ATTN: Spoilers like a bat outta hell. Stop if you’ve never seen nor read Red Dragon and Manhunter and are the kind of person who yells at people on the internet for posting spoilers of things that have been out for decades.
I was relaxing after dinner and I suddenly remembered yesterday’s random Blake trivia — forgot about that!
Okay, soooo, I used this picture yesterday in the “Tyger” post …
… because it comes from Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986). This is part 1 of its Movie Moment because I need to cover technical aspects a different day. Today I want to just sort of compare Manhunter and a more recent adaptation of the same fucked-up and riveting material. Manhunter is the original filmed adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon (1981), in which the writer William Blake plays a very large part of the dissociative disease that leads the antagonist to kill and sets off the action of the novel/film.
Manhunter, the original Red Dragon screen version.
In 2002, a different adaptation, whose title was the same as the book — Harris’s novels have a weird and haphazard history of screen-arrival in Hollywood — was released in light of the success of the year before’s screen adaptation of Hannibal (novel: Thomas Harris, 1999; film: Ridley Scott, 2001), a rather late-breaking sequel to the infamous film version of Silence of the Lambs (novel: Harris, 1988; movie: Jonathan Demme, 1991).
Red Dragon, second adaptation.
A totally different animal, not even attempting to remake in part the cinematic masterpiece that is the color-drenched, painstakingly-framed Manhunter, the alternate more recent film is what I consider a sloppy adaptation of Red Dragon. It is nothing like the very-admirable entry into the Harris genre that is Hannibal, which despite the replacement of Academy Award-winner Jodie Foster with Academy Award-nominee Julianne Moore as the infamous “[Hello,] Clarice” Starling managed, I think by virtue of Sir Anthony Hopkins’ reprisal of the sensationalist character of Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter combined with Scott Free productions’ attachment to the project in the wake of smash-hit Gladiator, to make quite the box office splash. As it ended up, that success was deserved.
Check out Vegetarian Times in the background. No. 1 favorite Hannibal still with A Bullet.
The Red Dragon revamp that followed it the next year, on the other hand, falls short of its predecessors due to cocky casting and the hasty pudding nature of the picture. It is almost unfair to stack it against such a stunning piece of eye candy and psychological discourse as Manhunter. But I’m going to anyway.
“The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed In Sun” — William Blake. Blake’s illuminated print-making process is actually still partially guessed at, as he never troubled to write down most of how he did it. Another post — I promise.
The novel Red Dragon, the first in the Hannibal Lecter series of books by Thomas Harris, has as its main detective not Clarice Starling, but rather a young FBI mindhunter named Will Graham. The book and 2002 film take its title from the antagonist’s personal inspiration (and devil with whom he dances) for his transformation to what he views as a higher being. This is a highly detailed, uniquely gnostic series of ritual murders which the “bad guy” bases around Blake’s work, particularly his illuminated manuscript print “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed In Sun.” The killer calls this multiply murderous, cleansing-by-blood process “Becoming.”
This antagonist is called the Tooth Fairy by the press, a name he loathes, but he’s tipped to the reader early on — by his preferred nomenclature as the Red Dragon — to be a shy and cleft-palated industrial photographic-development-expert named Francis Dolarhyde. Francis is an abused and orphaned soul with an unfathomably deep dark side due to psychosexual torture in his upbringing.
Meanwhile, young Will Graham is a bummed-out “good guy” chilling in Marathon, Florida with his family on the beach, trying to get his mojo back after unhappily closing the toughest case of his career as a profiler with the FBI: arresting former friend and consultant, reknowned psychiatrist, classical music fan, and noted long pig gourmand one Dr. H. Lecter — M.D., Ph.D., hella murderer.
As the action unfolds, the already tightly-strung Dolarhyde — who, as the Red Dragon, writes in supplication to Dr. Lecktor/Lecter appealing for help in his quest to purify his weak flesh and Become, further enmeshing the good doc in the plotohs — finds his demon not only hunted by highly-skilled semi-retired agent Will Graham and the FBI, but also must elude his own dark side’s brutal orders when he suddenly finds himself in an unlikely and empathetic mutual attraction with a plucky handicapped co-worker and falters in his faith in “Becoming.”
