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Gojira is Good: Godzilla (2014)


Taking the early lead in release stakes for Summer blockbusters, Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla seeks (and often succeeds) in providing solid, effective thrills for the commercial crowd.

Here we have Hollywood’s second attempt to produce a film based on Toho’s longstanding character, following 1998s ill-fated film starring Matthew Broderick. That far too brash comedy-skewed version spent too much of its time trying to blow up the big monster, along with New York, ignoring its plot irregularities, and drawing too much on intertextual references. Sure I get it’s always going to be a film about a big freaking behemoth bashing up buildings, but when G starts out attacking ships in the Pacific and swims all the way around the southern tip of the Americas to finally appear in New York city, my willingness to suspend disbelief is outdone by sheer narrative exasperation. This film however takes the essence of the Godzilla mythos, and despite the (necessary?) Americanisation, manages to build up a frothy head of spectacle, and incorporates empathy and pathos for the title character.

The plot? Well, you could probably guess, and you’d probably be right, generally speaking. But in actuality the specifics of the story, the background mythos developed, and the characters arcs, make this for a rewarding encounter that outweighs the broad generics of the plotting. Aaron Taylor Johnson (taciturn) and Elizabeth Olsen (honestly, wasted) play Ford and Elle, a couple suffering monster separation problems (pun intended), with Bryan Cranston (go Cranston) is Ford’s Dad Joe – who suspects a series of apparently natural events are not what they seem. On hearing Joe’s been arrested for entering a restricted zone in Japan, Ford heads there and together they begin to realise the end of the world might be coming.

So what’s good? Clearly Edwards, who made Monsters on an ultra-low means, has both an affinity for the material, and more importantly a distinct knowledge of how to marry visual effects to live action. This produces a sense of scale, where some physically imposing monsters producing major destruction, and the visualisation of that aftermath, are integrated into live action plates seamlessly to show the spectacle and ruin. Everything has weight where it should have weight, as grand sense of scale as anything seen previously, and a contextual realism that makes a seamless filmic whole.

Moreover, Edwards’s approach is akin to that on his debut Monsters, with as much empathy for monsters and creatures, as it is for humans. You might not necessarily feel for the human beings suffering the wrath of the titans, but you do (arguably) get strongly caught up in Godzilla’s wrath and rage. Just as importantly the script (written in part by both David S. Goyer, Frank Darabont, and Drew Pearce (who also worked on last year’s Pacific Rim)), manages to create a sense of grandeur and mythos for Godzilla – akin to H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods – which is a nice touch, if a little left of field. But this adds another dimension to a franchise over fifty years old for audiences to engage with, alongside the human elements. As is usual some have criticised the emphasis on spectacle over human characters, including Rick Kisonak who says: ‘squandered is a top-notch cast including the likes of David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe, none of whom is given anything remotely interesting to do’. However, despite some alacrity to killing off the cast, I feel Edwards nonetheless manages to use them quite adroitly – at least the male gender. It might not be their top notch performances, but the majority of them who are given some screen time do well, with Cranston in particular deserving of praise. However, the likes of the aforementioned Olsen, along with Binoche as Cranston’s wife, and Sally Hawkins as a scientist, often do little more than gawp.  It’s a shame to waste the likes of Binoche et al, and to fall back on the conventions of the genre, especially in this modern age. Maybe next time we’ll see a female star take centre stage and do the derring-do. Frankly its the one chink in Edwards’s armour.

Conversely, other critics see the film as squandering Godzilla, only fleetingly glimpsed for the first half. Whilst I note the problems in making a film called Godzilla, and then only seeing a few glimpses of him until later on, and mostly in the climax, I feel some critics might be missing the notion that less is more – haven’t they seen Jaws? Just as Spielberg managed to build interest, tension, and not a little excitement, Edwards follows suit – albeit for different reasons.

And Edwards imbues the story with some rather nice (if eery) real-life world reflection – producing some scary visuals of the populace being caught up in tsunamis, earthquakes, and a collapsing world that recall recent actual events on Earth. Might some paranoia be built up by conspiracy theorists as to why we are suffering such ‘natural’ events? Perhaps, but certainly the emphasis on the unexpected suddenly happening to us for reasons beyond our control, is something many can sympathise with. Furthermore, and  importantly, this is far less overcooked than last year’s Pacific Rim which, despite similar grandeur and solid visual effects, was missing a plot that many could understand, or indeed care about.

Which leads us to Godzilla, the titular character. If you go watch a film called Godzilla, he better damn well be the star and he most certainly is. Like the great white in Jaws and those other greats – King Kong (1929), Frankenstein (1931),  The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Wolf Man (19441, we go to watch these films for the monsters, and as with those aforementioned classics, Edwards’s Godzilla delivers. He’s designed in such a way that’s heartfelt, given emotion and soul, and history. And this characterisation allows us to empathise with him. Enjoy.


Uncovering the Special and Visual Effects of Madness within the Mad Scientist and their Progeny.

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’[1] (Lewis Carroll “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”)

‘[S]upposing total cinema was here and now technically-possible, we would go back purely to reality’.[2] (André Bazin “Aesthetic”)

The mad scientist in horror films have a long history, featuring in countless productions, from the Doctors’ Rotwang, Frankenstein and Phibes, through Moreau,[3] to Herbert West of Reanimator (Stuart Gordon 1985). They create their wild, often monstrous handiwork from leftover cadavers and the fusion of various extant parts. In Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton 1933), Dr. Moreau vivisects animals, grafting together aspects of plant, animal and man to create his island’s inhabitants. James Whale’s 1931 incarnation of Frankenstein sees the creature realised through an assemblage of corpses and an ‘abnormal brain’. These were committed to the screen through make-up appliances fashioned by the likes of Wally Westmore, Charlie Gemora, Jack Pierce and others. Following these ‘monstrous’ creations, there’s the self-experimentation by Dr. Jekyll,[4] who changes both his physiognomy and psyche through deluded experimentation, releasing his immorality. Achieved in the 1932 Rouben Mamoulian version through further make-up, the film combined this with optical effects to visualise the transformations.

Additionally, Dr. Griffin in James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933) self-administers a compound that invisibilises his body, with psychologically damaging results, seen in optical and practical feats by John P. Fulton.  In the following pages I will examine how the work of Gemora, Pierce and Fulton, along with others’ visual and special effects, develop a signification of madness through their work in certain films of the 1930s. Therein the effects reveal a sense of on-screen ‘movie madness’ of the creatures and scientists contained within. By developing techniques centred about the use of special and visual effects elements, the films featuring such scientists reflect breaks from both an apparent ‘normal’ cinematic reality into madness, breaking down the visual characteristics of the scientists and their characters that reflect the minds’ fractured states. As such I will explore aspects of André Bazin’s sense of realism that, as proffered above, noted its attainment was impossible. Rather the effects discussed here arguably skew such sensibilities, drawing us from Bazinian reality into a state of fractured reality that reflects aspects of madness, which has been discussed by authors such as Michael Fleming and Roger Manvell in Images of Madness and the insane characters of horror cinema, as discussed by Kim Newman. In creating these visuals audiences arguably become drawn into a form of shared ‘consensual hallucination’, of which the mad scientists, monsters and other diegetic characters reside. I borrow the term from William Gibson’s Burning Chrome (1995), who uses ‘consensus hallucination’ to describe the world of cyberspace.[5] Gibson designates cyberspace as a place which many can enter and dwell, experiencing a world of difference and distortions that are somewhat disconnected from paradigms of reality, but are still – due to those human beings who access it, and the actions they undertake within – linked to the outside world. As such, cinema can be viewed as a precursor, where we as viewers vicariously experience the physically disconnected and distanced filmic world, but still empathetically and psychologically dwell therein. In this instance the world is that of the mad and lunatic, of monsters, and a twisted diegesis made up of mise en scène that reflect both the thematics of the acts carried out by the mad scientists, and the gruesome ‘sick’ twists exerted upon the fabrics of filmic reality in terms of make-up, and profilmic imagery through optical trickery.

In Roy Porter’s historical analysis of madness, the author notes the multifarious attitudes towards the condition. In, for example the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it could be seen ‘as medical, or moral, or religious, or indeed satanic. It could be sited in the mind or the soul in the brain or the body’.[6] Such a diverse collection of reasons and repositories for the condition sets in mind the possible visualisations of schizophrenia and madness as seen within horror cinema. Christopher Frith and Eve Johnstone note schizophrenia as an ‘archetypal form of madness’[7], that produces in those sufferers a psychosis that ‘breaks them from reality’ causing delusions, hallucinations and other ailments that they believe control their body.[8] In Images of Madness Fleming and Manvell note: ‘[Madness] has profound implications for our interpretation of ourselves and of our environment [leading us] to question where we are’.[9] They surmise that this leads to questions surrounding the nature of the human being, and that because these manifestations ‘do not fit our suprahuman ideals is to [term them] madness’.[10] Consequently, reading the ‘grotesque’ physiognomy and characteristics of the scientists’ monsters and their own oscillating states of minds through self-experimentation, the divergent forms can be seen as mad and differing from normal states of behaviour and by extension reality. In the horror film, they continue by stating: ‘For the film artist madness is principally a subject whose depiction probes the darkest and most hidden side of our being’.[11] The state of horror cinema, with its surfeit of stylised and fantastic rampaging primitive monsters, landscapes and scenarios, together with crazed killers and, most importantly for this discussion, mad scientists, is an obvious but perfect fit for the genres’ characters and narratives. Through the many special and visual effects used to render the creatures that are drawn from the mad scientists’ work and the manifestations surrounding the experiments on the Doctors themselves, a series of mad, and insane models are created that highlight madness issuing on and from the screen that is distanced from reality. The genre channels certain aspects of realism, but more dexterously transforms them into a series of fantastical elements that are evocative of, but different to reality – a hallucinatory discourse, much like the toils of a madmen, one that floods beyond the mad scientist themselves, literally making up the surrounding creatures, and characters.

