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“The Frankenstein Murders” – Frankenstein on TV and Film AD 2016

Victor Frankenstein 2016 AD

Victor Frankenstein 2016 AD

A special romantic catch-up with Jokerside’s favourite morality tale this Valentine’s Day! Love has a crucial place in Mary Shelley’s tale and Jokerside takes a look at 2015’s Victor Frankenstein on film and The Frankenstein Chronicles on TV through many glasses of pink sparkling wine. They’re needed. ❤ ❤ Spoilers abound ❤ ❤

WHEN JOKERSIDE LAST TOOK A LOOK AT CURRENT FRANKENSTEIN ADAPTATIONS TWO YEARS’ AGO, IT WAS A SUITABLY MIXED BAG. THE LONG-GESTATING AND HORRIFICALLY CONCEIVED I FRANKENSTEIN HAD DISAPPOINTED CINEMAS TO THE TUNE OF $70 MILLION. While on the small screen, scribe John Logan had sculpted one of the greatest Frankenstein adaptations in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.

Frankenstein’s creature is of course, never something that could or should be kept down. At the time, work was underway on Victor Frankenstein, a new big budget take on the legend, pulling together the great and good of BBC’s Sherlock, box office Brit and a script from Chronicle scribe, and son of a horror directing legend, Max Landis. It promised the biggest big screen splash since Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 gothic prize, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Hopes were very high. And on the idiot lantern, more promise lay in the rejuvenated ITV zeroing in on classic gothic horror. Alongside a dedicated stab at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a mysterious six part series called The Frankenstein Chronicles. The potential of these properties at the close of 2015 was huge, but as both took a barely faithful root to the story, could it be seized in a huge, stitched and unstoppable hand?

Victor Frankenstein (2015)

It can’t be understated: the chance for Victor Frankenstein to astonish and amaze were immense. Max Landis’ script promised a new take, taking the slant of Igor, a part of the myth that might be film’s greatest addition. Cast as Igor was Daniel Radcliffe, he of extraordinary and erratic acting choices since his Harry Potter days, and James McAvoy, an actor fully capable of recapturing the arrogant vigour of Peter Cushing’s great Baron Frankenstein of the Hammer series. And best of all, Victor Frankenstein sucked up the great and good of Sherlock, the BBC’s astonishingly successful modernisation of the great consulting detective. Memorable Moriarty Andrew Scott took the role of devout adversary to the mad scientist, while Paul McGuigan took up the directing reigns. McGuigan’s work on Sherlock almost defied belief, you only need to compare his episodes to the original pilot to see the skill and talent he brought to one of genre TV’s biggest properties. All in all, there couldn’t be a better choice. The stars were aligning, and Promethean man did they take a long time to do so. It was announced in 2011…

Fall of man

Meet your makers

And once again, it can’t be understated: Victor Frankenstein, languishing as a flop that couldn’t achieve half of I Frankenstein’s box office managed to miss by a mile. It’s a classic morality tale of its own where in spite of the great talent involved hardly any of the individual pieces connected. The blame for its poor box office, $6 million under its budget, can partially fall to theatres, particularly independent British chains, that failed to support its release, as much Victor Frankenstein is yet another low flying warning shot at the British film industry that scripts need to be worked and worked and reworked again. Some of the dialogue and all of the opposition is toe-curlingly horrendous. And it’s a damn shame. Before we get onto the ‘Luuuurve’ that defines this peace, it’s impossible to ignore those problems.

In an adaptation that updates the action to full on Victoriana and roots it in London away from the early 19th century central European setting, Victor Frankenstein never promised fidelity. Least of all because it chooses to follow the story of Igor, forming the moral heart of a story where he’s saved by Victor and has the chance to save his friend in return. But if you’re going to transport Frankenstein, it needs a reason. It must come down to more than the grimy, evocating vistas of Imperial London. That said, McGuigan’s usual supreme eye for the visual is a bit off. Amid the hectic editing, the flourish isn’t there in what should be joyous romp of Grand Guignol. In the opening sequence, Frankenstein helping Igor escape his circus prison for the thrill as much as opportunity, there’s much leaping, fire and explosion, most of it with very little cause. At one point a strong man even tears a book, just because he can. This is a tale of grotesques and the chance to widen that circus metaphor is lost almost immediately as both Igor and his obsession Lorelei are sucked into society. The swagger of a multi-layered update managed by Guy Ritchie’s successful and stylish Sherlock Holmes adaptations isn’t given a chance to develop.

