Τετάρτη, 5 Αυγούστου 2009

THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980, DAVID LYNCH)




Although different from what Lynch has been largely known for, the surreal mysterious and uncanny, THE ELEPHANT MAN's reputation as a plaintive character study based on the life and times of John Merrick preceeds it. It's possibly the closest Lynch will ever come to acceptance by the cinematic status quo for which never had much use for. What I find most striking about it however is not that Lynch's tugging on the heartstrings is barely noticeable at all in a film that seems to scream for it, not that he lifts THE ELEPHANT MAN from what one would expect to be its natural habitat, the soapy mournful tearjerker that brings the house down in sobs and tears, the kind of suffocatingly dour dirge that is REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, and in doing so gives it room to breathe, to gestate through the course of two hours not a violent catharsis (not a bang) but a soft expiring release; what I really find commendable about THE ELEPHANT MAN is that Lynch (I won't say sabotages although I 'am' tempted because that would mean a certain amount of cynicism one expects to find in a movie the director feels is beneath him and Lynch approaches his material in earnest) undercuts the sombre material with orgiastic avant-garde brushstrokes, dazzling intermezzos of surrealistic bravura that seem to have been dragged kicking and screaming from ERASERHEAD or THE GRANDMOTHER, these distilled through the prism of gothic horror not only in the atmosphere of a monochromatic London steeped in squalor and misery but also in the tribute he pays to German Expressionism. Lynch seems to broadcast the movie straight from the heart of the defunct Weimar Republic, from the old dusty studios of UFA . Certainly the idea of a repugnant creature treated or used as a monster by people (the real monsters) echoes such epochal German movie monsters as the Golem and Dr. Caligari's Somnambulist. The idea on the other hand that such a monster could still be a kind being striving for acceptance and understanding reminds us of Universal monsters like Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. Out of this long tradition of gothic horror emerges THE ELEPHANT MAN not merely as a pastiche of homages but as an accomplished movie which stands on its own, made by a young director who doesn't compromise his personal vision but rather finds in the material his own small obsessions (midgets would feature prominently throughout his career and one cannot underestimate how much Lynch seems to have been influenced by Tod Browning's FREAKS).

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