In this respect it is interwoven with André Bazin’s theories of realism in cinema, where he awarded certain Italian and Hollywood productions a higher level of realistic interpretations of life compared to those that usurped the bases of filmmaking. Though Bazin notes ‘realism in art can only be achieved in one way – through artifice,’ he is clear that such artifice must be distinct, with certain artificial aspects not considered at all.[12] For Bazin it is necessary to construct cinematic reality in shots without introducing aesthetics that defile the object – hence montage, expressionism and the use of effects that detract from what might be termed a clean image. For Andre Bazin, cinematic realism stands in the form of Citizen Kane’s (Orson Welles 1940) deeply focussed shots, or Paisà/Paisan’s (Roberto Rossellini 1946) more artisan shots.  These enabled: ‘[A] slow motion in the documentary […] which allows us to observe, beneath the continuous and uniform arabesques of the stroke, the varying hesitations of the artist’s hand,’ creating an awareness and documentation far above that of the ‘godlike’ Hollywood cinema.[13] Yet it’s telling that even the heralded example of Bazinian realism seen in the deeply focused shots of Citizen Kane are often made up of optical effects that fuse profilmic footage with models and matte shots, splicing these latterly filmed elements together with wipes and other tricks to create a perceived homogenous reality.[14] Additionally within the creative impulses of the Hollywood Horror film, these elements of realism are similarly, if not ignored, then at least adapted, changed and re-fused together by the filmmakers to create a visual world of images analogous to what might be deemed visual and hallucinatory scenes madness.

As Roy Porter says: ‘[W]hat was so maddening about madness was that it was simultaneously real, terrifying and catastrophic, yet also chimerical, duping both its victims and society at large’.[15] Looking at horror movies we can see similar ideals writ large before us. Frankenstein’s creation, Dracula, undead zombies and all manner of creatures from beyond this world, and sometimes within, are often distilled from ill-judged scientific bio-chemical release. They all seem real, yet are simultaneously fabricated – literally and cinematically so, which ‘dupe’ us into sensations of belief, terror, and madness for the length of the film. Captured through a series of characterisations that are very often surrounded by, contained within and beneath make-up, plus other special and visual effects, the chimerical nature of cinema, fosters deep-seated feelings of horror and madness that we connect with, and characters we feel for. The mad scientists creations are a collection of equally chimerical constituents – spirit gum, cotton wadding, mortician’s wax, animal fur and optical effects – which transform the original constituents into strange new adulterated appendages grown from the minds of the special effect artists. As a person suffering from schizophrenia experiences sensations that are: ‘associated with bizarre, inexplicable, and frightening experiences and with behaviour that is strange and difficult to understand’, so do the creatures and characters (and by extension, audiences) within (and beyond) these films.[16]

Frith and Johnstone speak of schizophrenic madness as producing psychotic illness, where the sufferer ‘has lost touch with reality [and] he or she believes things that cannot possibly be true (delusions) or hears voices and sees visions […] (hallucinations)’.[17] This was a development from the work of Emil Kraepelin, whose term dementia praecox featured a number of symptoms that were situated around what we see as schizophrenic madness  today[18]. In fact certain instances can be seen as relevant towards the creations – both diegetic and extra diegetic – of the mad scientists. Such issues stem from experiments and effects artistry that result in a series of monsters and creatures built out of various extant elements. The creature, in James Whale’s Frankenstein and its 1935 sequel Bride of Frankenstein, is the result of a series of elements of madness that arguably show as visions and aspects of madness/horror issuing forth from the screen that revolutionise and refashion realism in a way that follows on from Bazin’s ideas surrounding Hollywood realism. As Bazin states:

As for the filmmaker, the moment he has secured this unwitting complicity of the public, he is increasingly tempted to ignore reality. From habit and laziness he reaches the point when he himself is no longer able to tell where lies begin or end.[19]

Rather than the documentarian perspective, truthfulness, or unadulterated visual schema, Horror films’ visuals are arguably, like the schizophrenic’s, more hallucinogenic, breaking down what might be seen as real and unreal, ultimately unable to tell which is which. In dealing with reality, the Horror filmmaker therefore creates a reality that is simultaneously real, but also fabricated, which builds dichotomous imagery.

In the introduction to the 1831 publication of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley writes:

My Imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion[20].

This account suggests even Shelley’s inception of the maker and his creature – arrived at through the reverie of a waking dream – catches the idea of a hallucination. Though probably a fabrication created to sell this later printing of the book, the passage nonetheless sets up a fluctuating sense of uncertainty to the text’s incarnation. Not quite dream, not quite reality, the ideas are drawn out of a world between the two and showcase themes of brilliant creative genius beyond the bounds of ‘normal’ thinking, beyond reverie and pure dreaming, which is echoed in Whale’s films and its effects. Indeed, even in the opening moments of Whale’s 1935 sequel we can see the illusory and hallucinatory capacity of cinema being used, with a prologue featuring Mary Shelley, her husband, and Lord Byron setting up the film’s forthcoming events. This plays with the contents of the sole book – which contains the creature’s bride, and therefore its conception – recapitulating and re-conforming the reality of its creation and the narrative within the film as something other than a singular strict reality. Now the Bride’s cinematic creation and her narrative journey extends the literature’s text in new directions, whilst retaining the original impetus of the book. Actual reality and cinematic reality become fractured to create something different to what cinematically and literally exists, a trope the film further plays on in its visual developments of Karloff and Elsa Lanchester’s physiognomies, as the creature and Bride respectively.

Roy Porter notes that historically – from early Greek thinkers to Renaissance poets – madness was seen as flattering, stating: ‘to dub a poet ‘mad’ was, in the conventions of the age to pay him a compliment’.[21] Further to the epithet of mad-genius in the writing of the character, the psychological temperament the cinematic Frankenstein himself takes for assembling his creature further matches certain criteria that make up certain forms of madness. From Shelley’s creative thoughts, the character and his actions tip over into lunacy and psychosis. These include Victor’s delusions (of creating life), and the dysfunctional social skills (he locks himself away from his family and friends), which have been on-going for a considerable amount of time. In addition, the filmed creature himself often suffers from virtual catatonia in his sluggish, stiff motion, lack of depression or elation, and of course his disorganised speech, which when it finally comes in Bride; are all signs of madness.[22] But it is the actual construction of the cinematic creature, through make-up, that resolutely consolidates the sense of schizophrenic disarray.

Make-up artist Jack Pierce designed (along with James Whale) and applied the prosthetics and cosmetic paints to actor Boris Karloff in Whale’s production, using a selection of appliances that ranged from cotton, collodion, and spirit gum to build the creature’s head. Notably included within the character’s cranium is the aforesaid abnormal brain, which according to Pierce’s ideas of the creature’s building, would have been crammed inside. Pierce continues: ‘he had to take the head and open it, then he had to work from that. Instead of sewing it up, he took wires to rivet the head’[23]. In addition to the collodion-soaked cotton strips that created the scars, Pierce also added mortician’s wax beneath Karloff’s eyes to create sagging, and a coat of green greasepaint, which photographed as a very pale tone in the black and white stock.[24] Karloff’s own ‘effects’ contribution, aside from the important carriage of the appliances and costume, and the pathos his subtle performance gave the character, was the removal of his dental plate. This gave a noticeable recess to his right cheek that, in addition to the collection of parts used to construct the physical corpus of the character, produces a shambling assemblage of parts that forms an interesting perspective in understanding the creature as a manufactured element of Dr. Frankenstein’s madness and a reformulation of profilmic reality. From a diegetic perspective these are fractures of the scientist’s and the creature’s own implanted psychotic minds. No longer functioning as they normally would, the chemical, neurological issues and the abnormal brain form a body that is real, functioning and alive. But simultaneously they are also highlighting the splintered, and therefore disassociated sensibilities pertaining to reality and normal conduct that frequent the lunatic behaviour of a mad man. These become writ large on-screen and here it’s possible to see the combination of real and unreal. The fissures between the constituent make-up:  collodion, cotton and greasepaint, are indistinguishable from real skin and Karloff himself, and give pause to ideas of realism (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

The make-up that forms Frankenstein’s creature then, can be read as a visualisation of madness personified, externalised from normalised ideas of reality and the natural state and structure of a living being. Describing how madness was recognised, Porter states that around 1810, ‘All agreed that it was of the essence that lunacy to be visible, and known by its appearance. Indeed Thomas Tryon sourly noted that because men of reason were such hypocrites, it was only the mad whose nature could be read in their face’.[25] Madness was to be seen, in physiognomy, demeanour and habits. Though reflective of the inner self, the ‘poison within’  becomes, in these scholars belief, writ visually large – on faces, bodies and other corporeal elements, an idea clearly seized upon by horror and its special effects. As Porter continues: ‘Madness advertised itself in a proliferation of symptoms, in gait, in physiognomy, in weird demeanour and habits. It was synonymous with behaving crazy, looking crazy, talking crazy’.[26] Kim Newman writes: ‘[S]creen maniacs form the 1920s through to the 1950s were generally played by such physically bizarre performers as Peter Lorre, Laird Cregar, John Carradine or Rondo Hatton’,[27] an epithet that is equally apparent to Doctor Frankenstein himself who despite his square jaw, has the eerily wide eyes and unkempt hair of the archetypal movie mad (scientist).[28]

But the monstrous progeny, those born and built from the mad scientist’s mind, though similar are often caught midway between normal and deviant. The diegetic visual state of the creature – with its sunken eyes, barely moving facial mouth, enlarged forehead and odd adornments of metal – produces an effect of visual abnormality, irreality and a sense of psychosis sprung from the Doctor’s mind and the loss of the creature’s own psychological bearings. Yet concurrently the visual schema is relatable to the visually ‘normal’, being ostensibly like other human characters, only skewed and twisted. The creature walks unnaturally slowly and rigidly (produced through a further unnatural accessory: a steel spine and struts fitted to Karloff’s back and legs), with his arms stretched outwards, and barely seems to register anything, as if caught in a state of catatonia. Meanwhile his ‘communicative’ snarling and outbursts of anger, together with his stiff motion and attire, give a sense of a madman, akin to those seen in Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), and on. Like Cesare, Caligari’ssomnambulistic killer, Frankenstein’s creature moves in a similarly stylised and awkward fashion, stretching his form like it’s rubberised in order to creep through the diegetic world.

