Casting Study: Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling

Of the movie adaptations of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels that I’ve seen, Manhunter is still the one I find most interesting.  Michael Mann’s film version of 1981’s Red Dragon has a moral center in its ambiguous, tightly wound-lead, William Petersen. The film also has a seductive pastel fog around it, Fassbinder-inspired blocking, and it was one of the first films to use modern forensics to drive narrative. Also: Dennis Farina-points.

Brian Cox portrayed Lecter with low key menace, almost like a heavy from a Harold Pinter play, while Anthony Hopkins, in 1991’s adaptation of Silence of the Lambs, served a curious mix of Karl Lagerfeld and Dr. Pretorius. This isn’t to detract from the technical greatness of Silence of the Lambs—it’s a grindhouse story that broke out to the mainstream thanks to director Jonathan Demme’s gothic flourishes and Ted Tally’s script, which suggests human loneliness is the most lethal pathology. Jodie Foster’s performance as Clarice Starling was a watershed moment for female leads, but the insensitive handling of the Jame Gumb character will only look increasingly offensive with age.

Given his Grand Guignol plots, Harris’s prose is surprisingly polite, empathetic, and elegant. It shows his years spent on the crime beat as a reporter.  In Red Dragon though, this means there is very little description of Lecter.

Dr. Lecter’s eyes are maroon and they reflect the light redly in tiny points. Lecter rose and walked over to his table. He is a small, lithe man. Very neat.

Seen through the eyes of Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Lecter is fleshed out more but both are blank figures for the reader and performers to build on:

Dr. Lecter pursed his red lips…His strange maroon eyes half-closed…She came a little closer to the bars, and he looked up. For Starling every shadow in the cell flew into his eyes and widow’s peak.

By the time of 1999’s Hannibal several adaptations were already released or in development, and Lecter had become an unlikely, normalized pop figure. Harris adds to the description—what Lecter looks like in the novel is a plot point—and the author maybe even attempts to take ownership of his character away from Hopkins:

His head was sleek as an otter and his nose had an imperious arch like that of Peron.

Besides noting her fit youthfulness, Starling is not described in Silence of the Lambs. In Hannibal though, Harris writes about the changes brought on by age and failure:

FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling, thirty-two, always looked her age and she always made that age look good, even in fatigues…She saw herself clearly, saw the crinkles of age beginning in the corners of her eyes…Crawford was studying her now. “You never got that gunpowder out of your cheek.” Grains of burnt powder from the revolver of the late Jame Gumb marked her [left] cheekbone with a black spot. “Never had time,” Starling said…Her lips slightly pursed as they sometimes did on the firing range.

Then, the author alters her appearance by the end, when she is a captive/fugitive:

Her hair was a shapely platinum helmet…Muscled.

Foster, like most of the principals from Silence of the Lambs, was uncomfortable with the new novel’s tone, and detached herself from the sequel’s production, leaving the role in Ridley Scott’s film to Julianne Moore. Mads Mikkelsen is currently Hannibal Lecter in the network sleeper hit, Hannibal, a reworking of Red Dragon.

DOWNLOAD HI-RES IMAGES OF EVERY COMPOSITE

Since resuming this project, I’ve had a few emails from teachers and librarians asking for images to use in lessons and programming. At the Mediafire link above is a zipped folder (89 MB) of every composite image currently on the site as high-res tifs. Also included is a Creative Commons license allowing non-commercial use of the images.

Should you want to make a tote bag or two though, please feel free.

Casting Study: Miami Blues

For the first in this series of comparing character descriptions against actors in adaptations, The Composites will look at Miami Blues, the 1984 novel by Charles Willeford and the 1990 film starring Alec Baldwin.

Charles Willeford was unique among crime writers.  His novels defied the conventions of the genre with naturalistic pacing, droll wit, and a melancholic worldview. During an exile from crime writing Willeford self-published experimental poetry and memoir, including a book-length account of his hemorrhoidectomy, before returning to the genre with his Hoke Moseley series, the first of which is Miami Blues.

Fresh out of prison and on a spree at the beginning of the novel, Junior Frenger is an engagingly rational sociopath who decides to settle down in suburban Miami—not to retire, but to rob his new neighbors while posing as Detective Moseley. It’s an acidic satire of 1980s yuppie mobility.

Released in 1990, the film version of Miami Blues starred a young Alec Baldwin as Junior, and Fred Ward as Moseley. Junior’s sadism was toned down but director George Armitage still faithfully translated Willeford’s mordant view of tropical suburbia and Junior’s unstable mix of wiliness and stupidity.

