Gods and Monsters (1998)

Gods and Monsters (1998) – If you have been paying attention to this humble little movie blog the past month or two you will have certainly by now noticed that I have a certain fondness for the old Universal Horror films, chief among them Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. To me (and to many others, I can’t really claim this as my original idea) the most sympathetic character is the Monster. Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein were about the outsider. The man who made those two films, James Whale, knew a thing or two about being an outsider. He had been a cultured young man in a working class family in Britain (a country that is very insistent upon class). Furthermore he was a homosexual. Granted, Hollywood was reasonably tolerant of such things provided one was… discreet, but Whale had a life before Hollywood that much have been difficult. Author Christopher Bram wrote a fictionalized account of the last days of Whale’s life called Father of Frankenstein. Writer/director Bill Condon adapted into this film, taking the title from a line in Bride of Frankenstein: “To a new world of gods and monsters!”

Sir Ian McKellen plays Whale, now retired from film-making (allegedly for some homosexual scandal, but really just because his last couple movies did poorly). He has had a stroke and while his motor functions have recovered he is getting confused easily and suffering from the beginnings of dementia. His housekeeper (Lynn Redgrave) looks after him, but disapproves of his lifestyle chasing young men. Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser) is the new landscaper for Whale’s home. Whale, an avid painter, asks Boone to model for him. Boone, not sensing any ulterior motive and just seeing a chance to make some extra money (and flattered by the fact that someone famous seems to be showing an interest in him at all). Whale’s true motivations might go beyond just lusting after a handsome younger man, though.

So since writer-director Bill Condon is gay, as is producer Clive Barker (of Hellraiser fame), Whale’s homosexuality is a large focus of this movie. The movie is slow-moving and has a sort of low-key tone to it that some might find boring, but I found it to be a moving and well-written character study (the film won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar). The film does use clips, primarily from Bride of Frankenstein, in addition to some re-enactments of moments on the set of the film. Whale’s past as a soldier and as an impoverished young man in pre-World War I are explored briefly in flashbacks. The real treat of the movie is seeing McKellen (nominated for an Academy Award for the role, as was Redgrave) fully embody his character. The man is a pro and watching him work is amazing. I think I might have enjoyed Condon’s later biopic Kinsey a little more, but this one is worth seeing especially if you are a fan of the Monsters Whale’s mind brought to life.

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