But it is in combination and through the plethora of fantastic make-up that the reflective sense of madness is truly established and executed. A collection of the aforementioned unnatural matter – at least in Pierce’s hands – the use of elements that were added to Karloff’s face, despite being ‘real’, are fabricated in ways that change their original state and form, and subsequently the visual condition, bearing and performance of Karloff. Though we see something ‘alive’ and flesh-like, animated via Karloff’s performance, the performance is via the formation of inanimate pieces, further disconnected from the spirit gum, collodion and wax they essentially are. Importantly they function in ways that reflect aspects of madness, becoming at once representative of reality and indeed actual physical constituents from the real world, but twisted and distanced in their emphatic use, creating disturbing almost hallucinatory visions to other characters in the film (and viewers as well). The cinematic creature is a selection of parts that resonate and ostensibly seem and act as a conventional body, normal and real. But to the villagers and audience it is a monster – huge and fantastic, alien and distanced from normative associations of reality. The creature extra-diegteically performs as a collection of collodion, spirit gum and other further cosmetic additions. And in combination with Karloff himself, it becomes transformed into a fantastic, hallucinatory ‘other’ entity. Furthermore, due to their inherent inanimate nature and the deliberately ‘stiffened’ performance of Karloff, the make-up elements can be viewed as part of the so-called negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Despite their part in the creation of the creature on their own these make-up elements, though appearing animate, have a reduced function. Like the schizophrenic they having little thought in their new form – in fact none – other than being inert forms of collodion, gum and so on. As Frith and Johnstone state, following the statement of Aubrey Lewis: ‘the so-called “negative” aspect of schizophrenia [features] the gradual withdrawal from the world and from the self’.[29] Connected to Karloff’s performance the special make-up effects produce a congruence of reality and irreality, where we see a profundity of madness taking over the creature. As the film continues Karloff’s mannered, but highly stoic performance as he seeks to find lone solace from the cruel world, in combination with the ‘stiffening’ facial makeup, reflect sensations of withdrawal encountered by the schizophrenic and mad. .

As Andrew Tudor says of certain monsters from this period, including King Kong and Karloff’s creature, such monsters are often anthropomorphised. He continues, ‘our sympathy is invited precisely to the degree that such patently inhuman creations exhibit human inclinations emotions and loyalties’.[30] Though we see the creature commit acts of murder and his accidental killing of the farmer’s daughter, these are often signalled as exploits undertaken by something unknowing and naïve, or impelled to take revenge by mistreatment. Often the later killings in the first and many of the second film follow early mistreatment at the hands of the hunchback Fritz (Dwight Frye), and the surrounding society who become afraid of the creature’s acts of violence and his difference. Such a stance is the expected one from the supposed normal public, who become scared, enraged and ultimately monsters themselves, effecting revenge out of a sense of social necessity. It’s a principal seen in other horrors, including The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian 1928) and Fritz Lang’s M (1931), but in these films the actions of the mad men are more deliberate, calculated and first-hand. In Frankenstein and its sequel the madness that creates and surrounds the monster undeniably leaves a lasting mark. But though mentally scarred, the progeny made out of a variety of other extra parts (diegetically and literally), produces a visually detached sense of movie-madness that is caught somewhere between their creators’ lunacy and the normal world he now inhabits. Correspondingly, the make-up follows suit, being real but also unreal, and therefore mentally unhinged but nonetheless tied into the diegesis. To the watching audience and to those who have knowledge of its actuality, the parts that construct Frankenstein’s creature inhabit a state of reality that is in flux.

Indeed David J. Skal in The Monster Show highlights how Whale’s Frankenstein, its creature’sposition, and the creative use of mise en scène reflect a world in flux. Within the author denotes the positions of monsters and horror during the 1920s (and later) as revealing cultural values surrounding post-World War I veterans and tensions prior to World War II. Skal discusses Lon Chaney Sr. – ‘The Man of a thousand faces’ – and his performance in The Penalty (Wallace Worsley 1920), a film that features the actor as an unjustly mutilated man who seeks revenge on the doctor who committed the appalling act, which he sees as echoing the rehabilitation of those returning from combat.[31] More overtly the position of Chaney’s grotesques in Phantom and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Wallace Worsley 1923) evoked resemblances of the so-called ‘mutilés de guerre’ (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Physically mutilated and psychologically scarred, Chaney Sr.’s Phantom, with his smashed and disfigured physiognomy could, in Skal’s words, ‘easily have taken his place in the Union des Gueles Cassées – the French brotherhood of smashed faces [aka. “broken mugs”]’.[32] Interest and knowledge of veterans’ plights continued with the public visiting more literal ‘spectacles of mutilation and reconstruction’ in Europe to see casts of the wounded and displays of stages of wax redevelopment used to reconstruct destroyed faces.[33] Such culturally redolent artefacts, both real and illusory begin to express and reflect sensations of the madness that had befallen so many, and indeed a spectacular if macabre interest in them. Clearly it’s not a far distance to step from the situation of reality as witnessed in the museums and images of the veterans to the films themselves, with their similarly smashed psyches and physiognomies, and physiques. Of Chaney Sr. Skal notes (quoting David Thomson): ‘There is not a screen performer who so illustrates the fascination for audiences of the idea, promise and threat of metamorphosis’.[34] But he was not alone, and as the work of Pierce and the likes of Frankenstein show, there was a continued use of make-up that arguably engages audiences with the madness within the films that reflects an extradiegetic world that was itself in a state of flux and instability.

Of the make-up design and application Pierce developed to fabricate the creature’s face and build, Skal notes the impact of recent design and art movements, such as the rise in cubism, expressionism, Bauhaus and other ‘stylized machine-age aesthetic[s]’ whose ‘zig-zagging style […] elbowed its way into […] advertising, decoration, and industrial design’.[35] Added to this can be cinema, itself an outpouring of mechanical, and electronic industrial style and stylization. Skal continues that the diegetic creature’s construction was “an amalgam of conventional bodies torn apart and reassembled according to new, logical-angular, electromechanical principles”, and in make-up terms this ideal was carried through exactly. Karloff’s head, wrapped within mortician’s wax, putty, along with ‘metal’ bolts/conductors, becomes an expression of the zig-zagging style, which mirrored the heady, crazed period of social and economic instability throughout the world. The real world of 1931 onwards, a confused arena of stock-market crashes, the ensuing Great Depression, and the appearance of Nazism was, if not the beginnings of a horrific melee, certainly a time of madness. Infrastructure, culture and inordinate amounts of the world in general were beginning to appear and seem quite different, skewed from normal. As Skal declares: ‘Whale’s film depicted a monster squarely in the grip of this confusion, a pathetic figure caught, as it were, on the barbed wire between humanism and mechanism’, but of course that’s exactly what the creature is – a mechanism, both literally and metaphorically.[36] Karloff’s make-up and performance is a conduit of the madness that begins on screen with a melange of pieces that inhabit a space already irreal. The additional ‘sick’ parts become a further signal of what seems to have infected the villagers who hunt him. And, ultimately, reflects the extra-cinematic madness of the real world. The hallucination expands ever outwards.

This principle is also seen in Island of Lost Souls, which features a slew of creatures made out of parts, reflecting a sense of madness of (at least) the film’s diegetic world. A collection of freakish looking, but somewhat human, animal-men created by Wally Westmore, they issue forth from Moreau’s unhinged want to create as a god, using plastic surgery and all manner of evisceration of the original animals’ bodies, and ultimately their psychology. The make-up effects in the film are once again a collection of animal fur, collodion and cotton wool, plus other discrete elements that are then joined together with the performers’ bodies to create further realistic, but simultaneously fantastic characters. Of course, despite the creation of their law that governs and humanizes them – not to run on all fours, eat meat, or spill blood – the creatures are built from a madman’s frenzied psychology, and are essentially (mis)treated as animals. A wildly sadistic scientist, the results of Moreau’s work are literally fragmented and vexing to look at. Furthermore the Doctor’s experimentation, and the basic animalistic tendencies that dwell within them, make the animal-men both visually and psychology splintered. Driven to the point of psychological and mental distress, they undergo treatment akin to the abuse of animals in circuses. Consequently, like real-world animals, Moreau’s animal-men can also be seen as representing schizophrenic/insane tendencies, only doubly so.[37]

Though Moreau coerces one, Ouran, towards rape, the vast majority of the island’s manufactured inhabitants take their vengeful actions against their ‘creator’ arguably due to the madness engendered through Moreau’s treatment. Finally unhinged, the animals climactic attack is a frenzy of motion, their literal and arguably psychological madness now let loose. Already we have heard the creatures chanting of the law,[38] which gave their society not just an animal-like drive, but also one of animals driven mad – resulting in deranged behaviour and conduct. They are no longer animals, but not quite men, and arguably no longer mentally stable in either taxonomy. So to of course is their visual make-up. A melange of animal fur, cotton wool etc., the accoutrements added to Lugosi as the Sayer, Tetsu Komai as M’Ling, and Hans Steinke as Ouran, create beings that appear somewhere between the men and performers they are, and the fantastic oddities, and scientific twists of nature contained in the film. Therefore it’s not hard to surmise that on a practical level, the made-up physiques of Lugosi et al., are nothing less than a mad, twisted addition to reality in a film of juggled realism, one that reflects society’s developments around vivisection, animal mistreatment and attitudes towards nature that Wells’s text evokes.

