Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Elephant Man

Movie Poster

I feel an incredible need to write about this after watching it on DVD, before it fades in my memory. The Elephant Man is an old 1980 black and white movie that tells the true story of John Merrick, a severely deformed man in 19th Century London.

The immaculate detail and labourious task of researching and replicating the appearance of the Elephant Man, in a time where prosthetic make-up was in its primitive stages ought to grant it an Academy Award for Best Make-Up but that was in an era where the category wasn’t even set up yet.

The movie really doesn’t escalate into anything dramatic and pretty much hinges on the life of John Merrick, first as a circus freak, and then taken under the care of Frederick Treves (played by Anthony Hopkins) at the London Hospital. What was deeply thought-provoking was the fact that how sometimes we all have a self-centredness that renders what we assume is objective and valuable ironically the opposite. How we think advocating change would bring good to others, when really, it only serves our own purpose because the view is from within. Treves questioned if he was no different from the circus manager, because his good intentions only serve to draw greater attention to John Merrick, albeit they come from a different class of people. The fact that the Elephant Man remained a perverted representation of the human form, only housed in a legitimate vicinity, was a painful reminder to me that this was a man whose fate had been pretty much sealed the moment he was born.

John Merrick suffered immense cruelty from people who made use of him for the wrong reasons, constantly mocked at and frightened of others as much as they are of him. For me, the tear-jerking moment was when he was invited to have tea at Treves’ house with his wife, and the Elephant Man said to her that he wished his mother was there to see him with such wonderful friends, that perhaps she would love him for who he is upon seeing that, because he had tried so hard to be good. The desire for his mother’s acceptance is so untainted and pure, like a child, that my maternal instincts kicked in, developing a sort of imaginary love for this child trapped in a monstrous body.

He only wished that he could sleep lying down.

An act that we’ve all taken for granted was one that would kill him.

Can anyone imagine what’s it like to be him?


No way anyone would even come close to understand what it’s like to be ridiculed, ill-treated, viewed with fear and scorn, and the physical discomfort (even this word is an understatement) of having an engorged skull, a displaced bone and wisdom tooth resulting in an inability to move the jaw, breathing issues, skin problems and a list of other physical inconveniences.

This story marks the triumph of human dignity over all the hatred, prejudice, ignorance and fear.

Movie Poster

Watching behind-the-scenes interviews was highly enlightening because I feel a sense of victory for the team when they discuss in retrospect the initial problems, fears, concerns faced from the time the script was born, to pitching the story, casting, make-up, choice of shooting in black and white and so on. What was particularly interesting was their explanation for shooting in original black and white. It helped to set the old Victorian mood, and indeed gave the set a sort of character and aged-ness that was endearing. The other reason was to ease the gangrenous appearance of the make-up for the Elephant Man because it was believed that what some would find repulsive and unacceptable in colour would be less so in black and white.

It took 12 hours to put on the make-up and 20-hour work days to try and get the prosthetics right so that it was realistic and do-able on the actor's face.
It took 12 hours to put on the make-up and 20-hour work days to try and get the prosthetics right so that it was realistic and do-able on the actor’s face.

They borrowed the one and only cast model of the original Elephant Man from the museum for the make-up artiste to work his mold and create parts for the actor. It was a huge challenge creating something that was as close to the real thing as possible, and it made me realise that when you really put your heart, mind and soul into something, anything can be done. The human will is extremely powerful and more often than not we fail to exercise it to its fullest potential.

The actor who played the Elephant Man. He is very sense the typical British man with a dark sense of humour that brinks on arrogance, evident from behind-the-scenes interview.

John Hurt is the actor who played the Elephant Man. He is very sense the typical British man with a dark sense of humour that brinks on arrogance, evident from behind-the-scenes interview.

I have a lot of respect for John Hurt, the actor who played The Elephant Man, for sitting through 12 hours of make-up and then going on set to deliver his performance. For us, 12-hours is a full working day. For him, the day has just started. The commitment and passion he put in for the role is immensely inspiring and for all that is worth, he is totally unrecognisable and convincing as John Merrick.

Dashing and effortlessly stunning.

Dashing and effortlessly stunning. Anthony Hopkins plays the surgeon Frederick Treves.

Finally, I’ve never been a fan of Anthony Hopkins because he is most memorable to me as Hannibal Lecter and I don’t really like intelligent, psychotic serial killers. But after watching this old movie, my ignorance is replaced with a new found admiration. He is very engaging, handsome, charming and unpretentious in his role as Frederick Treves. His eyes are so telling, he really doesn’t need to say anything.

Watch the trailer again and see how his eyes reflect disbelief, horror, sympathy and love upon first laying eyes on The Elephant Man.


刚刚接到记者的来电,说要问我关于我在博客上发表的文章。我想,难道要我谈动力火车的新歌吗?还是问我” 不死心还在“(谁那边儿)? 哈哈!