Here’s Willeford’s description of Junior Frenger from Miami Blues:

Frederick J. Frenger, Jr., who preferred to be called Junior instead of Freddy, was twenty-eight years old. He looked older because his life had been a hard one; the lines at the corners of his mouth seemed too deep for a man in his late twenties. His eyes were a dark shade of blue, and his untrimmed blond eyebrows were almost white. His nose had been broken and reset poorly, but some women considered him attractive. His skin was unblemished and deeply tanned from long afternoons spent at the yard at San Quentin. At five-nine, he should have had a slighter build, but prolonged sessions with weights, pumping iron in the yard, as well as playing handball, had built up his chest, shoulders, and arms to almost grotesque proportions…After the shave, the barber combed Freddy’s hair and said: “You have lovely hair, but you really should let it grow. It’s much too short for today’s stylings.”

In casting Alec Baldwin, the filmmakers made an even stronger character out of Junior. A more physically imposing actor with a prison-worn face couldn’t telegraph—in the same way that Baldwin was able to—Junior’s charm or his twitchy movement from score to score.

Fred Ward embodies Hoke Moseley’s Job-like suffering while still looking slightly off, a little too sturdy, compared to Willeford’s description of the spent and burnt detective in the series’ second book, New Hope for the Dead:

 Without his false teeth, Hoke looked much older than forty-two, and this morning, when he looked into the mirror, still thinking about Loretta Hickey, he wondered if she would ever be interested in him as a lover. She could hardly be interested, he thought, if she saw him without his teeth. His eyes were his best feature. They were chocolate brown, a brown so richly dark it was difficult to see his pupils. During his years in the Miami Police Department, this genetic gift had been useful to him on many occasions. Hoke could stare at people for a long time before they realized he was looking at them. By any aesthetic standard, Hoke’s eyes were beautiful. But the rest of his face, if not ordinary, was unremarkable. He had lost most of his sandy hair in front, and his high balding dome gave his longish face a mournful expression. His tanned cheeks were sunken and striated, and there were dark, deep lines from the wings of his prominent nose to the corners of his mouth.

Baldwin’s maniacal portrayal of Junior as a dead-eyed clown was a star turn, more so than his role in The Hunt for Red October—amazingly released at the exact same time. Despite that, Miami Blues flopped.

Coming a few years before the height of 1990s neo-noir, the film struggled with marketing. Armitage’s next film, Grosse Pointe Blank, found a more receptive audience. Miami Blues has its fans. I’m one of them.

Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision-made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh-colored enamel, blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils—everything working together…Her face is still calm, as though she had a cast made and painted to just the look she wants…Confident, patient, and unruffled.
No more little jerk, just that terrible cold face, a calm smile stamped out of red plastic; a clean, smooth forehead, not a line in it to show weakness or worry; flat,  wide, painted-on green eyes, painted on with an expression that says I can wait, I might lose a yard now and then but I can wait, and be patient and calm and confident, because I know there’s no real losing for me.
Buy the book at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision-made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh-colored enamel, blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils—everything working together…Her face is still calm, as though she had a cast made and painted to just the look she wants…Confident, patient, and unruffled.

No more little jerk, just that terrible cold face, a calm smile stamped out of red plastic; a clean, smooth forehead, not a line in it to show weakness or worry; flat,  wide, painted-on green eyes, painted on with an expression that says I can wait, I might lose a yard now and then but I can wait, and be patient and calm and confident, because I know there’s no real losing for me.

Buy the book at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Colonel Cathcart, Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Colonel Cathcart was a slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six who lumbered when he walked and wanted to be a general. He was dashing and dejected, poised and chagrined. He was complacent and insecure, daring in the administrative stratagems he employed to bring himself to the attention of his superiors and craven in his concern that his schemes might all backfire. He was handsome and unattractive, a swashbuckling, beefy, conceited man who was putting on fat and was tormented chronically by prolonged seizures of apprehension…Colonel Cathcart was a very large, pouting, broadshouldered man with close-cropped curly dark hair that was graying at the tips…The colonel wore his khaki shirt collar wide open, exposing a shadow of tough black bristles of beard on his egg-white neck, and had a spongy hanging underlip…The colonel’s ponderous, farinaceous cheeks…His beefy face.
Buy the book at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Colonel Cathcart, Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Colonel Cathcart was a slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six who lumbered when he walked and wanted to be a general. He was dashing and dejected, poised and chagrined. He was complacent and insecure, daring in the administrative stratagems he employed to bring himself to the attention of his superiors and craven in his concern that his schemes might all backfire. He was handsome and unattractive, a swashbuckling, beefy, conceited man who was putting on fat and was tormented chronically by prolonged seizures of apprehension…Colonel Cathcart was a very large, pouting, broadshouldered man with close-cropped curly dark hair that was graying at the tips…The colonel wore his khaki shirt collar wide open, exposing a shadow of tough black bristles of beard on his egg-white neck, and had a spongy hanging underlip…The colonel’s ponderous, farinaceous cheeks…His beefy face.