Figure 3.

Lugosi’s make-up produces a character who has been fused with other elements, with certain aspects extracted – Lugosi’s readily recognisable face, along with many other human features[39]– and then stuck back together with make-up to create visual icons of disjointed matter that reflect their personalities, thrown out of order by Moreau’s experiments (Figure 3). Though the make-up may seem somewhat inferior by today’s technical standards, it’s just that bearing that is needed within a film that features the violent juxtaposition of genetic elements that are then abusively handled, and again we’re unable to tell where visual cinematic truth and lies (and therefore madness and normality) begin or end. Consequently notions of realistic intentions and illusionistic practice become intertwined and enwrapped, creating a strange mise en scène that befits the madness of the film and its characters. When discussing the neorealist film Bazin stresses its ability to create something analogous to the American novel that, more often than Hollywood film, managed to create an authentic sense of character, life and meaning. ‘Hollywood,’ states Bazin, ‘adapts bestseller after bestseller at the same time moving further away from the spirit of this literature, [but] it is in Italy […] and with an ease that excludes any notion of deliberate and wilful imitation that the cinema of American literature has become a reality’.[40] With these words Bazin not only highlights Hollywood’s frequent lack of realistic intentions, but how the same cinema ideally sets up the ability to enter into the revels of the fantastic and irreal, most especially the madness of the scientist and his creations within the horror film.

The mad scientist who created Frankenstein, and fellow experimenters like Moreau, are playing with the prescribed order of what is present within the films’ diegesis, and through this create things that result in murder, mutilation and mayhem. In this respect they are destroying certain aspects of diegetic reality, such as other characters, and the unrevised profilmic reality preferred by Bazin. But, as Fleming and Manvell state: ‘As a medium involving the highly controlled flow of images, film is uniquely able to reflect the flux of mental-emotional experience with an impact similar to that undergone by a human being during a period of psychological deterioration’[41]. They note the use of editing, along with other sound and image juxtapositions, lead to a dovetailing of sensations issuing from characters’ nightmares and hallucinations that often become indistinguishably woven[42]. Bazin sees such stylistic additions as eradicating the truth of film’s realistic intent, noting:

[F]or the initial reality there has been substituted an illusion of reality composed of a complex of abstraction (black and white, plane surface), of conventions (the rules of montage, for example), and of authentic reality. It is a necessary illusion but it quickly induces a loss of awareness of the reality itself, which becomes identified in the mind of the spectator with its cinematographic representation. As for the filmmaker, the moment he has secured this unwitting complicity of the public, he is increasingly tempted to ignore reality.[43]

Such additions as editing, and moreover special and visual effects, therefore arguably lead to an ever greater distancing from the tenets of strict Bazinian reality. What is seen in the likes of Frankenstein, Chaney Sr.’s The Phantom of the Opera, and many other horror films featuring mad scientists, but more often and more explicitly the mad creatures, is a continual use of such adornments and stylistic flourishes to the profilmic matter that allows audiences to become entwined within the hallucinatory madness therein. The creatures themselves, contained within make-up constructed out of changed natural matter such as collodion, are themselves mutilations within this. Combined, this can be seen as an outpouring of the scientists’ own fractured mind-set, but it also reflects a greater sense of hallucinatory madness that spreads throughout the diegesis and existing beyond the screen. In creating the creatures, which as noted are often somewhat mad due to medical or social mistreatment, the special make-up effect artists become mirrors and messengers to the audiences beyond.

Significantly it’s also apt that the creation of a fantastic and fractured milieu is more important than precise details of character, as is the basis of the aforementioned American literature that Bazin saw more often within Italian neorealist cinema than Hollywood. Though we might be somewhat empathetic to their creations, they are nonetheless creations – both on-screen and off, and all of them are the result of fantastic, self-created disorder, at least by degrees. It’s an aspect that begins to answer how the movie monsters, and more importantly the doctors and scientists that create them, house aspects of madness. In this respect such productions are comparable to Bazin’s arguments, metaphorically destroying the Bazinian idea of realism (and aspects therein) to create something skewed, which befits the milieu of madness they often operate within. Andrew Tudor says of the various mad scientists, that they deal with disorder on a volitional basis – creating experiments with a conscious will to create. But, Tudor continues ‘[I]t is not so much the direct actions of scientists that occasion the threat as it is unanticipated consequences of scientific investigation and discovery’.[44] In other words though they aim to create things that will somehow enhance or improve the world, they are unaware – or perhaps irrational – of further disastrous consequences. ‘Science,’ Tudor continues, ‘however threatening, also has the potential for good [But] many of the period’s monsters and creators are finally destroyed not by those authorities but by each other, as if in implicit recognition of their sins’.[45] But, when we watch the films featuring the mad scientists we all to often see the evocations of said madness – the creature in Frankenstein, Moreau’s animal-men and the Zombies experimented on by the military in Day of the Dead (George A. Romero 1985) – vengefully murdering, or at least attacking, their scientists. They destroy the madman, often as well as themselves and therefore their own madness. Though so far the actions of the scientists are visual signs and characteristics of madness fashioned into other creatures, issuing forth from an insane mind and espoused on-screen, they are distinct but separate from the creators themselves. These creatures smash apart conventions of realism, but there are other signs of madness wholly centred upon the scientist themselves that continue this remit.

Grafting pieces together, as Frankenstein and Moreau do, is as we’ve seen reflective of the filmmaking processes used to create the on-screen characters themselves, resulting in a concoction of elements that rupture certain conventions of reality. But the scientists themselves often self-administer their ideas, and this leads to perhaps the greatest revelations of madness, and interesting uses of special and visual effects to highlight their ill-fated venture.

The first transformation of Dr. Jekyll in Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) is an interesting example. Though it deals more with split personalities than madness per-se, clearly Frederick March’s character follows in the footsteps of Dr. Frankenstein and his crazed fellows as a good illustration of movie madness. Here’s a man of science rushing headlong into his research with ideals that become progressively twisted, reflecting a schism in his mind-set where he moves from both theoretical research and scientific nobility to subversive actuality. He believes his work is noble when in reality it is mad folly. Jekyll joins the ranks of mad scientists and in doing so, he highlights not just a continuance of his brethren but a significant further step forward, since he is both experimenting on his self and, in cinematic terms, we are witness to the results located upon his person through special and visual effects that make visible a sense of the darkness – madness as well as Jekyll’s dark persona – within.

The creation of Mr. Hyde is yet another display of make-up and other effects that showcase similarly fantastic levels of the mind that are visibly released onto the world, as well as breaking down determinations of what is real and what is fantastic and hallucinatory for the audience. As with Karloff’s Frankenstein, and the animal-men of Dr. Moreau, the make-up used to visualise Hyde is arranged as a series of layers upon a body that echo and physically augment the breaking apart of a cohesive intellectual whole and Bazinian realistic conventions. Once again this signals an essence of madness that permeates films like Frankenstein, its sequels and those others mentioned here. But within Mamoulian’s film we are finally seeing not just the constructive assembly of a mad-scientist, ensuing from experiments that result in adjunct creations outside of their bodies, but experiments that are based on and within them. This results in external fractures that mirror the internal mind, resulting in broken down cognitive and mental faculties, as well as a fractured persona.

The key distinction that highlights Mamoulian’s film as an important part of the mad scientist canon is the small, but undeniably fascinating, use of optical effects during the primary transformation scene. Finally deciding to take his concoction, Jekyll stands before a mirror to witness the effects, and in a trick subjective point of view shot we see both the literal and symbolic reflection of his experiments. Jekyll raises the flask to his lips and then drinks, before staggering forward and staring at the mirror as the transformation begins. The filmmakers painted shadows onto March’s face in red tinted make-up and, using a complimentary red filter, produced an even tonality in the black and white photography that hid the shadows[46]. But as the shot continues the filmmakers gradually changed from a red to a green filter that revealed the shadows as increasing dark areas on the character’s face and hands (Figure 4). This created the first signs of the transformation, but also shows both a strong encapsulation of cinematic madness on-screen, beginning to show a fracturing of the cohesive cinematic profilmic realism. In these shots audiences begin to see the appearance of the hidden depths of a dark persona that is built out of mad scientists’ will to unleash it, as well as imagery of a consensual hallucinatory nature that questions the limits of reality and fantasy within the film.

Figure 4.

Following a quick cut, Jekyll whirls away from the mirror and the camera moves as if he is spinning back and forth, together with a series of optical composites as he experiences a series of memories and dreams that reflect the differences to his personality and breakdown in his morality and control over his mind-set. We see certain moments from his memory, but at the same time the overt stylisation in presentation and placement within the optically composited assembly steeps them in a sense of the fantastic. The superimposition of the down-at-heel prostitute Ivy (Figure 5), swinging her leg on the edge of a bed following the purer image of Jekyll’s fiancé, and the numerous Doctors and other overbearing peers who state Jekyll’s folly and madness at both his experiments and his impromptu base desires highlight an interesting statement of the burgeoning madness within the film (Figure 6). The photography, quite soft and undetailed (as was often the style in so many Hollywood productions of the time) is, in combination with a background of glittering and spinning light effects, conducive to creating a hallucinatory waking fever dream, which highlights the madness of Jekyll’s endeavours.

Figure 5.

Figure 6.

