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I strongly urge any student of acting to view and study the magnificent performance of Philip Anglim as The Elephant Man. Without the use of makeup or special effects, Anglim creates an astonishingly believable portrayal of Joseph (John) Merrick. With precise and controlled movements and vocal character, Anglim causes an almost mystical reaction in the viewer. After accepting the creation of the character, one believes that Anglim is horribly deformed and struggling to survive in his pathetic world. The performances and staging of this play for television is one of the great moments in broadcast history and I wholeheartedly recommend its viewing and study.
This taped adaption of Bernard Pomerance's Broadway play stays
faithful in its translation to that usually treacherous paramour called
small screen (although it unfortunately loses some dialogue and scenes to
fill the time slot). The themes of illusion versus reality, the
of Victorian society (or ours?), self promotion veiled as charity,
versus faith are still here (if only in expurgated form) for the viewer
ruminate about. While little sentiment (and certainly no mawkish
sentiment)presents itself to us it is all the more powerful for it's
absence. While we certainly pity the hapless Merrick's plight we begin
pity his benefactor Treeves' plight even more.
Lynch's superb film version (unrelated to the Broadway play)focuses our attentions on Merrick's tortures to personal transformation. Pomerance's version focuses our attentions on Treeve's transformation from smug self assuredness to personally tortured. Treeves becomes as much a victim of the repressive and rigid social standards of his society as is Merrick. Although what's worse for Treeves is that he is one of those society's elite members with no one he can truly turn to for solace.
Throughout the teleplay ideas return and act like mirrors that reflect earlier scenes. But like a mirror in a funhouse they distort and subvert the original in the most startling of ways. The fact that Merrick's deformity is only sustained(although we see graphic slides of how he actually looked)by the viewer's act of imagination is never a pretentious theatrical gimmick but works as a kind of litmus test to show the difference between what we see (audience) and they see (characters).
The acting throughout is stellar. An interesting tid-bit: Christopher Hewett (a.k.a. Mr. Belvedere) plays Merrick's manager Ross, who despite his harsh treatment of Merrick, sees upper crust society's visits to Merrick as the polished up sideshow it is. Only this time it's free of charge. Penny Fuller, in a crucial supporting role as Madge Kendall, also shines as the initially superficial social butterfly who eventually becomes the only one to truly see Merrick as the complex adult he truly is. A touching and haunting television play that will pierce your heart and provoke your mind.
I remember seeing this TV movie when it was first run.
I was about 10 when it was on, and I was TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY with PHILIP ANGLIM's performance as JOHN MERRICK, aka the Elephant Man...
As much as I love David Lynch's (1980) movie with the absolutely adorable ANTHONY HOPKINS as FREDERICK TREVES and JOHN HURT as JOHN MERRICK, it was PHILIP ANGLIM's performance TOTALLY VOID OF COSMETICS, PROTHESTICS, AND OTHER MAKE-UP, THAT BLEW ME AWAY!!!
Philip Anglim ACTUALLY CONTORTED HIMSELF TO SUCH A DEGREE, THAT I THOUGHT THAT HE WAS A PRETZEL!!!!! THAT THERE WAS NO WAY THAT HE CAN UNTANGLE HIMSELF!!!
To tell you the truth, I was so impressed with Philip's performance, that I honestly DO NOT REMEMBER any other performance here, despite the fact that both GLENN CLOSE! and CHRISTOPHER HEWITT! (Mr. Belvedere) were both in the show!!!
I would venture a 99.44% chance that it was this performance that made me fascinated with the story of John Merrick.
When I saw this TV film I was totally blown away by Philip Anglim's
stunning performance. The fact that he could portray Merrick's
grotesque appearance WITHOUT the aid of a massive bodily make-over, but
only by his ability to contort his body and facial expressions shows
what an accomplished actor he is.
It kind of reminds me of the little boy who was commenting on "listening" to the radio when he said, "The pictures are better! (A PBR commercial.) Yes, indeed, our imaginations are miraculous and Anglim's astounding portrayal of the "elephant" man proves the miracle. BRAVO!!
I hope to find this on DVD somewhere, as it certainly should be in everyone's film library!
"For a moment, Paradise!" That's the phrase spoken by one of the main
characters in the play's most tender and heartrending scene. This is
the tragic story of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, (called "John"
Merrick here) by award-winning playwright Bernard Pomerance.
A prominent young surgeon comes across the Elephant Man earning a living in the sideshows (which the real Merrick did fairly successfully in real life until he was robbed and abandoned by a callous manager. This is shown in the play as well.) The doctor, Frederick Treves, presents Merrick to his fellow physicians, describing his many deformities.
As Treves displays slides of the real Merrick, a handsome young man (Philip Anglim) begins to contort himself in an approximation of Merrick, and remains that way through the rest of the play. The audience is asked to suspend belief and perceive Anglim as the grotesque Merrick, based on the other characters' horrified response to him. It's not always easy to keep that in mind, but Pomerance makes the point that beneath his deformities, Merrick was a human being like the rest of us, with normal feelings, dreams and desires.
There's powerful imagery and conflict of science and religion against the backdrop of Victorian England. There's also love. The actors give unforgettable performances that should be watched again and again.
Having seen the 1980 film of the same name. I found this version to be a great disappointment. This taping of a stage play did not reach my emotions as did the 1980 black and white movie version, starring John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins, which I ranked 10 out of 10 (a rare occurrence for me). I have submitted a brief review of that one also.
I think this was almost as good as the stage version itself, and is so
much more powerful than the make-up dependent film. I guess it requires
audience intelligence and imagination (unlike the movie), but the
wonder of Pomerance's play is that every one watching can create their
own deformities on the character, making it a personal nightmare.
This is also based not on things Joseph Merrick wrote, but on the journals of the doctor. It is not about deformity (like the film) but about the choices society makes and the illusions society preserves. Dr, Treves' vision of his life, his work, and his world is profoundly altered by the experience described, and he is our "point of entry" - so our vision is changed as well.
A fantastic piece of work overall.
This taped stage production of the Bernard Pomerance play was not only
unneccessary (given the Lynch masterpiece that came out two years before),
but wildly uneffective. I mean: a John Merrick without makeup doesn't
because we need to be reminded of his extreme ugliness and deformity
our eyes, just to be even more moved by his humanity through our hearts.
That contradiction makes the story work, and having the character
by a very average looking man destroys the whole point. I suppose it's
played this way (and in stage it has been frequently, if not always,
this way as well) to focuse on Merrick's soul and not on his body, but no
suspension of disbelief can make this really work: Merrick had as much a
horrible face and body as he had a beautiful soul, and this combination is
imprescindible when acting the story. Also, the Lynch film had situations
and dialogues that were much more credible and moving than this
This TV-movie was wildly unnecessary. Maybe if it came before the Lynch version, I'd see it as a flawed but interesting first attempt to film the story, but as it came out two years after the Lynch (and the actors portraying Treves and specially Carr Gomm are two Anthony Hopkins and John Gielgud lookalikes, so I assume the filmmakers watched the Lynch classic), I don't see the needing of a remake.
Anyway, this contains a nice bit from the play that is not in the non-play based Lynch film: Merrick's opinion on "Romeo and Juliet", considering Romeo as actually being in love with himself and not caring for Juliet further than as a sexy trophy for himself.
3 out of 10. See the Lynch film.
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