”

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2008
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The Elephant Man packshot
True story of a grotesquely deformed man who is saved from a freak show to become a sensation in Victorian London society.
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Product Code: OPTD1275

Region: 2

Ratio: widescreen

Sound: Dolby Digital

Extras: Joseph Merrick - The Real Elephant Man featurette; interview with John Hurt; interview with David Lynch

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