This complex character is played equally well by Tom Noonan in Manhunter and Ralph Fiennes in Red Dragon. Noonan gets the edge for creepy wordless scenes such as rasing his head to the sunlight like an animal drinking in vital and engrammed diurnal directives; Fiennes has the advantage in the all-important following tattoo-revelation scene and Red Dragon cry of chagrined triumph at tabloid reporter and luckless human torch Freddy Lounds (Steven Lang, 1986; Philip Seymour Hoffman, ’01: winner Hoffman on that one — ♥ that dude’s freaky energy 4eva-evah).
YOU OWE ME AWE.
Totally disturbing scene.
Tormented by the demon with which he wrestles, Dolarhyde attempts to steal and eat the original Blake painting which has been, in his mind, masterminding his murders. He believes that by consuming the painting, he will stop the voices, visions, and impulses torturing his brain with which he valiantly argues.
He finds himself particularly rising in opposition to the Red Dragon’s orders that he murder Reba (infinitely worthy and perpetually underused Joan Allen plays her in Manhunter while shiny-eyed dope Emily Watson —I know it’s an unpopular opinion but this chick bugs the hell out of me — got the role in the revamp), the outspoken, sexually bold blind woman from the photo labs with whom he has fallen in love.
Punch Drunk Love, Cradle Will Rock, me shaking my head and saying “Boo.” (limited theatrical release)
Dolarhyde is a sadder, sympathetic and strangely more touching, conflicted character than the early Lecter (or even his later and in my book cheaply slapped together Hannibal Rising incarnation) and much more relatable than Dolarhyde’s equally compulsive 1988 series successor, Buffalo Bill — “it puts the lotion on its etc” — are ever portrayed to be, yet because of Dolarhyde’s disorderly mind and act-driven kills, the Red Dragon as a predator has scenes that are in some ways more resonantly chilling than any of the often-quoted histrionics hailing from either star of Silence of the Lambs‘ gruesome sideshow.
As an example, in the above screencap, the Red Dragon side of Francis’s beaten, slavish personality makes the nervous newly-dating Dolarhyde give blind Reba McClane a drink of water from a glass with not only ice floating it but also the anciently misshapen and hideously rotting false teeth of the author of his schizophrenia, Dolarhyde’s dreadful dead grandmother, which dental implements he fits in to his own mouth and bites his victims in a frenzy during his kills. (Hence the hated nickname.) That part is not a-okay with me.
Forensic expert showing an FBI-Atlanta PD task force meeting a plaster mold of Gramma Dolarhyde’s choppers.
Um. Yeah. All that biting and teeth stuff? And the yells from the Red Dragon and his grandmother to murder Reba before he accidentally tells her how they have him trapped in his own mind? That’s fucked up. And oh, god. When those teeth knock against the glass as Reba thanks him, raises it to her lips, and sips, there is not a cringe-free face in the room.
So. In Manhunter, the first jump of Red Dragon from novel to screen, Will Graham is played by William Petersen, and Brian Cox plays Lecktor — not a typo. The film spells it this way. (You may recognize my darlingest dearest awesome Mr. Cox, pictured below as “Lecktor,” from Rushmore, The Ring, or Supertroopers — he is a personal fave from Way Back).
In 2002’s adaptation of Red Dragon, Edward Norton performs the part of Agent Graham with Sir Anthony Hopkins reprising his role as Dr. Lecter. Hopkins did get to have a little fun, for once off of his familiar smug game of “fava beans” and psychological bullshit, because this whelp of a wolf among the lambs has just recently been chained in the Red Dragon storyline.
The Lecter of Red Dragon is still a young and relatively vengeful Lecter, pacing a gym on a harness and leash for mandatory exercise to keep the other prisoners of his psychiatric facility safe (no mask just yet), unthinkably pissed at Graham for having caught him several years earlier, even lunging for him in an unguarded moment of rage — Lecter is not yet completely at home in the role of Fucking With the Po-lice as is the maturing character encountered in Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.
In spite of Hopkins’ fun stretching his wings, I still feel that Brian Cox plays him with a hair more dignity and better-hinged chilliness than Hopkins does, which gives Lecktor, vs. Lecter, that slender shoot of a just-germinating seed of polish-mixed-with-go-for-broke-ruthlessness which is so necessary for the character’s believable development in to who he is by Hannibal. I think Hopkins saw the chance to finally show the less-controlled, animalistic side of a character he’d been at home playing as an after-the-fact “tyger” — caged and angry but a careful planner — for a long time and jumped, maybe too high, at the opportunity for this gamier potrayal. Just an opinion.
“You think I’m stupid?”