During the sixteenth century Porter notes the philosophical view of madness changed from a basis surrounding the supernatural, to become recognised as a physical ailment based in the body – and centred on the mind. Though only a supposition, Descartes’ assertion of dualism – where the mind is related to the matter of the body and impact upon each other – begins to substantiate the problems of mental disorder upon the person. Porter continues: ‘as consciousness was inherently and definitely rational, insanity, precisely like regular physical illnesses, must derive from the body, or be a consequence of some very precarious connections to the brain’.[47] Again, if we again relate this notion to André Bazin’s views, the use of optical effects continues to enlighten. As previously noted, Bazin saw cinema of the 1920s to the 1940s organised around, ‘those directors who put their faith in the image and those who put their faith in reality,’ where these images and the plasticity created by extra techniques as inferior to the cinema of long takes and carefully composed deeply focused shots.[48] Reading Bazin’s argument’s surrounding mise en scène against montage, editing and other superfluous elements which composite separate elements together, it is possible to see Bazin’s theorisation as signifying the pure and healthy imagery of realism against what might be termed a ‘diseased’ version composed of constructed images.

Examining the infrastructure of the first transformation of Jekyll it is evident, from Bazin’s perspective, that the compositing of images in a collage of superimposition, together with cinematographer Karl Struss’s elaborate swirling camera, and the use of soft focus, combine to create a sequence that is diseased and sickly, rather than more formal sequences of photography that would have relied upon performance alone to generate more normalised and realistic settings and tone. Noting Thomas Hobbes’s views, Porter relates that the materialist saw hallucinations as: ‘spawned by the fevered operations of the brain’.[49] In relation to the aforementioned scene of Jekyll undergoing his mind’s twisted thoughts and visual manifestations, and moreover their presentation via compositing, it is feasible to see the use of visual effects and techniques as realising madness to thoroughly good effect. And this evidently builds upon the previously discussed use of make-up that is applied to the various performers in order to create the monstrous, mad creations of the lunatic scientists. In each case it’s possible to see madness personified in the fashioning of special and visual effects, which create a further consensual hallucination of diseased images for those in both the diegetic and spectatorial worlds.

Certainly, the cinematic enterprise of H. G. Wells’s Invisible Man, continues and enlarges this idea. James Whale’s 1933 production features a slew of optical and special effects, the latter created by John P. Fulton and his crew, which manage to destabilise the reality of surrounding characters, as well as that of Griffin himself – and of course his sanity. Building the visual effects for the film meant developing optical compositing techniques from a stage illusion known as the Black Art effect used by Buatier de Kolta during the 1870s and 1880s. The original stage effect used an entirely blacked out stage area in which the illusionist worked. Using a series of assistants dressed in black velvet, the performance involved making objects appear and disappear from sight, including a horse, and a skeleton that would dance around the stage area. The various performers would secrete and display the necessary elements from concealed areas on the stage in concert with the illusionist, and the optical development saw directors such as Georges Méliès using the technique within film. Just as with the stage version performers would be dressed in black and work on a blacked out stage area, working in unison with other visible performers. Méliès cinematicised the technique by using partly or fully concealed people within the blacked out areas, which kept the areas blank and therefore invisible. The film could then be rewound allowing the blank areas to be re-exposed, which enabled Méliès, for example, to remove his head again and again, throwing them onto a series of telegraph wires to create autonomous singing, floating heads in his Le mélomane/The Music Lover (1903).

Fulton took this basis and developed the technique using an optical printer, which gave the effects artist the advantage to combine many elements together whilst retaining higher quality results. By similarly dressing a performer – sometimes lead actor Claude Rains, sometimes a stand-in – in a black velvet suit and headpiece, the filmmakers could then create effects that would enable them to make invisible all, or just portions of the character’s body. In particular, the Invisible Man could be seen partially wearing clothes, with his invisible face, head and body ‘seen’, with the background appearing through him. Perhaps the most vivid use of the effect, and coincidentally the one that perhaps best espouses the madness that simmers throughout the film, is when Griffin unwinds the bandages he wears to hide himself in plain sight at Mr’s Hall’s inn before escaping. The shot involved several multiple printings of both a dummy head and torso, and the semi black-clad performer against the black set and the location itself. Mattes (like cut-outs) were created of the performer, both positive and negative, which created aspects of what needed to be seen and kept invisible. With their seamless integration against the background a final print was composited together the blacked areas became filled in with the background, creating the invisible space, and therefore the invisible man.[50]

The scene in Mrs. Hall’s sitting room sees an already enraged Griffin tilted into a mad frenzy of screams and shouts at the innkeeper’s husband, before he reveals his true self, first pulling away his false nose and glasses; then unwinding his bandages and finally, his clothes. Fulton notes of using a dummy: ‘[The] scene was made by using […] an exact replica of the player’s makeup, and with a chest that ingeniously contrived to move as though breathing,’ which strikes similar chords concerning the creation of a fantastic realism within the film and for audiences.[51]Both the dummy and live action-action compositing shots highlight how the film creates a series of images that can be viewed as hallucinatory by both the characters in the film, and by the audience (Figure 7). As spectators it’s possible for us to share the madness conjured by the visual effects on-screen, and dwell within this state for the duration of its length, bearing out the theory that the film reflects a sense of movie madness. As the film uses a series of shots that make use of both optical effects, involving considerable trickery and composite elements fused together, as well as a number of practical gags (wires suspended objects Griffin might move or use, such as a bike ridden out of the village), it’s credible to note they are imagery signifying an idea of ailment and disease surrounding and impacting the mise en scène, rather than normality, changing the original profilmic state of the film. The fantastical nature of what is seen both within the film’s world produces the consensual hallucination. Consequently audiences see madness materialising.

Figure 7.

Andrew Tudor notes cinema’s mad scientists between 1930 and 1951 were ‘Dazzled and corrupted by progress’, their experiments, ‘interfere[d] with the fundamental processes of life […] trespassing in areas forbidden to it’.[52] Arguably this fashion permeates not just the actions of the on-screen scientists, but also the special and visual effects, and the visual characteristics created therein. When seeing the mad scientists and their creations on–screen it becomes clear that what they have created, and how it is visualised on-screen is clearly a distinct shift from the normality of diegetic, and the basic constraints of natural drama, as well the original profilmic basis. The characters, diegesis, and in particular the visual scheme, become highly distanced from the bases of Bazin’s codes of realistic conduct. As Frith and Johnstone state: ‘The boundary between normality and psychosis is not clear cut,’ noting that despite symptoms, people continue with routine lives.[53] Following this approach, the horror film and its use of effects in creating a diegetic world can be thought of in similar terms. In addition as John Ellis states, in cinema there is never just one realism, ‘there are realisms’.[54] So in horror films, though what is seen is diegetically cohesive, it is nonetheless an irregular and unbalanced set of visual cues and codes that create the consensual hallucination we plunge into.


Bazin, André. ‘The Evolution of the Language of Cinema.’ What is Cinema? Vol. 1. Trans. Hugh Gray. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1967), pp. 23 – 40.

— ‘The Evolution of the Language of Cinema.’ What is Cinema? Vol. 2. Trans. Hugh Gray. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1971), pp. 16 – 40.

Bowles, James. ‘Make Up Secrets of Movie Horror Pictures.’ ModernMechanix Feb 1933/19 August 2008. 44 – 47; 147. Web. 21 September 2011.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Ed. Hugh Haughton. London, New York, Victoria, Toronto, New Delhi, Auckland, Rosebank, SA: Penguin Books.

Ellis, John. Visible Fictions. Cinema: television: video. Revised edition. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

Essman, Scott. ‘Jack Pierce. Universal Man of Monsters.’ Makeup Artist Magazine. (21). October/November 1999: 34 – 48.

Fleming, Michael and Manvell, Roy. Images of Madness. The Portrayal of Insanity in the Feature Film. Rutherford, Madison, Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickson University Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985.

Frith, Christopher, Johnstone, Eve. Schizophrenia A Very Short Introduction. Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, New York, Oxford, São Paulo, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Fulton. John P. ‘How we made The Invisible Man.’ The ASC Treasury of Visual Effects. Ed. George E. Turner. Hollywood, California: American Society of Cinematographers, 1983: 117 – 120.

Gibson, William. ‘Burning Chrome’. Burning Chrome. And other stories. (London: Harper Collins, 1995), pp. 195 – 220.

Marcotte, Eric R., Pearson, Debra M., and Srivastava, Lalit K. ‘Animal models of schizophrenia: a critical review.’ Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. (26.5) November 2001: 395–410.

Porter, Roy. Mind Forg’d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1987. ACLS Humanities. PDF File.

—. Madness. A Brief History. Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kokata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, São Paolo, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Shelley, Mary. “A Romantic Circles Electronic Edition. Frankenstein. 1831 Edition Vol. I.” ed. Stuart Curran. Romantic Circles. Web. 25 October 2011.

David J. Skal. The Monster Show. A Cultural History of Horror. London: Plexus, 1993.

Tudor, Andrew. Monsters and Mad Scientists. A Cultural History of the Horror Movie. Oxford, Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Wells, H.G. The Island of Dr. Moreau.  New York: Berkeley Publishing Corporation, 1973.



Bride of Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. 1935.

Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. 1940.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Dir. Robert Wiene. .1920.

Day of the Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. 1985.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dir. Rouben Mamoulian. 1932.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Robert Fuest 1971.

Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. 1931.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Dir. Rachel Talalay.1991.

Freddy vs. Jason. Dir. Ronny Yu. 2003.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Dir. Wallace Worsley. 1923.

The Invisible Man. Dir. James Whale.

Island of Lost Souls. Dir. Erle C. Kenton. 1933.

King Kong. Dirs. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. 1933.

M. Dir. Fritz Lang. 1931.

Le mélomane/The Music Lover. Dir. Georges Méliès. 1903.

A Nightmare on Elm Street. Dir. Wes Craven. 1984.

