Wednesday, March 19, 2003

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I've recently watched a couple of oddly similar, yet vastly different films about movies and their makers.

Last night, I stayed up way past my bedtime because I got interested in Gods and Monsters, the 1998 embellished account of the last days of Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale, portrayed by Ian McKellen in what has to be one of the finest performances my untrained eyes have ever seen. Other cast members, like Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave, also acquit themselves well. Part of the appeal for me was the excellent re-creations of scenes from Bride, long a favorite film of mine, as well as well-done impersonations of Elsa Lanchester and Boris Karloff as you can see from the picture above. I found this film completely engrossing and often touching, even after having already seen it once before. You can go here to read reviews that synopsise the film a lot better than I can.

One of Whale's regular players was none other than Dwight Frye, whom you probably know best as Renfield in Lugosi's Dracula. He's got a website devoted to him, and if you want to check it out go here. It's very informative.

Also, a couple of nights ago, I watched Shadow of the Vampire, which is another film at least tangentally about a filmmaker– in this case the German auteur F.W. Murnau. It's based on the supposition that the actor that portrayed Count Orlock in Murnau's great Nosferatu was no actor at all but an actual vampire. I remember being hugely disappointed with this when I saw it after its release on home video; it just seemed to go in all sorts of directions at once and never seemed to settle on what it wanted to be: a biopic, a comedy, a horror film, or a indictment of how filmmaking devours the filmmaker. Adding to the disappointment was a great-on-paper cast including John Malkovich as Murnau, Willem Dafoe (creepy enough sans makeup) as "actor" Max Schreck, Eddie Izzard and Cary Elwes (I'm beginning to really appreciate how good this guy is) which, with the exception of Dafoe (who eerily recreated Schreck's ratlike Count), were not really done justice by the all-over-the-place script. This time, though, I just kicked back and watched, and I think it made a better impression on me. I laughed in a few places and was pretty caught up in the delirious ending, when everything falls apart in grisly fashion but Murnau keeps on filming no matter what. I still think Shadow was a failure, but it's an entertaining failure.

For a laugh, go look at Max Schreck's bio page on IMDb. Not only does it list a link to an agent and publicity but it also lists, as his sole TV credit, an episode of Spongebob Squarepants!