“No, Dr. Lecter. I don’t think you’re stupid.”
“But you still caught me.”
“You had certain … disadvantages.”
“Disadvantages? Such as … ?”
You are correct to recognize Petersen from the original, Las Vegas-set television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Fun fact: for Halloween 2002, the producers deliberately teamed William Petersen up in his role as Gil Grissom, the brilliant but troubled detective able to get in to killers’ minds, in pursuit of a nemesis freaky killer performed in the October 31st episode by Tom Noonan (Francis Dolarhyde, aka the Tooth Fairy) as a nod to their parts opposite one another in Manhunter. Noonan played a demented illusionist, escape artist, and master magician known as Zephyr. Near retirement, the Zephyr still had some scores to settle and a lot of pyrotechnic sleight-of-hand tricks up his sleeve before he was ready to call it a day. The episode actually ends in delightful ambiguity, but I will not spoil it.
Special thanks to wetpaint, a CSI: fansite, for the screencaps.
I used to wonder with great conflict why, having lost someone special to me to a real life version of this type of shit, I am okay with fare such as the Lecter film and novel shenanigans, CSI:, and the like when I am so vehemently opposed to so-called “true crime” and often even discussions of such stuff in company or on the news. I will leave the room on certain topics and I don’t consider that burying my head in the sand — I have seen all I want to see for now of what people will say “needs to be reported” like as some kind of lesson.
Fiennes and Watson in Red Dragon; my professor friend and I looked nothing like this during our deep conversation (below) — I just felt like I had not shown enough stills from it as opposed to Manhunter.
Not too long ago, I wound up one day in deep, private conversation after a where-am-I-going-in-life conference with a former professor I dearly love about Harris’s novels and perhaps Patrica Cornwell’s, or some line very similar, and I confessed that I felt conflicted about my reading of that type of material because of things I’d dealt with in the past. He surprised me by saying he’d also lost a friend to violent crime growing up and despised, as I did, the cult of violence and serial-killer-admiration that seems to grip the tabloid television shows and bestselling non-fiction shelves. Yet he, too, read with genuine enjoyment many series of fictional genre crime thrillers. He said that, like me, he’d often disgustedly questioned himself as to how he kept both opinions in balance, and why he differentiated between hating the one and being all right with the other.
We need this hero.
He said he’d read a great scholarly article just a few years earlier, and I cannot remember the writer he quoted because I am garbage and frankly slugging a margarita on the rocks right now (it’s hot where I live), which forever answered our question for him.
This psychological scholar and literary critic posited that the murder mystery — all the detective thrillers and suspense novels and cop vs. boogeyman films the genre spawns — even with a detailed portrayal of a base, disturbed and seemingly random monster like Lecter or Dolarhyde as their antagonist — far from the feeding of dark fantasy that we anxiously supposed, serves instead a need in humanity to see our fears realized (as we had already done in reality) but the conflict then resolved.
Couldn’t go the whole post without a Silence of the Lambs scene.
What he basically said was that every time he and I watched CSI: and Grissom caught the Bad Guy, or read a James Patterson book on the beach and cheered as Alex Cross brought in his latest nemesis, we were solving our friends’ murders and seeing the people who disrupted our lives brought to task for their wrongdoing. We were gaining our much needed closure. Even people who have not suffered loss but empathetically and logically fear it because they love people in their own lives and understand that the possibility of these lives being taken by cruel injustice is never far away, seek and enjoy that same positive resolution to this basic human anxiety as it plays out in genre crime fiction.
Lecter caged and contained, kept in by the Forces of Good and therefore shut up like a witch in a well of a fairy story. (temporarily in this case but you get my drift) The people of the village are Safe.
It blew my mind, and I almost wanted to reject it because it was so far from my self-loathing castigation, but it felt very true. I know he was right. I am no longer so guilty nor constantly probing myself for some latent and despicable, prurient interest in fictional depictions of things that in real life have caused me pain. I understand now that I am actually acting out in my mind, against a cathartic and safe backdrop, the conflict and agonized anxieties from which I shy away in real reports on the news, and deliberately seeking through a book in my hands a satisfactory resolution which will lay my mind at ease that justice has been reached — and, by extension, that justice can and will be reached in reality.
That strayed pretty far afield from Blake and Manhunter but I’m kind of not sorry.
All of this entry’s screencaps come from kpannier and thewadingegret on the lj; rottentomatoes forums; and personal grabs here and there over the years.