Flattened characters

Out in society, the quality of the dialogue plummets into light character definition and awkward plot propulsion. Unsurprisingly, the only character who can almost rise above it is McAvoy’s Frankenstein, greedily grabbing all the great with disconnected, moustache twirling arrogance.

However, this Frankenstein is neither the earnest and misguided delusional that Branagh portrayed, nor the brewing callous Baron of Cushing. A hedonist, his drunken blasphemy and questioning of morality in front of shocked Victorian ladies tire very quickly. The attempt to flesh his motivation out is flat, particularly given the by the numbers appearance of Charles Dance as his terror of a father. Is any horror safe from Dance these days? The later reveal that his dedication comes from the loss of his brother not only feels bolted on, but in opposition to the amoral character we’ve seen earlier.

But his motivation is the least of the film’s worries. Andrew Scott, such a charismatic actor is once again hamstrung by English malevolence that seems to leave him unable to move his neck as Inspector Turpin. His character journey, defined by blunt grasps at Christianity and endlessly repeating a mantra while his psyche slides doesn’t provide the strong moral argument the film needs. His short and ill-built raid on Frankenstein’s premises, almost out of nowhere, may bring all plot strands to a sudden head but creates false drama. Turpin’s loss of his hand and inexplicable loss of his eye as his career and mind fall away, usurped by his hitherto unambitious deputy doesn’t add up. Most bizarre of all is how he’s confident enough to scratch his face with his fake hand just days after the incident. That’s bound to send him back to hospital. Continue reading ““The Frankenstein Murders” – Frankenstein on TV and Film AD 2016”

David Bowie: Enter the Duke – Station to Station at 40

David Bowie Station to Station

David Bowie Station to Station at 40

Having looked at the film that spawned him, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Jokerside sneaks a look at David Bowie’s last great character, the Thin White Duke who was anchored in the extraordinary 1976 album Station to Station.

IN 1975 THE THIN WHITE DUKE WALKED FROM NEW MEXICO INTO THE CHEROKEE RECORDING STUDIO IN LOS ANGELES, DRAGGING DAVID BOWIE WITH HIM. The Duke would prove to be Bowie’s last great ‘character’ creation, a personality immersed in a concept album, but one of such magnitude it was no doubt part of the reason the artist retreated from major persona changes ass the 1980s drew near.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the album carried by that dapper, fascistic, enigma Jokerside looked at The Man Who Fell to Earth. Not only Bowie’s first major film role, but the glint of hope that broke through the drug-addled malaise that had brought him to the door of the dark and arcane, giving him just enough strength to assemble one of his greatest records; a 38 minute biography of struggle and a call for change.

In 1975, Bowie had talked of personal cost of assuming the Ziggy persona, not his first alter-ego but the first that could sustain a globe-straddling phenomenon. Bowie had in part become Ziggy, a character defined by excess and in that assumed position Ziggy had entered the United States. As a pre-fabricated star on the scale of Elton John, it was a constant performance. Within months Ziggy had morphed into Aladdin Sane, he of the more familiar lightning bolt make-up, popularly thought of as Ziggy on Tour. The album that followed lacked the concept cohesion of The Rise and Fall but was breathtakingly expansive, already foreshadowing the disco glam of Diamond Dogs and the plastic soul that would follow in 1975’s Young Americans. 1975 was also the year, on the back of Diamond Dogs, before the release of Young Americans Bowie also declared rock n’ roll a “toothless old woman”. Well, he steered clear of rock for a good few months.

America

“In this age of grand illusion”

But what a difference a couple of years made. Aladdin Sane showed how quickly the America that Bowie couldn’t take to had almost instantly informed his writing, recorded in bursts between legs of Bowie’s first American tour. At the tail-end of ‘75, having been consumed by and a consumer of New York and Los Angeles, Station to Station would both compounded his American adventure and set him on a path back to Europe. The album that emerged in January 1976 wasn’t just a break but also a cathartic expression of Bowie’s persona and measured record of his transition from the soul infused and drug ravaged Young Americans period through to the Europe that would foster his ground-breaking Berlin trilogy. The worst, the best, the necessary change.