A Nightmare on Elm Street. Dir. Samuel Bayer. 2010.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Dir. Jack Sholder. 1985.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Dir. Chuck Russell. 1987.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Dir. Renny Harlin. 1988.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Dir. Stephen Hopkins. 1989.

Paisà/Pasian. Dir. Robert Rossellini. 1939.

Peeping Tom. Dir. Michael Powell. 1960.

The Penalty. Dir. Wallace Worsley. 1920.

Psycho.Dir. Alfred Hitchcock .1960.

Reanimator. Dir. Stuart Gordon. 1985.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Dir. Tobe Hooper. 1974.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Dir. Marcus Nispel. 2003.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Dir. Tobe Hooper. 1986.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D. Dir. John Luessenhop. 2013.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Dir. Jonathan Liebsman. 2006.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Dir. Kim Henkel. 1994.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Dir. Wes Craven. 1994.

[1] Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Ed. Hugh Haughton. (London, New York, Victoria, Toronto, New Delhi, Auckland, Rosebank, SA: Penguin Books), p. 57.

[2] André Bazin ‘The Evolution of the Language of Cinema’, in What is Cinema? Vol. 1. Trans. Hugh Gray. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1967), p. 26.

[3] See Metropolis (Fritz Lang 1927) Frankenstein (James Whale 1931), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest 1971) and Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton 1933), as early and later examples of those struck with a form of madness that leads them to commit acts of science and operations that lead to terror.

[4] See Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), later adapted into the film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Rouben Mamoulian 1932).

[5] William Gibson. ‘Burning Chrome’. Burning Chrome. And other stories. (London: Harper Collins, 1995), p. 197.

[6] Roy Porter. Mind Forg’d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1987. ACLS Humanities. PDF File), p. x.

[7] Christopher Frith and Eve Johnstone. Schizophrenia. A Very Short Introduction. Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, New York, Oxford, São Paulo, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003), jacket blurb.

[8] Ibid., p. 24.

[9] Michael Fleming and Roy Manvell. Images of Madness. The Portrayal of Insanity in the Feature Film. (Rutherford, Madison, Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickson University Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985), p.17

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] André Bazin. ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation’, in What is Cinema? Vol. 2. Trans. Hugh Gray. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1971), p. 26.

[13] Ibid., p. 33.

[14] This includes the creation the opera-singing-star-wannabe Susan Kane’s debut, where we see what appears to be a continuous shot moving up through the rafters of the opera house to two unimpressed stagehands. Though it seems to be continuous, the filmmakers conjoined a series of live action and miniature shots of theatre flats via compositing and the use of optical wipes.

[15] Roy Porter. Mind Forg’d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1987. ACLS Humanities. PDF File), p. 16.

[16] Christopher Frith and Eve Johnstone. Schizophrenia. A Very Short Introduction. Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, New York, Oxford, São Paulo, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 23

[17] Ibid., p. 24.

[18] Ibid., p. 29.

[19] André Bazin. ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation’, in What is Cinema? Vol. 2. Trans. Hugh Gray. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1971), p. 27.

[20] Mary Shelley. “A Romantic Circles Electronic Edition. Frankenstein. 1831 Edition Vol. I.” ed. Stuart Curran. Romantic Circles. n. date. Web. 25 October 2011.

[21] Roy Porter. Madness. A Brief History. (Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kokata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, São Paolo, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 66.

[22] Christopher Frith and Eve Johnstone. Schizophrenia. A Very Short Introduction. Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, New York, Oxford, São Paulo, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 34.

[23] Scott Essman. ‘Jack Pierce. Universal Man of Monsters’, in Makeup Artist Issue 21. (October/November 1999), p. 36.

[24] Bowles, James. ‘Make Up Secrets of Movie Horror Pictures.’ ModernMechanix Feb 1933/19 August 2008. 44 – 47; 147. Web. 21 September 2011, p. 147.

[25] Roy Porter. Mind Forg’d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1987. ACLS Humanities. PDF File). p. 35.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Kim Newman. Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s. (London, Berlin, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2011 Kindle edition), location 3880.

[28] This is in opposition to certain later maniacs and mad killers of the 1960s such as Norman Bates in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock 1960) and Peeping Tom (Michael Powell 1960), who Kim Newman describes as ‘withdrawn, effeminate, neurotic, apparently harmless young men’: Ibid. location 3890. Rather than the special effects built ‘monsters’, Bates et al appeared like other men in the world, their madness and monstrousness hidden away inside. In addition, these and even the later more fantastic ‘rubberised’ killers of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (1984 –  2010 Wes Craven et al.) and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 – 2013 Tobe Hooper et al), were not ‘constructed’ by mad scientists, but by families either through wayward nurture or, as in Elm Street’s case direct action. So despite the apparent return to earlier uses of make-up, the creative impulse had switched, even if 1931s Frankenstein and its sequel might were perhaps the archetypal familial horrors.

[29] Christopher Frith and Eve Johnstone. Schizophrenia. A Very Short Introduction. Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, New York, Oxford, São Paulo, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 2 – 3.

[30] Andrew Tudor. Monsters and Mad Scientists. A Cultural History of the Horror Movie. (Oxford, Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1989), p. 115.

[31] David J. Skal. The Monster Show. A Cultural History of Horror. (London: Plexus, 1993), p.65.

[32] Ibid., p.66.

[33] Ibid., p.67.

[34] Ibid., p.70.

[35] Ibid., p. 130.

[36] Ibid., p. 135.

[37] Eric R. Marcotte, Debra M.Pearson, and Lalit K. Srivastava. ‘Animal models of schizophrenia: a critical review.’ Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. 26.5 (November 2001), pp. 395 – 410

[38] Though a pared down version, the essence of the law still results in a mantra-like vernacular that reflects a sense of maddening the words, where the monologue is repetitive to the point of absurdity:

‘Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’

‘Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’

‘Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’

‘Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’

‘Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’. (Wells “The Island of Dr. Moreau” 57).

[39] In addition, if we are to believe anecdotal evidence, the likes of Randolph Scott, Alan Ladd and Buster Crabbe also undertook similar albeit smaller roles. Though not ‘stars’ per se, their faces would have been noticeable enough in the future to prove of interest for anyone searching for them. Certainly it’s possible to view any one of the actors/performers thereon to have their personas, physical and psychological bearing stripped away by Westmore’s make-up, resulting in a disturbed physical manifestation.

[40] André Bazin. ‘An Aesthetic of Reality’ in What is Cinema? Vol. 2. Trans. Hugh Gray. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1971), pp. 39 – 40.

[41] Michael Fleming and Roy Manvel. Images of Madness. The Portrayal of Insanity in the Feature Film. (Rutherford, Madison, Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickson University Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985), p. 18 – 19.

[42] Ibid.

[43] André Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality’ in What is Cinema? Vol. 2. Trans. Hugh Gray. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1971), p. 27.

[44] Andrew Tudor. Monsters and Mad Scientists. A Cultural History of the Horror Movie. (Oxford, Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1989), p. 133.

[45] Ibid., p. 137.

[46] This effect was also used (but in reverse) in Fred Niblo’s Ben-Hur (1925), where Christ heals the leprosy afflicted mother and sister of Judah Ben-Hur. As in Jekyll, a combination of red and green lighting was alternated to produce the miraculous healing effect.

[47] Roy Porter. Madness. A Brief History. Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kokata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, São Paolo, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 58.

[48] André Bazin. ‘An Aesthetic of Reality’ in What is Cinema? Vol. 2. Trans. Hugh Gray. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1971), p. 24.

[49] Roy Porter. Madness. A Brief History. (Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kokata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, São Paolo, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 59.

[50] John P. Fulton ‘How we made The Invisible Man.’ The ASC Treasury of Visual Effects. Ed. George E. Turner. (Hollywood, California: American Society of Cinematographers, 1983), pp. 117 – 20.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Andrew Tudor. Monsters and Mad Scientists. A Cultural History of the Horror Movie. Oxford, Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1989), p. 141.

[53] Christopher Frith, Eve Johnstone. Schizophrenia A Very Short Introduction. (Auckland, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, New York, Oxford, São Paulo, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003), p.43.

[54] John Ellis. Visible Fictions. Cinema: television: video. Revised edition. (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 8.

Dredd 3D

Back in the late 1980s Robocop arrived on the scene and readers of British comic 2000AD applauded and bemoaned in equal measure. They cherished the cyborg cop’s swift dealing of justice  in the manner or their beloved comic hero Judge Dredd, as well as it’s heavy dollops of violence. But, of course the Dredd fans wanted a cinematic interpretation of Dredd. In 1995 their wash was granted, with a high-budget blockbuster directed by Danny Canon. The film featured some grand vistas, smart visual effects and a number of characters from the comic, including the Angel gang, as well as an ABC robot (which is not actually part of Dredd’s world, but was a fun incorporation). All this however was for naught, because the film smoothed over the violent disposition of the comic’s world and its characters, and forced us to watch Dredd interpreted by Sylvester Stallone.

Narrative was never Judge Dredd’s selling point (aside from The Dead Man and Necropolis stories), so the lack of a decent storyline wouldn’t necessarily harm the film. But the lower certification and Stallone’s star-persona-infused take on the character: he takes off his helmet, something he never does in the original Dredd strip, there’s a comic-relief side-kick who is with Dredd for much of the film and the overall tone is one of trying to be a crowd pleasing blockbuster. I don’t necessarily blame Stallone for the film’s failings, only that the 2000AD audience should perhaps really have known better.

So, 17 years on we now have Dredd, with Karl Urban as the character and Olivia Thirlby as Anderson, a PSI enhanced cadet who Dredd  is tasked with evaluating. The pair enter Peach-Trees, a huge ‘mega-block’, to investigate the deaths of three drug-dealing henchman of Ma-Ma (Lena Headley), and become entrapped  within after they arrest someone who knows all about Ma-Ma’s operations. Ma-Ma sets the entire block against the Judge, cadet, and witness, and  from here Dredd sets about retaliating in his characteristic manner.