Buy the book at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published on this day in 1949. H/T to geek-chickid 

Julia, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
He did not know her name, but he knew that she worked in the Fiction Department…She was a bold-looking girl, of about twenty-seven, with thick hair, a freckled face, and swift, athletic movements…It was the girl from the Fiction Department, the girl with dark hair. The light was failing, but there was no difficulty in recognizing her… ‘Would you believe,’ he said, ‘that till this moment I didn’t know what colour your eyes were?’ They were brown, he noted, a rather light shade of brown, with dark lashes… The youthful body was strained against his own, the mass of dark hair was against his face, and yes! Actually she had turned her face up and he was kissing the wide red mouth… With just a few dabs of colour in the right places she had become not only very much prettier, but, above all, far more feminine. Her short hair and boyish overalls merely added to the effect… ‘They can’t get inside you,’ she had said. But they could get inside you…Her face was sallower, and there was a long scar, partly hidden by the hair, across her forehead and temple.

Julia, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

He did not know her name, but he knew that she worked in the Fiction Department…She was a bold-looking girl, of about twenty-seven, with thick hair, a freckled face, and swift, athletic movements…It was the girl from the Fiction Department, the girl with dark hair. The light was failing, but there was no difficulty in recognizing her… ‘Would you believe,’ he said, ‘that till this moment I didn’t know what colour your eyes were?’ They were brown, he noted, a rather light shade of brown, with dark lashes… The youthful body was strained against his own, the mass of dark hair was against his face, and yes! Actually she had turned her face up and he was kissing the wide red mouth… With just a few dabs of colour in the right places she had become not only very much prettier, but, above all, far more feminine. Her short hair and boyish overalls merely added to the effect… ‘They can’t get inside you,’ she had said. But they could get inside you…Her face was sallower, and there was a long scar, partly hidden by the hair, across her forehead and temple.

Erik, The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux

He is extraordinarily thin and his dress-coat hangs on a skeleton frame. His eyes are so deep that you can hardly see the fixed pupils. You just see two big black holes, as in a dead man’s skull. His skin, which is stretched across his bones like a drumhead, is not white, but a nasty yellow. His nose is so little worth talking about that you can’t see it side-face; and THE ABSENCE of that nose is a horrible thing TO LOOK AT. All the hair he has is three or four long dark locks on his forehead and behind his ears…And, in this connection, I may say, that, when he went out in the streets or ventured to show himself in public, he wore a pasteboard nose, with a mustache attached to it, instead of his own horrible hole of a nose. This did not quite take away his corpse-like air, but it made him almost, I say almost, endurable to look at.

Read at Project Gutenberg. Buy at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Suggested by Passingdreams

image

Emily Schultz, The Composites’ in-house  researcher, released her first novel back in 2006. It shares a title with a new Stephen King novel, which has led to some hilarious—and ontologically challenging—reviews of Emily’s book  from Amazon readers. This weekend, The LA Times looks into the deeper reasons why this case of mistaken literary identity has happened.

Emily’s new novel, The Blondes, will be published by St. Martin’s-Thomas Dunne books in Fall 14. We’ll be hosting excerpts here in the new year.

Daisy Buchanan, blond and brunette version

Does Daisy Buchanan have blond or brown hair? According to Fitzgerald’s text, the answer is both. When the original composite was first posted here last February our researcher, Emily, debated several lines about Daisy’s hair with readers.

A damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across her cheek…

“She doesn’t look like her father,” explained Daisy. “She looks like me. She’s got my hair [yellowy] and shape of the face.”

Now and then she moved and he changed his arm a little and once he kissed her dark shining hair.

There are authorial “errors” in every novel. After all, Emma Bovary’s eyes change color throughout Flaubert’s book.  But errors don’t detract from a work. Errors are just another part of it and they serve to remind us how much of reading is inference and that the reader is free to construct Daisy however they like.

The Monster, Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large. After having formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began…How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing… but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.
Read at Project Gutenberg. Purchase at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.
 Suggested by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

The Monster, Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large. After having formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began…How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing… but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

Read at Project Gutenberg. Purchase at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

 Suggested by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Jack Torrance, The Shining, Stephen King
Ullman folded his neat little hands on the desk blotter and looked directly at Jack, a small, balding man in a banker’s suit and a quiet gray tie… Danny’s face, so much like his own had been, his eyes had been light blue while Danny’s were cloudy gray, but the lips still made a bow and the complexion was fair…His eyes were far away and cloudy. His hair hanging in his eyes, like some heavy animal. A large dog… or a lion.
The documentary Room 237 opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center and elsewhere.