And to carry that change, a new persona developed from the wake of filming Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. One of the most involved, impenetrable and controversial of his career. So, just who was the Thin White Duke?

David Bowie Station to Station at 40

The Thin White Duke

“Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes…”

In context, the character of Thomas Jerome Newton outstayed his welcome following the wrap of The Man Who Fell to Earth in late summer 1975. Mostly tellingly, in Bowie’s fractured mind. It wasn’t just the “side effects of the cocaine” but part of a long slide that had seen Bowie vacate New York, sink deep into ancient philosophies in Los Angeles and subsist almost entirely on dairy products. Much of this period is difficult to tie down to fact, between Cameron Crowe’s infamous interviews and countless recollections from friends, Angie Bowie and the singer himself; an unreliable witness at the time, and particularly when he had an interviewer to play up to. Relocating to New Mexico to film The Man Who Fell to Earth was a form of “purification”. It was a glance back from the brink that consequently Bowie took to the recording studio for the first time in nine months to express as much the legacy of his recent interests as the alien that stayed within him. Despite the break and the subsequent work that would appear, Bowie’s last notable studio session (he had some failed dabbling with Iggy Pop in the interim) had been to record Across the Universe and Fame with Carlos Alomar and John Lennon. And although Bowie would refer to the latter as “a nasty little song” it certainly laid some groundwork for Station to Station.

So a steep task and fractured mind confronted Bowie, and the character of the Thin White Duke developed in response. It wasn’t Newton totally, that passive outsider, unable to resist. The Duke was less passive, more snarling, more insightful and self-analysing. The Thin White Duke has been variously described as aristocratic, Aryan and zombie. Many sporadic TV appearances throughout 1975 show a frosty, cold, wry and occasionally disorientated Bowie. One highlight is the wonderfully terse satellite link interview with Russell Harty – glossing over, chiding and ribbing in equal measure. He’s mostly articulate when not pausing, a dead-eyed stare levelled to the middle distance. There were controversial comments made during the period, including those connected to fascism, but later strongly dismissed by Bowie.

And unlike many other of his other personas, a lot of confusion arises from Bowie’s considerable backtracking after the event. It’s certain that the Thin White Duke ran throughout 1976, anchored around the recording and quick release of Station to Station. And it’s certain that this is the persona Bowie remembered least about. A fascinating transitory character, often overshadowed by the recordings either side, there was a root of the Duke’s soul-searching in Young Americans and a significant hangover in the influential Low, a record that also still unmistakably carried the profile of Thomas Jerome Newton on its punning cover as the Duke faded from view. Continue reading “David Bowie: Enter the Duke – Station to Station at 40”

“You fool Hyde, you can never defeat us” – Jekyll and Hyde AD 2016

Jekyll and Hyde 2015 2016

Jekyll and Hyde 2015 2016

Following the gothic cross-sectional glimpses at Frankenstein and Dracula over the last two years, Jokerside looks at the rocky state of Dr Jekyll and the ever chaotic world of Mr Hyde… From ITV’s recently axed Jekyll and Hyde to what 2016 has in store for the character in adaptation. And yes, requisite mention for NBC…

*May transform into spoilers*

THE DEFINITE ARTICLE SHY NOVELLA STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE WAS PUBLISHED IN 1886. WITH IT, 36 YEAR OLD AUTHOR ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON NOT ONLY ENTERED THE ILLUSTRIOUS PANTHEON OF 19TH CENTURY HORROR WRITERS, BUT PENNED A SLIGHT STORY OVERSTOCKED WITH INFLUENCES. Although set in the far more commercial London, it makes for a heady exploration of the original city of two-sides, Stevenson’s home town of Edinburgh. In the latter days of the Victorian era, it’s also a handy analogy for contemporary fears for the individual, privatisation and public ownership, and class division. As the 20th century brought new concerns, Jekyll and Hyde was readymade to reflect them, much as the universally adaptable themes at the heart of Bram Stoker’s Dracula ensured it permanent relevance. Stevenson’s story was first adapted for the stage a year after its publication and continues to spread into films, music, books, art across the world. To the point that the good Doctor and his dangerous alter-ego make up the third most filmed literary character. The last decade has seen two major British adaptations, both modernising in their own way, while it’s provided inspiration for serials in America and America. There’s little sign of the original horror icon of split personality disappearing any time soon. And indeed, its themes have spawned other works that have stomped their own giant footprint on popular culture.  Currently mixing with the best of the box office, it’s impossible to look at the current state of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde without mentioning the Hulk in the room…

The shadow of the Hulk

“I decided I might as well borrow from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well “ – Stan Lee, 1974

Few sources have been as overshadowed by their inspirations as Hyde has been by Hulk, and Jekyll by Banner. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s most famous exploration of split personalities is a thinly veiled update, although has had far longer to explore the relationship between both personalities. Banner was similarly driven and doomed by his scientific genius, but never experimented on himself, as Lee drew liberal inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well.