Ballet & me

It’s ballet week for me! First, it was “Anna Karenina” put up by the National Finnish Ballet as part of the Arts Festival, and then it was the Japanese movie “Dance Subaru!”. I’ve always wished my mother enrolled me in ballet during my childhood years because I thought it’s so pretty to be able to dance. The common reason I was given then was that I will end up with thunder thighs and calves when I stop dancing. I guess looking at some real-life examples, it seems true to some extent, but it still hasn’t prevented me from wishing.

Now that I’m in my adult years, learning ballet would require time commitment, which I am unable to fork out, so I guess I’ll have to contend with living out my childhood dream through the ballet put up by the professionals.

Ticket to Arts Fest "Anna Karenina"

Ticket to Arts Fest "Anna Karenina"

The tragic Russian love story based on the novel written by Leo Tolstoy.

The tragic Russian love story based on the novel written by Leo Tolstoy.

I’ve never watched a ballet performance before so I may not understand the choreography and jargon for ballet. Because I am familiar with the story, I pretty much could understand what is going on. With no dialogue, a lot is deduced from the body language of the dancers, and the emotions on their faces.

I had my first encounter with “Anna Karenina” when I was in secondary school, (if my memory didn’t fail me). We were watching this movie in class for some reason, and I found it quite fascinating, even though I couldn’t quite understand the nuances totally at that time. Then I came across the book and bought it because I was familiar with the name, but it was a thick book and very difficult to read because the language was translated from Russian and it was weird. It took me several years to finally finish it. To put it simply, the story is about a married woman who was torn between two men in a time and place where the morals and societal boundaries were firmly in place. In defending her right to love, she is forced to give up her position in society and her son. After which, she grew increasingly paranoid that the the man she chose and loved was no longer attracted to her the way he was before. The culmination of incidents left her in a state of confusion and saw her ending her life tragically.

To present such an emotionally nuanced story through ballet didn’t quite work for me that night. Don’t get me wrong, the dance was brilliant, but it simply wasn’t the best way to tell the story. Petia Ilieva played Anna and she danced beautifully, but it was hard to feel the complexity of the emotional struggle through someone so distant (even though I was fifth row from the front). For someone who might not have read the book or watched the movie, the choreography does give the audience an idea of the dynamics of her relationship with the men. When Anna was romancing Count Vronsky (performed by Nicholas Ziegler), both Illieva and Ziegler would wrap around each other effortlessly, moving like a single body, limbs displayed in long, languid movements. When it came to Anna and her husband, Illieva still moved with much grace and fluidity, but such moments were short and often interrupted by her struggle to get away.

The tragic ending didn’t have as much impact as it does on film, but the solo sequence by Illieva was tormenting and made believable the need to end her life the way she did.

DVD of the movie that I watched many years ago when I was a student.

DVD of the movie that I watched many years ago when I was a student.

There was a table outside the theatre that was encouraging members of the public to be premium members of the National Library Board with a promotion of being able to borrow unlimited DVDs for a 2 week period, extended also to existing members. I signed up on the spot and borrowed 5 titles, with the original “Anna Karenina” I watched many years ago amongst the pile! I hope to share my reviews on them soon.

The movie Dance Subaru! currently showing at Cathay.

The movie Dance Subaru! currently showing at Cathay.

Dance Subaru! on the other hand was a little disappointing.The predictable plot of a young girl who had a passion for dancing, yet was unable to receive proper training due to familial objections, motivated by the common dream shared with a loved one who did not live long enough to see the dream fulfilled and finally going against all odds to realise her dream would be forgivable, if there was more dancing. Good dancing that is. DBSK made a cameo appearance, which fell flat because it did nothing to move the story along. The female lead Meisa Kuroki who plays Subaru is pretty but perhaps a little too cool to interest me beyond Act 2. The girl who played young Subaru was more interesting to watch, and danced better too. Sure, Subaru is an arrogant rebel but to share the same dream of ballet with her mother and brother, both of whom she lost to the same type of cancer at a young age and then growing up in a cabaret, where ballet dancers perform strip tease, I would think there would be more underneath that steely exterior that drives the need for her to prove herself and achieve her dream.

However, the lessons in this movie are valuable. It teaches perseverance and emphasises the need for performers to achieve a clear state of mind that is highly charged for optimal performance; the importance of being consciously aware of the people and emotions around us (i.e. message in the air) and keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Unfortunately, the story which is primarily character driven needs someone with dance steps to wow if their goal was to make an impressive Asian dance movie. After a while, it began to feel a little contrived to hear the rest of the cast complimenting Subaru for her great dancing when there wasn’t much to see. What she lacked in the technical department, she was supposed to make up for it emotionally, but lest for the last act, the rest were just too bland for my liking.

But don’t take my word for it, watch it and tell me what you think. 🙂