There’s a number of positives that come from this adaptation, the most pleasing of which is that the characterisation, ethics, violence and more of Judge Dredd – character, strip, the whole kit and caboodle – is kept concentrated and never watered down. Dredd is still the same itinerant, right-wing, no nonsense, Dirty Harry inspired character he’s been since 200AD‘s inception during the late 1970s. In addition the film continues to be a relevant mirror of the current climate. The state of the world, unsurprisingly, is still an unstable place, with a society who are volatile and, perhaps most importantly, that there’s a force of means who are able to tackle such violence and people.

Of course the film, like the comic, wraps this up in such a way as to make it a stylishly impactful narrative and spectacular(ly violent) event. Ultimately it leaves you to maybe support these events, perhaps join in the revelry of the abundant satire, or to note the increasingly perilous state our world is falling into. Of course, there’s less of the inherent social satire seen in the comic – the fatties, the obese characters who trundled around with supporting wheels for their huge stomachs, get a quick visual nod during an early scene, but unfortunately screen time is limited. Whole stories were developed around these various large citizens, including their fight for social rights, but alas their interest would be less important for the core audience the film is likely looking (and designed) for, due to the imperatives of commercial filmmaking. Another more prescient moment follows on from the deaths of the drug-dealers, where we see an automated cleaning machine scrubbing the blood of the floors of Peach-Trees, whilst a jolly announcement tells the residents the mall shopping will re-open again in thirty minutes, and sorry for the inconvenience. But aside from these less violent instances the film still manages to hit home with the overriding, still relevant, and increasing, feelings of ‘government’ surveillance, tensions surrounding inner-city society and the on-going and growing role of law enforcement.

A word on the 3D – well of course the film doesn’t really need it. But, there is some great instances of slow-motion that makes some rather good use of depth cues between extreme frontal and rear figures within the frames that, due to the speed and processed visual scheme, recalls well a sense of the bold, colourful, sometimes smeared comic book art style. It reflects the more recent trends in comics using the latest in printing technologies, which benefit the stylised and detailed art styles of many current artists and colourists.

Ultimately you feel this is a warm up for greater things, certainly a bigger budget would’ve benefited the already well honed production design – Dredd and others’ bikes are a world away from the ornate ott vehicles – and there’s little of the expansive Mega-City One seen aside from some establishing shots. Urban is the selling point and he gets the Dredd character down pat without the need to remove his helmet. A mean feat – we never see the character’s eyes, just that stoney jaw, and a blunt approach to life. It’s Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry set within a world where he doesn’t have to fill out a report or justify his actions to a department wary of lawsuits.  Of course, many fans will be wanting the Dark Judges, which will require some high-tech SFX. But that’ll have to be balanced to the same heavy set oppressiveness that this film smacks of. If they get can get to the sequel and continue the levels seen here, well fanboys and critics alike will no doubt be satisfied. For now, he is the law.

Katherine Heigl’s One for the Money – yeah that pretty much sums her up…..

I dislike Katherine Heigl. I’m sorry if you are a fan of the ex-Grey’s Anatomy star and anything she’s starred in on the big screen. Because of this dislike I can honestly say I’ve hardly had the pleasure of watching her act/perform/appear in the many productions that her beauty has bought her. I’ve seen a few moments of Grey’s, and similar amounts of her earlier TV gig as an alien (!) in Roswell. I think her only performance I’ve seen in totality is within Knocked Up, alongside Seth Rogen. So, I apologise if I’m missing her abilities, perhaps that role that sells her as more than a pretty but facile face and body. And, yes this is just the trailer of a film I’ve also not seen. But it’s also a film I’ve only just heard of, one which is due out at the end of the week I’m currently writing in, and I’d like to think I keep up to date with cinema and such like – at least to a degree. Which suggests One for the Money is not exactly a strong contender for gaining critical acclaim, or indeed has strong box office buzz.

The trailer presents us with Heigl as Stephanie Plum, a lingerie sales woman at Macey’s who, having been fired, decides to become a bail bonds (wo)man. Apparently it’s her family’s business. I know this because I watched the trailer twice. I feel dirty just saying this. She then gets thrown into hunting down those who need to appear at court and sets about finding an ex-boyfriend from high school who is wanted for murder. Hilarity ensues.

That it seems very similar to the Aniston-Butler film The Bounty Hunter, is probably anecdotal at this point – many films of course mirror each other – but simultaneously Bounty Hunter was out almost two years ago and looks like Citizen Kane  by comparison. Some might argue that this is a film directed by a woman, written by women, and adapted form a novel also written by a woman. That it features a central role about a woman who is making it in a world ordinarily populated by men could – perhaps should – give it some kudos. I certainly want to see films with female characters who are as important, worthy and empowered as those featuring male characters. Indeed I’d like to think we could move past the whole situation of discussing women becoming empowered in life and within films (both on-screen and off) by now. Sadly that hasn’t happened, and films such as this certainly don’t help forge us any further forward to that end. I understand there may be a place for films which reflect more romantic notions, and throwaway narratives and characters that we can just settle down to watch for pure escapism. Furthermore the fact that I’m writing about this film and its trailer shows it has some value. Just as we can discuss the position of action films and the problems (or even positives) of Michael Bay’s work within modern Hollywood, we can discuss the development of the romantic-comedy, the women’s film in the current age and the position of stars such as Heigl. People like all sorts of films and if you spoke to the director and star both might say the public enjoy such movies and they enjoy making them.

But surely there’s something more you can do with your position within Hollywood  then regurgitating the same-old-same-old. Or at least if you do regurgitate, at least do some interesting regurgitating. Put a spin on it for Lord’s sake. I guess the director’s previous effort – a Nicholas Sparks adaptation of The Last Song – points us to her artistic intentions. But that the entire production ensemble have apparently trashed what appears to be a rather fine crime novel (it won the 1995 Dilys  award for best crime work and Publisher’s Weekly best book in 1994) should not stand!

There are of course a huge amount of male and female stars, actors etc who are equally awful – but loved by many. What’s hated by me, or you, could and is often loved by someone else. But it’s hard to like Heigl here with a performance that seems hellbent on destroying Janet Evanovich‘s work and central character, though it must be said her website seems happy to sell One for the Money movie t-shirts. Heigl’s accent is, frankly appalling, her persona wet, contrived and stereotypical, and it’s pretty impossible to think she’ll ever pick up any of the numerous people she’s tasked with finding. The narrative itself seems to have done away with almost all the necessary crime-story elements, falling back on a love-hate, will-they-won’t-of-course-they-bloody-will-this-is-a-Katherine-Heigl-movie-for-God’s-sake romantic comedy. Heigl seems happy to be gawped at, which is surprising considering her previous comments surrounding Knocked Up, where she complained, “Why is this how you’re portraying women”. Just as Hollywood managed to ruin the similarly fine Sara Paretsky novels with the Kathleen Turner flop V. I. Warshawski and Demi Moore’s box-office bomb Striptease which was adapted from Carl Hiaasen’s novel, so it is with One for the Money. And if I need a bail bonds buddy crime film I can watch Midnight Run.

Digital video/film killed the film/digital video star.

So, Berlin gets a documentary about the rise of digital filmmaking and the possible demise of celluloid film – or perhaps not. Or maybe yes, but with film still hanging in there somehow. You’ll have to watch the doc Side by Side, think about it and get back to me. It’s got Keanu Reeves in perhaps his finest role – an interviewer who has a couple of hours to track down the answers to an open ended question that has yet to be fully answered. I think he’ll nail it.  The film’s trailer lies below:

There’s a host of luminaries here, which the cinefan will lap up. George “Yoda” Lucas notes the apparent democratisation of filmmaking through digital media, whilst James Cameron claims you can’t make 3D films with film (really – so everything from, and indeed before, Bwana Devil, House of Wax and Bwana Devil in the 1950s, didn’t exist?). He also essentially tells us, Don Corleone-like, that film is Fredo, as it’s been dead in his heart for ten years. In the other camp lies the sartorially elegant Memento and (needs a cough sweet) Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan, who quite rightly explains there’s no superior or as good imaging tech as film, whilst his go-to lenser Wally Pfister (aka the best ex-soft-porn director of photography in the world, check this and this out) says he hates 3D, thinks it’s a gimmick and a marketing scheme. Then we have the delightful remarks of David Lynch (“Don’t hold me to it Keanu … but I think I am”) and Steven Soderbergh, who says: “I really felt I should call film on the phone and say I’ve met someone”.

I’m personally ambivalent/on the fence about the whole debacle. I guess if you put me in a room and said choose which one to save I’d go for film purely because it’s given us so much. If only because it’s been with us for so long. But more importantly there is a sens of organic credibility to the processes and technology involving film  that means something more to me than digital media. Though I profes a huge interest in CGI and the ways in which digital photography can enhance and generate artistic concerns in certain films by certain directors, I feel a certain longstanding affinity to celluloid and the way it captures objects and people. Though Toy Story may be a fantastic film I feel I’m lusting after it’s contents rather than loving it as I do the hand-painted, celluloid animation of Pinocchio. Similarly the “brilliant” clarity of Avatar‘s Pandorian locations and it’s indigenous CG lifeforms might well be cutting edge and extremely astounding to experience, but it has none of the charms of the past technological techniques seen in King Kong, and the earthy brilliance of Ray Harryhausan’s mythological productions filmed in the Mediterranean (and a room in Harryhausen’s home).

