Thursday, 7 June 2007


I saw the film Gods and Monsters, a fictionalised account of the last days of Frankenstein director James Whale the other day, a movie which suggests that Brendon Fraser might, given half a chance, turn into a rather more well regarded actor than he is at present (he'll probably have to get fat and/or old first though), and which only really puts a foot wrong for me when Sir Ian McKellen's Whale states he comes from Dudley in the North of England.
Come on, it's called the Midlands for a reason, Sir Ian! I can't believe a Dudley boy would ever call his town Northern, even if attempting to explain his background to an American he considered a bit dim.

The only thing I'd like to have seen in the movie that I didn't, would have been an explicit parallel between Whale's death in his pool and the Monster's innocent drowning of the little girl in Frankenstein, which could have been easily and effectively incorporated into one of the film's dream sequences and would have been thematically apt I reckon.

Anyhow, it got me thinking about other Frankenstein films, and in particular, one I greatly enjoyed that no one else seemed to- The Bride.
Now at the time this seemed to be reviled by the mainstream press as an unnecessary and inferior remake of Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein, for not having enough horror in it and for starring Sting, but to take those points in order- it's immediately and explicitly obvious that this is if anything a sequel to The Bride of Frankenstein from the reimagining of its finale at the film's opening, there's hardly any horror in the Universal Frankensteins either actually and Sting's not in most of it, and not as I recall it, actively bad.

What The Bride does offer is a rather sweet story about people coming to define their own destinies and identities and become themselves rather than creatures of others, a halfway house between Shelley's Frankenstein and its popular reinventions exploring some of the themes of the story, and a great supporting cast featuring four of my favourite British performers- Quentin Crisp (perfect as a clone of Doctor Pretorius the camp scientist/Occultist from The Bride of Frankenstein), Alexei Sayle (as a snarlingly evil circus boss), David Rappaport (as a circus performer who befriends Frankenstein's monster), and Ken Campbell (as a dodgy but ultimately honest, devious, thieving, stinking peddler).
All four shine for me, because they give intelligent, felt performances in their individual styles, and are reassuringly odd, in a way you don't usually see on film. Most movie actors tend to believe less is more and the less idiosyncratic their less is the better, these performers are bigger than that- there's no Queen Christina stillness in these faces.

Crisp, as I'm sure you know, was originally a Pratt, and a distant relation of the actor William Pratt in fact, an artist whose career also took off with a name change when he became Karloff the Uncanny, and you can't help feeling this Frankenstein blood-tie was one of the reasons Crisp was cast in The Bride.
Crisp's angle on performing and life- that you should take what other people think is wrong with you, emphasise it and make it your style, is probably the key to why I like all four of these performers, focused difference.

Sayle is a genius- wit, rage, lunacy and intellect with a Scouse accent, and thus rather like my dad after talking to one of his brothers on a 'phone sometimes, and he writes well too.
He sat down near me in a cafe in Crouch End once, but he was radiating 'private time - do not disturb' so he missed my rubbish gushing adulation, luckily.
I would probably had said something crap, like-
"'Lexi! There's a page and a half in your novel Overtaken, riffing on 1970s leftish playwrights that I absolutely adored. Honestly, I was honking like a goose by the time you mentioned Snoo Wilson!"
And he would have said "Why can't you just say 'How you diddling?' or 'You fat bastard!' like everyone else, you great ponce?' and if I was lucky, sneered at me.

Rappaport, a mainstay of kids TV when I was growing up, who you may recall commited suicide in LA was an actor I always wish had been allowed to play humans more, even in LA he was playing a lawyer (B'doom tish. Try the gefilte fish, I'm here all week etc.).
It seems sad to me that while we have colour-blind casting in British Theatre, we never seem to have developed size-blind casting, meaning that interesting actors like Rappaport, only ever play dwarfs full-stop, not swordsmen, lovers, scientists, business men, students or gangsters who just happen to be dwarfs. In films and TV of course they're lucky to play people at all. It seems such a waste that we've so many dwarf actors who only really get seen in panto or a monster suit.

Campbell, of course, is a hero, a performer and writer who celebrates the peculiar, and encouraged me to think a decade or so back- actually, hell I could still do this writing and performing thing after all- there's a gap for the cleverly odd. I just have the find the bit of gap that's left that fits me and my particular lack of traditional performing skills, that's all...

They're all peculiar "monsters" really and their own special creations too, and they all make me laugh too.

No comments: