How they brought ‘The Elephant Man’ back to life

It started with making false noses. Christopher Tucker was studying opera at drama school when he was asked to appear in a production of Rigoletto. He decided to give his character a noticeably larger hooter. He began fashioning different designs and discovered he liked making noses. That was when Tucker gave up Verdi and opera for a career as a makeup artist.

You may know the name, but if you don’t you will certainly know Tucker’s handiwork. He designed Mr. Creosote for Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life—“And finally, a wafer thin mint.” He came up with the designs for the lycanthropes in Neil Jordan’s werewolf fantasy The Company of Wolves. He also worked on Dune and even made an unfeasibly large prosthetic penis for porn star Long Dong Silver. Somewhere in among that lot you’re bound to have seen Tucker’s incredible craftsmanship.

He is best known, however, for his prosthetic makeup designs for David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, in which he recreated the severe deformities of Joseph Merrick, a man whose head was grossly enlarged and his body disfigured by an unknown disease—it is still a matter of debate as to the cause of Merrick’s illness. Because of his deformities, Merrick was exhibited as a freak in Victorian sideshows. The main problem for Tucker was not to make his designs look like “a cheap horror” but as “something approximating but not an exact clone of the ‘Elephant Man’.”

Lynch had originally planned to design the makeup for Merrick himself but the enormity of the task and his inexperience almost left the film without its “Elephant Man.” Eventually, Tucker was called in to rescue the movie and create its unforgettable makeup designs.
Hurt as Joseph Merrick, or rather John Merrick as he is called in the film.
The late, great John Hurt was tasked with bringing Merrick to life on the screen. Hurt was one of those rare and subtle actors who brought tremendous sensitivity and humanity to each of his performances. He was one of those actors the press often “rediscovered” every so often—as they did after his performance as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, or when he appeared as the deranged emperor Caligula in I, Claudius, or the broken, drug-addled Max in Midnight Express, or the vulnerability he brought to the doomed Stephen Ward in Michael Caton Jones’s film Scandal. But Hurt never really went away. He was consistently good in all of his roles, so good that the press took his quality of acting for granted, and only commented on his work when he was truly exceptional.
Tucker’s photograph of Hurt as Merrick.
It took seven to eight hours in makeup for Hurt to become Merrick. It then took up to two hours to remove the fifteen layers of prosthetics Hurt wore. The designs for the “Elephant Man’s” head and limbs were taken directly from original casts of Merrick’s body kept at the Royal London Hospital. The long, laborious procedure of becoming Merrick led Hurt to quip: “I think they finally managed to make me hate acting.”

The BFI has a fascinating interview with Tucker about his designs for The Elephant Man which you can find here, while below, Tucker and Hurt discuss the process of bringing Merrick to life on the screen.


Previously on Dangerous Minds:
David Bowie wows Broadway as ‘The Elephant Man’
‘The Elephant Man’: David Bowie on Broadway, 1980
‘Little Malcolm’: George Harrison’s lost film starring John Hurt and David Warner

Posted by Paul Gallagher
10:39 am
Gavin Evans’ magnificent portraits of Bowie, Björk, Iggy, and Nick Cave

David Bowie.
The Monday morning mailbag arrived with its usual gifts of bills, party invites, ransom demands (which I really must get around to paying), and “Dear John” letters. I was about to tip all this largesse into the bin when I noticed a postcard from a dear friend Christopher. It was the usual greetings of “Having a lovely time” and “Wish you were here” kind of thing but what saved it from the trash was the front photograph of David Bowie by Gavin Evans.

Now we all have favorite photographers and one of mine is certainly Mr. Evans who has taken some of the most magnificent, gorgeous, and iconic images of the past two decades. The photograph of Bowie shushing with a finger to his lips like he did in the promo for “China Girl” has been used on numerous magazine covers, photospreads, TV documentaries, and pirated for Internet memes, urban graffiti, and even tattoos. Its ubiquity one would hope should have made Mr. Evans a very rich man—but somehow (sadly) I very much doubt that.

Another of Evans’ Bowie photographs—a color portrait in which he wore blue contact lenses—captured a vulnerability that I’d never seen before (see picture above). It was as if Bowie allowed his guard down for just a moment and had unknowingly (or perhaps willingly) revealed a more vulnerable and intimate side. The picture was taken in 1995 for a Time Out cover. A couple of years later, Bowie contacted Evans and asked for a print of this picture to hang in his office. Bowie explained to Evans that this was his favorite portrait.

That’s the thing I like about Evans’ work—he has an uncanny talent for capturing the very essence of his subject matter. His photographs make the gods flesh. Look at his portraits of Nick Cave which reveal something of the man behind the public persona or his series of photographs of Björk which capture a tender and humorous side sometimes lacking from more traditional photo shoots. Or just look at his portrait of John Hurt where you can see the pores of the actor’s skin and peer right into his soul.

Christopher’s Bowie postcard is now pinned to the wall. I browsed for more of Evans work and was happily surprised to find a selection of his most powerful and iconic work is currently on tour. Then something even better, a selection of Evans’ beautiful prints are availble to buy. Now every home can have a Gavin Evans on their wall.
David Bowie.
See more of Gavin Evans majestic photographs, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
11:18 am
‘Little Malcolm’: George Harrison’s lost film starring John Hurt and David Warner

A “lost” film produced from “top to bottom” by George Harrison, has been rediscovered and released on DVD by the British Film Institute. Little Malcolm was made in 1973, and starred John Hurt, David Warner,  John McEnery, Raymond Platt and Rosalind Ayres. Based on the play Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs by David Halliwell, it was Harrison’s first film as producer, and one that was thought long lost, as director by Stuart Cooper explained in an interview with the Guardian:

“George never said this to me,” says Cooper, “but I definitely got the feeling that Little Malcolm may have been the first and last time George ever went to a play. But he was a big, big fan of it and also a big fan of [its star] Johnny Hurt, so he was in our corner already. Also, at the time, the other Beatles all had a film gig, John had done Imagine, Paul, I guess, directed Magical Mystery Tour, and Ringo was in Candy and The Magic Christian. So the only one without a film gig was George. He financed Malcolm through a company called Suba Films, which existed solely to receive profits from the animated Yellow Submarine. It was financed entirely by Yellow Submarine! It wasn’t a big budget, somewhere around a million, million and a half pounds – not expensive. He financed it top to bottom. He stepped up, wrote the cheque, and we made the movie.”

Little Malcolm is the story of Malcolm Scrawdyke (Hurt), a delusional Hitlerite revolutionary, who plots his revenge after his expulsion form college, by forming the Party of Dynamic Erection, with fellow slackers, Wick (McEnery), Irwin (Platt) and Nipple (Warner). Malcolm’s battle is against an unseen enemy, and the film is a mix of Young Adolf meets Baader-Meinhof via Billy Liar.

Halliwell wrote Little Malcolm in 1965, it was his first and most successful play. Directed by Mike Leigh, the role of Malcolm was originally played by Halliwell, who explained his thoughts behind the drama at the time:

“The Nazis made a big impression on people of my age, they almost destroyed Europe. But as well as being pretty threatening they were also seen as a laughing stock even during the war.”

The play’s director, Mike Leigh had a different view of Halliwell and the production, as he wrote for Halliwell’s obituary in 2006:

David Halliwell was a loner. He lived alone and, typically, it seems he died alone. Indeed, his eponymous loner, Little Malcolm Scrawdyke, was in many ways a self-portrait, although David always denied this. Having met at Rada and become close friends, he and I founded Dramagraph with Philip Martin in 1965, and I directed and designed our original production of Little Malcolm at Unity Theatre. David played Scrawdyke. He was impossible to direct, resisted cuts, and the production was famously overlong and unwieldy. But it was and remains a magnificent piece of writing, and it is truly tragic that this quite brilliant and original dramatist procrastinated for the remaining 40 years of his life.

Halliwell didn’t really procrastinate, he was a prolific writer, who, as Michael Billington also pointed out:

...pioneered the idea of lunchtime theatre and multi-viewpoint drama and left his mark on several close collaborators, including Mike Leigh.

Unfortunately, through his determination to do things his way, Halliwell never fully developed his ideas, and as Billington noted, “Halliwell suffered the fate of the pioneer whose ideas are refined and improved by later practitioners”.

Originally Little Malcolm ran for 6 hours, but after subbing by Leigh, it transferred to London’s West End, where John Hurt took over the title role - it was a career defining performance - one of many in Hurt’s case - and after a short run, moved to Dublin and New York. The play won Halliwell a Most Promising Newcomer Award, and also attracted Harrison’s interest, enough for the Beatle to bank roll the movie. But once made, the film was caught up in The Beatles’ acrimonious split, as Cooper explained:

“In the end, we got hung up by the Beatles’ breakup, when all of the Apple and Beatles assets went into the official receiver’s hands. So Little Malcolm just basically sat there for a couple of years. Whatever heat and buzz we generated was all lost. It didn’t diminish the movie but it stopped the momentum. George had to fight to get it back.

“Berlin was the first airing we managed, but it won best direction and the response was incredible. We got great reviews from Alexander Walker and Margaret Hinxman, but by then it really didn’t have any legs. It was a film that got lost, and I had to put it on a shelf and say to myself, well, there might be a day for that one day – and here we are now, after so many years.”

In 1974, Little Malcolm won the Silver Bear at Berlin Film festival. It was Cooper’s first, he won a second in 1975 with Overlord before directing Hurt, Warner and Donald Sutherland in the film version of Derek Marlowe‘s The Disappearance in 1977.

Harrison was certainly an innovator as Little Malcolm and his later movies Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and The Long Good Friday proved. Now, nearly forty years after its first screening, Harrison’s “lost” first film as producer is available at last.


Posted by Paul Gallagher
05:18 pm
In the Footsteps of Quentin Crisp
04:24 pm


John Hurt is appearing as Quentin Crisp in a film about the cultural icon’s time in New York?

Posted by Jason Louv
04:24 pm