Drama (US); 1998;
Not Rated; 105 Minutes
Ian McKellen: James Whale
Brendan Frasier: Clayton Boone
Lynn Redgrave: Hanna
Lolita Davidovich: Betty
Kevin J. O'Connor: Harry
David Pukes: David Lewis
Produced by Clive
Barker, Paul Colichman, Greeg Fienberg, Mark R. Harris,
Sam Irvin, Stephen P. Jarchow and Valorie Massalas; Directed
and screenwritten by Bill Condon; Based on "Father
Of Frankenstein" by Christopher Bram
by DAVID KEYES
hard to appreciate darkness. What's even more hard is appreciating
it at a movie which you pay to see. The viewer gets the
feeling that they are being tormented, or exploited, for
profit, and that in the literal sense is a notion that can
drive away any type of audience. Ponder to yourself for
a few seconds about whether or not you'd rather see the
obsessive impulses of an Orson Welles movie, or if you'd
rather see the uplifting and cheerful messages of a children's
cartoon. At least with the latter choice, we don't feel
like we need to confront the basis of fear, and shrink down
to our seats as we are attacked with images and concepts
of the bloodcurdling obscurities of real life. We feel like
they are realistic and fantasy-based at the same time. They
may seem fabled, or fiction, but sometimes the themes are
more lifelike than you imagine. We need to be exposed to
them to truly live with ourselves.
of the greatest movies are made with the intention of attacking
the viewers, but more brutal are the psychological attacks
of the characters associated with filmmaking in biographical
pictures. A movie about someone like Alfred Hitchcock or
Roman Polanski would in themselves be harrowing to the senses.
These were, after all, people who were incorporating all
the doom and aggression in film that they can. The layers
of human darkness come from the people who make it. Often
do we envision people like these as sadistic creatures whose
urges to assault our response to movie material are more
dark in real life than they are on screen.
ways, bio-pics, like the new "Gods And Monsters," are more
creepy and sovereign than the movies based from the minds
of the film's characters. It tells the story of director
James Whale (he did the original "Frankenstein" movies),
who seems like a nice person but has memories and feelings
that allow us to appreciate him more and more. He was, of
course, one of the only openly-gay men during Hollywood's
best era of moviemaking, but that's beside the point. Tales
and feelings emerge from his perspective like deep memories
we've kept hidden in the perils of our mind. The recollections
of love and romance during a time like World War I are shot
in mysterious black-and-white, while the modern-day synopsis
takes place in color (a la "American History X"). These
sequences stand together like a whole new movie, and that's
not counting the fact that, in the present, James Whale
is close to his deathbed. The only question is, is he a
god or a monster? I'm not even sure.
role of James Whale is played stunningly by Ian McKellen,
whose previous picture, "Apt. Pupil," was just a start at
giving us a peak into his door of potential. On screen,
he resurrects James Whale as if they were related; you'd
swear, if not bet your life, that this is the infamous director,
who created two of the most frightening movies of all time.
The performance is deserving of the elusive Oscar.
film opens in 1957, after a stroke leaves him weak and near
the end of life. From there, the movie transcends from flashbacks
and a current situation; in the present, he wants his gardener
(Brendan Frasier) to kill him. He sees no need to go on
living. At his house, as a backdrop, skinny-dipping parties
with all men continue as if Whale has no signs of dying,
yet secretly, he remembers, and ponders, whether life should
go on much longer. The gardener, named Clayton, at first
has no idea of what a homosexual is, but once he learns,
the script gives him the credibility of no instant violent
reaction. A man as charming and handsome as this would find
a sexuality like this inconclusive and disgusting, but not
Clayton. In truth, he actually feels sorry for the dying
director. We all do to extents.
some of the visually provocative memories of Whale's mind,
he takes us to the secret memories of infamous skinny-dipping
parties, heterosexual relationships, and then to the benchmark
of his film success (the 1930s in this case). Since black
and white permits us to be overwhelmed immensely in the
material, our attention never leaves the screen. From the
first shot until the closing credits, we are gripped, held
in position. To do that for every second of screen time
is a concept all on its own.
scares us is the fact that this man is dying. We don't want
him to, for many different reasons. He gave us a great movie
like "Bride Of Frankenstein," and as he fears the afterlife
and what exists beyond death, so do we. He takes us to the
deathbed with him. One of his servants (Lynn Redgrave) in
one scene announces to him, "Your servants are beginning
to feel like they're married to you." Translated, it means
that they don't want him to die, because they've known him
for so long.
"Frankenstein" movies discuss the human soul and the antics
of controlling it, but here, in "Gods And Monsters" his
perspective treats the human soul as if it were a rag doll
torn to pieces with a smile still intact. At this point,
nothing could save him, withered and decaying and near death.
He even knew that. It sometimes even scared him. But he
accepted it, and did not allow it to consume his need to
enjoy life and its pleasures. He's obviously smitten with
his lifestyle (and with his gardener, for that matter),
and he wishes for nothing more during the course of his
the skinny dipping parties necessary? Maybe, if you examine
them from the right perspective. Ian McKellen doesn't portray
James Whale with the essence that we vision as being 'gay,'
but in an age as different as this one, maybe the proof
is demonstrated to make us believe it. "Gods And Monsters"
is truly a marvel; an emotional story of a man driven to
his deathbed, and how he fears his final days. It's like
one of those Ingmar Bergman pictures that leaves thoughts
on your mind for many a moon.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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