If used well both film and digital tech can give spectators astounding things, as well as making the whole film look highly interesting and distinct from its analogue forebears. Take the clean lines that Michael Mann’s more recent films have and the way the electronic edge and heavy pixelation of nighttime scenes such as those of Miami Vice and Public Enemies, which arguably leaves viewers in the midst of a stylised world somewhere between the fantastic and a type of reality. Moroever the abilities digital media provides filmmakers allows them to seamlessly mesh the real and unreal, the physically present and the digitally not more easily than before. A film such as Hugo is highly dependent both on both digital stereoscopic cameras and innumerable levels of CG effects to create the finished product, alongside actual sets and actors. Scorsese and cameraman Robert Richardson manage to create the most satisfying 3D cimena so far, by  using the technology, but do this alongside traditional lighting techniques and conventionally built mise en scene in order  to produce depth and perspective cues that amount to a stronger sense of concrete reality to the film’s locales and characters, even if it is hyper-real, rather than having the objects and people rush out of the creen (at least for the most part).

But digital is – in my humble opinion – only successful when harmonised with analogue, and of course vice versa. Most obviously this would be through the dedication and skill of craftspeople and directors, such as Scorsese. In some cases it might be the use of constructed sets, which are then extended and added to by CGI technology and then there is perhaps the most obvious – the de-futurising of CG image and digital imagemaking technology so that it looks like something from pre-digital days. It might be argued we’re already seeing that in certain 3D films that, though they make use of the latest techniques, step back in time to create visually designed films and moments within those films that are just as they were in the 1950s (and before), replete with objects “sticking out” of the screen. At other time we might witness landscapes and characters, photographed in a style that is highly reminiscent of 1930s and 1940s cinematographic visuals and techniques (with similar cues used in the creation of digital mattes, CG characters and special effects sequences). Though King Fu Panda 2 is “cutting edge” CG animation, it often looks like “flat” art  that, visually at least, go right back to the earlier style of 2D hand-drawn animation, as well as pre-cinematic pictorial forms of shadow puppets and magic lantern shows. Similarly, whilst the recent Captain America is full of CG backdrops, alterations to the Manchester locations that served as NYC, and many other digital visuals, it (arguably) works as a throwback to the 1930/40s films and media it espouses towards (and indeed to Spielberg’s Radiers of the Lost Ark, itself a throwback to earlier serials) because the digital visuals resemble hand-drawn mattes, and hand-crafted models and make-up.

So do we need digital, should analogue technology be lost – will it be overthrown? All these questions are as answerable as they are unanswerable. It depends on which side you want to be. But, what is needed is careful use and clever, artistic minds. That’s always a given.

Tom Cruise’s (Not) Mission Impossible

So, Tom Cruise is back, back, back. We’ve seen little of the action man in the past few years, following his over-exposure in 2006 – a cameo here, a small role there. His only major starring roles were in Bryan Singer’s long-delayed Valkerie, which was back in 2008 and the pepper of Knight and Day to the, well salt, of Salt in 2010. Neither of which did exactly huge business. But now he returns with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Patrol, which is the first in a string of completed, or in production films that sees Cruise attempt at least a return to the big-time.

What’s striking about Cruise’s recent choice of roles is, though approaching his half-century, the man seems to be going all Benjamin Button on us. Considering his advancing years he’s taking on more physically strenuous roles rather than steering himself towards character pieces, or something at least more sedate. The following is cherry-pick of certain films that as you’d expect of any star are mixed up with smaller cameos and more “serious/awards-worthy/what was he thinking” parts. But, whilst in his 1980s youth it was all about sitting in planes, cars, bikes, bars and slowly wandering about pool tables in the likes of Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Cocktail, and The Color of Money, by the time he gets to his Forties we’re seeing Cruise as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible 2 – scaling the side of a mountain to receive his next mission. From the maverick pilot named, err Maverick in Top Gun, and the equally hilariously named Cole Trickle in Thunder which required most of those performances to be seated in a plane, motorbike, Kelly McGilis’s Charlie, and a car, hospital bed and (sorry) Nicole Kidman’s lap, Cruise seemed to suddenly realise, “Hey, I’m not getting any younger here – I’d better get up from these seated movies and start keeping myself physically active”. And, lo – Tom’s now scaling mountain sides, mimicking Bruce Willis’s Die Hard exploits by strenuously crawling through air vents in Mission: Impossible, running like he has to catch a very fast bus in everything from Minority Report, War of the Worlds, and yes the third Mission: Impossible: III (or, lawd help us, the text/twiiter generation version –  M:i:3). That’s not to metion his fabulous gyrating, whislt on a phone-call as seen in Jerry Maguire, and (clearly?) the ironic corpulent studio boss of Tropic Thunder. Heck even in Valkyrie Cruise’s one eyed, one handed Claus von Stauffenberg manages to deliver a bomb into a meeting with Hitler and his cronies before beating a modest retreat.

Sure, there have been moments when Cruise has refrained from breaking a sweat from extreme physical dexterity – driving his way (pretty quickly, I might add) out of annihilation in War of the Worlds, but then his character did have his young daughter and annoying son to save. If he’d left the petulant “I hate you Dad” spouting son, I’m sure he’d have been able to run with said daughter – since he does carry her for about a third of the film anyway. Then there’s resulting to being a blood-sucking fiend in Interview with a Vampire. But, delaying the inevitable by being an undead monster in service to something frankly a bit spooky rather than some healthy exercise requires sacrifices that even those of religion should think twice on. Maybe that’s why Tom decided not to take the role in the ill-fated Aaliyah starring Queen of the Damned. Or was it because the film was really rather poor in comparison? Whatever the case this is what could happen if  you decide to give yourself over to a life of odd behavior that promises the riches of the world, if you sacrifice a considerable amount of your life (I mean money) to it:

But, I digress – for though Tom’s making yet another Mission sequel, and indeed there’s already talk of a fifth, and as the trailers show, he is once again running, swinging, climbing and, according to these photos and this story, holding on to his looks one way or another. No doubt with his bit-part as Stacee Jaxx in Rock Ages he’ll be running amok on stage, and in Horizons, which is “set on a future Earth, where civilization lives above the clouds and scavengers collect ancient artifacts from the polluted surface below. When one young scavenger finds a crashed spacecraft planetside, it leads him on a journey filled with romance and adventure,” surely promises yet more macho posturing from the Cruise as he repairs drones (hmm, exciting no?).  Which is a good thing if this story is to be believed. God bless you Tom, or is that L. Ron Hubbard blesses you? Keep running.

Kung Video-Fu Panda 2

2008s Kung Fu Panda was a respectable entry from Dreamworks Animation, a slight change in property, characters and design, if not exactly genre, in comparison to Shrek and Madagascar and their sequels. It featured some solid character designs, and a nice twist on the deployment of a kung fu hero in the shape of rotund panda Po (not to mention the creation of an animated kung fu tale). In addition to Jack Black’s fine voicing of a slackeresque Po, we also had some neat comedic touches from Seth Rogen and a statesmanlike turn from Dustin Hoffman.

However, as with Shrek and a great many other of Dreamworks and indeed Pixar’s output, what Panda didn’t really need was a sequel. However, the dwindling returns of Shrek and the success of Po’s first adventure meant his inevitable return. So, having found kung fu, Po now has to battle a vengeful and wicked Peacock named Shen who promises to reclaim the throne he was disinherited from, as well as destroying kung fu.

There are a number of good things in Panda 2, including more beautifully rendered CG scenery, character animation and effects, including some lovingly detailed snow. I know – good CG snow – well, it’s the little things. The story also features more nicely put  together fight sequences, including a rather neat attack by Shen’s jackal henchmen who are stealing the country’s metal, shooting down ropes from an unseen flying machine and an elongated fight/chase through the streets of Gongmen City. And the producers cast Jean Claude Van Damme as a Crocodile kung fu master (neat). But, aside from the obvious criticism that we’ve seen this all before (that can be overlooked for this installment at least), the film often seems as if purposefully designed to sell merchandise.

Sure, many films are designed for such purposes and the inclusion of Po’s action figures of his comrades within this and the previous film is a nice wink at the audience. Kung Fu Panda 2 continues the trend, having various tie-ins, including a McDonalds Happy Meal. But a couple of sequences make this sequel seem overtly tailored to sell a video game, of which the major console providers happily supply. The arrival of Po and the furious five in the city and their movement towards the palace to find Shen features Po traversing high buildings, walls and scaffolding, as well as hurtling through the streets atop a cart. Indeed, this sequence does seem to feature in many of the video games. But beyond this, the film also has the characters streaming through the streets, hidden within a Chinese dragon costume and “eating” jackals. Often viewed from above, the sequence looks for all the world like a modern-day Panda 2 themed version of Pacman. Again, this could be another “neat” wink at the audience, but together with a climactic fight bewteen Po and Shen’s weapon of mass destruction, it seems keyed into overtly perhaps selling video games.

Besides this, such uses would also seem to highlight the growing importance of the video game market, not only to sales of merchandise and extra remuneration, but in drawing video game users to the cinematic medium. Though many may criticise the attempts of cinema to attract such players, with direct adaptations of games such as Silent Hill, Doom, and Street Fighter (the Van Damme connections keep a’ coming), due to both a lack of story and the inability of players to actually play the film’s characters, the sequences in Panda 2 at least work in this scenario.

Furthermore despite these minor failings, the film does work and does so especially well in its deployment of traditional 2D, hand-drawn, animation. Used primarily in scenes that are part of Po’s early memories, which form part of an indelible psychological block which Po has for most of the film. Lovingly created in a  flat, cut-out card style, the style is tinged with some Japanese brush-work (albeit homogenised), the scenes are a very considered way to draw us into Po’s thought processes and psyche, making us aware of his still childlike disposition, that was begun in the first film and the final move from the traditional to CG animation is beautiful touch as the psyche is resolved. Added to that is the joy at seeing Jennifer Yuh’s direction, the first woman to direct an animated feature film, which she does with great aplomb. How and why has it taken this long??


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