The Incredible Hulk currently finds himself in successful, if not straightforward times. Assimilated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the beginning, The Incredible Hulk was a modest success in 2008 compared to stablemate Iron Man. Through the witty script of Joss Whedon, the Hulk became one of the stand-outs in 2012’s The Avengers although curiously, never with the suggestion that this audience appreciation could translate to a successful solo outing. Indeed, as Mark Ruffalo was the third actor to take on Banner in so many films, the road was rocky. While solo outing rights remained blocked at Universal, forthcoming buddy movie Thor Ragnarok (due 2017) will pit the green brute alongside the Norse God in a build-up to the two Avengers Infinity War movies that Ruffalo has suggested forms a quasi-Hulk solo movie of its own.

Two-faced

Of all the legacies of Stevenson’s creation, the Hulk sits at the top of the pile, and will be dominating blockbusters for years to come. And as a pop culture behemoth, the Hulkification of Hyde was inevitable almost as soon as Marvel’s pop culture behemoth survived cancellation after six issues in 1963, just as Banner had survived the gamma radiation. Over at DC, the home of personified literary grotesque Gotham City threw up a thin, but fascinating most-of-the-time rogue in Harvey Dent. Two Face surfaced from law rather than medicine, but has proved one of the compelling and tragic figures in the rich tapestry of Batman’s friends and rogues. Obsessed with duality and literally split down the middle as the result of an acid attack that reawakened severe and deep-rooted personality disorder. Taken down by his job, from the heights of District Attorney, he’s Batman’s fallen angel and much like the Hulk (although admittedly a little more black and white), never the villain but an amoral presence in the original Hyde mould. Like Hulk, Two Face has had a mixed form in adaptation. His first big screen moment in 1995 showed how poorly he could be treated as Tommy Lee Jones channelled the nuances of personality disorder through alternating talking and shouting. Fortunately, 2008’s The Dark Knight stunned when it pulled a Two Face origin out of its rich script, drawing on many of the same tragic lines as what might remain Harvey Dent’s finest hour: Batman: The Animated Series’ Two Face in 1992. The Dark Knight did highlight the difficulties of the character however – without re-treading his inherent conflict, Nolan’s masterpiece showed that the fleeting last act emergence of the villain was just about all he needed in comparison with other rogues of Gotham.

Crucially, both Hulk and Two Face are victims of circumstance, although scuppered by their own genius. Still, these villainous and superheroic versions of Stevenson’s character might have brought out the comic book potential of the character, but they haven’t stopped the original making his mark on the medium.

One of the most prevalent examples came in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – something even more blatant in the doomed 1997 film adaptation. After Fox’s failed television update has now morphed into a film reboot, that version won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Still, hopefully they’ll stick closer to the source. As one of Britain’s premier adapter’s and adaption curmudgeons, Moore’s love letter to these literary constructs deserves deft work.

The rebounding comic book stylings of the children of Hyde where also clear in the recent ITV adaptation, which imposed the central figure into a comic inspired set-up and even expanded the universe with nods to Marvel. As Hulk stories had soon developed in the sprawling storylines of comic book chronology, Hyde was now become an indefinite article. He is a Hyde and is not alone, least of all with the late arrival of his sister and lycanthropy dripping through another family line. “I’m a Hyde” his sister said knowingly. But that was just one of the references flowing through the blood of his most recent vehicle…

Jekyll and Hyde (ITV, 2015)

The Gordian Knot…

Before purposefully transforming into Hyde for the final time during the tenth episode of ITV’s big budget repurposing of Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Jekyll drew a comparison between his predicament and the Gordian Knot of Alexander the Great lore. How right he was. Sadly, a month since that finale aired, ITV have not only enacted their own quick slicing solution on the show, but Ofcom have found it in breach of broadcasting regulations. Continue reading ““You fool Hyde, you can never defeat us” – Jekyll and Hyde AD 2016”

