Tag Archives: fairy tale

So I Watched My Brother

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Watching The Shape of Water (2017 FOX Searchlight, directed by Guillermo del Toro), I noted with interest the brief sequence when Elisa Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins) offers a boiled egg to the Amphibian Man (played by Doug Jones). When I saw him take the egg and dive back into the water, I flashed back to a family vacation about five years ago. We were in Corolla on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I was body surfing (not very well on my part) with my brothers Rich and Doug, and he used the same diving form that I saw him use in this movie.

Before I get into what I want to say most, let me mention that the directing and acting were superb. Additional cast members Octavia Spencer (as cleaning lady Zelda Fuller), Michael Shannon (as repulsive bad guy Richard Strickland), Richard Jenkins (as neighbor Giles), Michael Stuhlbarg ( as scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler), David Hewlett, and others did a superb job in playing their roles and adding their individual facets to this gem of a film.

Lest I give the wrong impression, this film earned its R rating. I estimate that the scenes which made me uncomfortable amounted to about fifteen minutes of screen time, and I would have preferred to have seen that time devoted to a more extensive portrayal of my brother’s character and more transitions in the development of his relationship with the mute cleaning lady.

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A number of social issues were covered in this period piece, and if the film had one major weakness, it might be that it tried to do too much. I personally prefer to see fewer themes developed more fully.

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Now for the things that really impressed me besides the fine acting. This is a unique effort in that it is a blend of monster movie and art film, which is evident from the opening credits. Just to see it, I had to drive a hundred miles to an art house where it was playing in Kansas City. The musical soundtrack is used so effectively that it seems like an additional character in the story. I like that this is a relatively low budget film that nonetheless has unique and stunning visuals. It’s a beautiful piece of cinematic work.

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Overall, I’d say that this is a fairy tale disguised as science fiction. The Amphibian Man is more than a monster. He represents an almost spiritual longing, that ache for something wonderful and unexpected which will overtake us.

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Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins in the film THE SHAPE OF WATER. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

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I think people long for the unusual and the mysterious, for something beneficial that is ultimately beyond our control. That which we can manipulate is that which we have an unfortunate tendency to disrespect and take for granted.

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Doug Jones: Man of Mythology

Still shot from Pan's Labyrinth (2006), directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Still shot from Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Doug Jones is one of the top creature actors in the motion picture industry, and he is also my youngest brother.  I am proud of him, and I have no qualms about continuing the nepotism I began in last week’s post where I wrote about the work of my son-in-law. Doug began perfecting his technique long before he knew what his profession would be. As a boy, he was a spot-on mimic of me, my other brothers, and our father. When he entered his teens, his caricatures became even more accurate, their aim deadlier.

As stated on my Author page, I am a small college professor of biology. In the faculty break room a number of years ago, one of my colleagues mentioned that he had seen Doug in Pan’s Labyrinth and that he thought it was good. I acknowledged this and attempted to pass it off so as not to appear conceited, but he stopped me. He really thought this movie was good, an excellently conceived and executed fairy tale. This continues to impress me because my friend taught a class in Germanic Folklore and another in Film Studies, and he was not easily impressed. Doug himself had told me that he was very much aware during filming that he was participating in a work of genuine art.

The story itself is a well-constructed mythology set in Spain during time of war. There is, of course, another theme I always like in such stories: a relationship with a child (in this case, a young girl). In addition to portraying the title character (the fawn) my brother also played the Pale Man (Pallido Hombre) with the eyeballs in his palms.

Still shot from Pan's Labyrinth (2006), directed  by Guillermo del Toro.
Still shot from Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Trained as a mime, Doug knows how to make the prosthetics of creature acting work effectively, and he brought these characters to life by body movements and facial expressions (even under heavy makeup) that convey emotion. He also learned his lines in Spanish (which he does not speak) so that the voice-overs would be convincing.

Okay. Enough fawning over the fawn played by my brother. I have longer gallery posts about Doug (Beneath the Monster and Post Mortem) on my other blog site (MORE THAN MONSTERS). You can read these by clicking here  and here. You may also view a documentary about Doug Jones by clicking here.

With Doug at a recent family vacation in Brian Head, Utah.
With Doug at a recent family vacation in Brian Head, Utah.