"the actor who played Merrick would not wear makeup"
March 28, 2015 9:42 PM   Subscribe

I remember when I was a kid, seeing a clip from the show on Good Morning America or something. The sequence began with Bowie standing there normally, and as an offstage voice read a list of John Merrick's various afflictions Bowie gradually contorted his body to reflect them all. It was almost like we could see the deformities grow, and as it went on you felt a horrible, cringing pity for Merrick as he just kept twisting and shriveling under the weight of it all. I saw that clip 35 years ago, on some weekday morning when I was a kid eating Cheerios before school, and the memory of it haunts me still.

A while back somebody observed that although Keanu Reeves has a limited range, few actors are quite as good at looking like they're desperately trying to understand something. He is very good at looking like he's learning things. And it got me thinking about Bowie's sporadic acting career. He has a limited range too, but he can be extraordinary within that range. Bowie is typecast as aliens and goblin kings and other spacey outsider types, but for all his chilly remove it seems to me that he does yearning better than just about anybody. It's there in his music, it's there in his movies: he wants something he can never have, and even if he's a monster from some faraway place that ache of yearning is easy for us to understand. As beautiful as he was in 1980, he was a natural for the role of Merrick, a man who spent his life yearning and yearning and yearning.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:23 PM on March 28, 2015 [28 favorites]

I think you're right, UH. When I saw David Bowie Is in Chicago, part of the exhibition was a series of clips from his movies, and they didn't all show that yearning, but it's his go-to expression. I'd love to have The Man Who Fell To Earth on Blu-Ray, but the Criterion release is going for $199 on Amazon right now, it's kind of crazy. I may have to settle for the DVD.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:44 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, I was living in Chicago when he did the play at the Blackstone, but I was a dumb teenager and didn't try to get tickets (which may not have been available for any price, but still). Still kicking myself a little for that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:46 PM on March 28, 2015

Oh, sure, he CAN do other emotions. (Bitchy/superior is well in his wheelhouse, for example.) But he nails yearning like crazy.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:01 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

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