David Bowie: The Man Who Fell to Earth – Station to Station at 40

David Bowie Station to Station at 40

David Bowie Station to Station at 40

On the 40th anniversary of Station to Station, Jokerside prepares to stare into the abyss of Bowie’s difficult and ever-rewarding 1976 album with a dart-like glance at the Thin White Duke persona that spun from the cracked actor’s first major film role in The Man Who Fell to Earth

THIS WEEKEND MARKS THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF STATION TO STATION’S RELEASE, JUST UNDER TWO WEEKS SINCE DAVID BOWIE LEFT THE PLANET.  Left, that is, after an incredible career. The extent of Bowie’s output post-death, the legacy of a meticulously detailed artist, will take many years if not eternity to unravel. Bowie’s swansong album Blackstar appears to pose riddle and mystery unseen since his peak of persona swapping in the 1970s. Come the 1980s his interest in persona had abated although he retained the power to innovate and reinvent. Surely a good reason for that shift from a period that had produced in rapid succession Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dog’s Halloween Jack and others through the early 1970s fell at the feet of his last major character. The all-pervasive horror of the persona that dominated 1976. The Thin White Duke, who would become synonymous with what Bowie later called “the darkest days of my life”

Station to Station emerged barely a year after the Year of the Diamond Dog, a furious tour of his dystopian bridge between glam and disco soul between June 1974 and… Well, by the end of 1974 it had morphed into the Philly Dogs tour and then side-stepped into soul alongside his new LP Young Americans. That lurch to the unexpected and commercial laid out the immediate and ongoing importance of America Bowie’s his life. The Young Americans sessions were completed in two stints, one a drug fuelled and productive run that producer Tony Visconti was happy to pick up and return to the UK to mix. Bowie though would return to the studio in early 1975 for two last minute additions that not only broke Bowie and Visconti’s relationship for two albums but also diluted Young American’s soul and made it his most overtly Beatles album – or specifically Lennon, with one of Bowie’s better if melodramatic covers as he took on the cosmically simplistic Across the Universe before the simplistically catchy album closer Fame found him in duet with the former Beatle.

Escape to LA

“I lifted you up once”

He wouldn’t return to the studio to any meaningful degree for nine months – a length of time that was extraordinary during Bowie’s most prolific period. But things were afoot. In the mid-1970s three years of relentless touring and the sacking of his long-term manager Tony DeFries left a smacked out Bowie staring the need for relocation in the face while holed up in a hotel in Los Angeles. New York had closed in on him, although its dying throes had not only pushed him and Lennon onto tape but thrown up a meeting with director Nicolas Roeg who was narrowing the cast for his film of Walter Tevis’ short novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. Well, it was a meeting that somehow materialised after Bowie arrived eight hours late then, assuming Roeg wouldn’t have waited, busied himself with other things until he returned home in the early hours to find the director sat at his kitchen table.

Cracked

“My life is not secret… But it is private”

“I’ve always been aware of how dubious a position it is to stay in [Los Angeles] for any length of time” said Bowie in the BBC’s Cracked Actor documentary, a year before his first major film role opened the city up to him. Sporadic visits from his ever valuable assistant Coco Schwab and ever more estranged wife Angie found them both concerned for his health, although this dark portion of his life remains smattered with only sparing facts. Angie later recalled the frantic phone call from her husband, shouting that he had been kidnapped by wizards and witches and recalls him requesting an exorcism. None of that is proven, but it’s clear that during his slide into drug addled paranoia Bowie had drifted towards the dark arts in the heat of LA. ‘Paranoid delusion’ is a phrase that pops up again and again but there was certainly a great deal of peculiar behaviour in a pattern that no one could break. Except it seems, The Man who Fell to Earth. The “Spaced out space man”.

The Man who Fell to Earth (1976)

“Leave my mind alone”

Spells, incantations and late nights spent drawing pentangles by candlelight, while moving between buildings that cast different slants on ancient philosophies from Egyptian mythology to Kabbalah – philosophies that Bowie later described as “misleading in life”. It takes something to get out of that. Fortunately, once Roeg and Bowie finally got to meet, their rapport was instant. Continue reading “David Bowie: The Man Who Fell to Earth – Station to Station at 40”

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