Jack Torrance, The Shining, Stephen King

Ullman folded his neat little hands on the desk blotter and looked directly at Jack, a small, balding man in a banker’s suit and a quiet gray tie… Danny’s face, so much like his own had been, his eyes had been light blue while Danny’s were cloudy gray, but the lips still made a bow and the complexion was fair…His eyes were far away and cloudy. His hair hanging in his eyes, like some heavy animal. A large dog… or a lion.

The documentary Room 237 opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center and elsewhere.

Dolores “Lolita” Hayes/ Mrs. Richard F. Schiller, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Pale-gray vacant eyes…asymmetrical freckles on her bobbed nose…Only in the tritest of terms (diary resumed) can I describe Lo’s features: I might say her hair is auburn, and her lips as red as licked red candy, the lower one prettily plump, bobbed nose…Lolita of the strident voice and rich brown hair—of the bangs and the swirls and the sides and the curls at the back upturned russet face.
Couple of inches taller. Pink-rimmed glasses. New, heaped-up hairdo. She was frankly and hugely pregnant. Her head looked smaller and her pale-freckled cheeks were hollowed…with round pommettes…And softly, confidentially, arching her thin eyebrows…This Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond.
 Purchase at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Dolores “Lolita” Hayes/ Mrs. Richard F. Schiller, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Pale-gray vacant eyes…asymmetrical freckles on her bobbed nose…Only in the tritest of terms (diary resumed) can I describe Lo’s features: I might say her hair is auburn, and her lips as red as licked red candy, the lower one prettily plump, bobbed nose…Lolita of the strident voice and rich brown hair—of the bangs and the swirls and the sides and the curls at the back upturned russet face.

Couple of inches taller. Pink-rimmed glasses. New, heaped-up hairdo. She was frankly and hugely pregnant. Her head looked smaller and her pale-freckled cheeks were hollowed…with round pommettes…And softly, confidentially, arching her thin eyebrows…This Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond.

Purchase at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

The Return of The Composites

It’s been a few months but with the bulk of a writing project out of the way I’ll be reviving The Composites. Please note that it won’t be on the same weekly schedule as last year but expect new work at least once a month starting soon.  

For now, I posted a short documentary on what went into the two Dorian Gray composites. Created for The Composites exhibition at the Illuminations Gallery in Dublin, the video reveals what happens when I have no idea how to start and why I’ve done so many Flannery O’Connor characters. 

Thanks for continuing to share and repost from the site. Suggestions are open. 

The Composites and my year in reading for The Millions

I went through a lot of books in the last year doing this project and The Millions asked me to write about what it was like to give my choices over to Tumblr users.

Reading The Hunger Games the same month as William Gaddis? Yes, it was that kind of year for me and I talk a little bit about the tension between popular and unpopular fiction. Read the full article here as well as others in The Millions always-excellent Year in Reading series.

I’ve also reposted several of the referenced composites above.

For followers in the Dublin area, The Composites exhibition will be opening at the Illuminations Gallery at the National University of Ireland-Maynooth, January 28th through February 21st. You can find more information here

This weekend a few of my favorite New Yorkers are taking part in a marathon reading of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. You can find more on times, venues and readers here. For inspiration here is a repost of the Ahab composite. 
Captain Ahab, Moby Dick, Herman Melville
He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them…His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini’s cast Perseus…Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark… branded… What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapors among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I’ll smoke no more…His eyes like powder-pans… It almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead…His firm lips met like the lips of a vice; the delta of his forehead’s veins swelled like overladen brooks…Supper he never touched; nor reaped his beard; which darkly grew all gnarled, as unearthed roots of trees blown over, which still grow idly on at naked base. (Suggested by Jennifer Mills at The L Magazine)

This weekend a few of my favorite New Yorkers are taking part in a marathon reading of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. You can find more on times, venues and readers here. For inspiration here is a repost of the Ahab composite. 

Captain Ahab, Moby Dick, Herman Melville

He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them…His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini’s cast Perseus…Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark… branded… What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapors among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I’ll smoke no more…His eyes like powder-pans… It almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead…His firm lips met like the lips of a vice; the delta of his forehead’s veins swelled like overladen brooks…Supper he never touched; nor reaped his beard; which darkly grew all gnarled, as unearthed roots of trees blown over, which still grow idly on at naked base. (Suggested by Jennifer Mills at The L Magazine)