Tuesday, April 1, 2014



The production team for my new kabuki musical spectacular, Bridget Over Troubled Waters, met in my sumptuous private rehearsal studio here at Chateau Maine for our first read through earlier this week. Barry Manilow played his absolutely thrilling score for us all and the designers showed us the sketches for set and costumes. I have the most cunning little silk kimonos for the first act, suitable for both city and country wear. My two talented co-stars, Mr. Corey Feldman and Mr. Corey Haim are to wear corporate Japanese dress and the set designs are inspired by Sanrio's Hello Kitty line. It's going to be an eye-popping visual extravaganza. 

The producers have hired a rather strange person named Tim Burton to direct, sort of a dark, sardonic sort whom I am told has been very successful in the film industry of late. He kept bandying around words like 'grotesque' and compared my character to something called a 'Jack Skellington', a reference I did not understand. I will trust to his judgment at this time although we did have some sharp words about the correct placement and use of the hanamichi. 

Speaking of grotesque, after all of my colleagues had departed home after a good day's work, I happened across Ridley Scott's recent film Hannibal amongst my DVDs; I and Patrick Flanagan, my practically perfect pussycat, settled down to enjoy some fava beans and a nice Chianti with everyone's favorite serial killer. Unfortunately, the film was not a spectacular success and only succeeded in inducing a sort of Sartrian nausea in us both. 

After the spectacular success of both the novel and the film, The Silence of the Lambs, author Thomas Harris was approached by his publishers about a sequel, continuing on the stories of the murderous psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, here replaced by Julianne Moore). Harris, it has been rumored, had no real interest in producing such a work but was offered far too much money to turn the assignment down; he also, supposedly, stipulated in his contract that his publisher was not allowed to edit or shape his manuscript in any way. The resulting novel, Hannibal , has always struck me as being a bit of a literary revenge joke. Unlike his other tightly plotted books, this was a sprawling tale with multiple shifts in mood and form, ultimately ending up with a mad tea party out of Lewis Carroll and an ending that made additional sequels impossible. 

Dino DeLaurentis, who owned the film rights to the literary character of Hannibal Lecter, optioned the novel sight unseen and hired Oscar winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian to adapt the material. His draft was later reworked by writer David Mamet and the two share screenplay credit. Director Ridley Scott then came on board, fresh off of Gladiator, together with much of his production team from that film. Despite multiple rewrites, neither Jodie Foster nor Scott Glenn from the earlier film were satisfied with the material and wisely passed. Julianne Moore took over the role of Clarice Starling and the Glenn character was written out. 

In Hannibal, it is ten years later than the events of The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling's career has been derailed by enemies within the FBI, chief amongst them Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), and is having to settle for drug busts rather than the specialized behavioral science jobs she covets. Hannibal Lecter has been in hiding and resurfaces in Florence, Italy under the name Dr. Fell and is immersed in Dante and Renaissance politics. Meanwhile, the opulently wealthy Mason Verger (Gary Oldman - unrecognizable under pounds of prosthetics that make him look like a Frankenstein version of one of the Close Encounters of the Third Kind aliens), the only one of Lecter's victims to survive, is hell-bent on tracking him down to enact a personal revenge. Verger pulls strings in the FBI to spring Starling from drudgery and get her back on the Lecter case. Soon their weird courtship dance begins again as she starts to track down his whereabouts. Meanwhile, a Florentine police inspector Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), figures out who Lecter is and determines to take matters into his own hands for Verger's huge reward. Lecter, naturally, outfoxes Pazzi, dispatches him, heads back to the US and to a final showdown with Clarice and the FBI. The film changes the novel's ending somewhat to allow for additional sequels but I wouldn't hold my breath on any more being made. 

The Silence of the Lambs , as a film, revolves around the relationship between Clarice and Hannibal. The entire film is about the four scenes they share together, twenty-five minutes or so of absolutely incredible screen time about two adults in a dance of mutual admiration and distrust. The rest of the film is gravy and would be standard issue police procedural without these scenes. Hannibal , by the nature of the novel's structure, separates these two for the vast majority of the film's length and neither one of the characters is very interesting without the other. Clarice chasing Hannibal down from a basement computer from half the world away is simply dull. Scott tries to enliven the proceedings with a well staged shoot-out in a DC fish market and ravishing views of the Old City of Florence but it doesn't help. The two don't even hit the same continent until 85 minutes into the film and by then, we're snoozing. The cat and mouse game played by Hannibal and Pazzi in Florence provides some tension (and Giannini is great as the conflicted inspector), but the dynamic just isn't right, the way it was in the earlier film. 

Hopkins pretty much repeats his performance from ten years ago, only this time he seems to be doing it with his tongue firmly in his cheek, rather than with the absolute conviction of earlier. It's a bit like seeing a bad Xerox copy of The Starry Night rather than the original painting. Julianne Moore tries to make Clarice her own, and is believable as Jodie Foster grown more world weary and with redder hair, but is trapped into reacting rather than acting by the circumstances of the screenplay. 

A lot of talented people try very hard to make movie magic happen twice, but they're completely done in by Thomas Harris's story, which is fundamentally unsound and antithetical to the themes set up in the earlier work. The result is a rather dreary "thriller", punctuated by occasional moments of over-the-top grotesquerie, such as a hanging and the famous final dinner party. 

The DVD release of the film is a sumptuous two disc set. The film is lush and lovely with a good color transfer and good sound track, making full use of the possibilities of surround sound. The score, by Hans Zimmer, is a little overpowering at times, and the use of Strauss' 'Blue Danube Waltz', especially when it keeps devolving into minor keys, is exceedingly irritating. Besides the film, there is a commentary track with Scott discussing the filming (fairly interesting). On a second disc are a number of cut sequences (most of them not terribly exciting or illuminating, but it does flesh out the Il Mostro subplot that was more or less cut from the final film), the original camera takes of some of the more complex sequences, showing all of the elements individually that are edited together for final effect, and a few other odds and ends that seemed like padding. 

Face eating (several examples). Biltmore estate. Bright pink box. Ravenous boars. Dante opera. Fine perfume shop. Gratuitous disembowelments. Gratuitous dismemberments. Sniveling doctor. Unusual airplane food.

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