||Alan Rickman, Amanda Ooms,
||Susan Cavan, Andras Hamori, David
E. Jones, Alexander von Eschwege
|Approximate Running Time:
may improve with a DVD...)
The Plot: Franz Anton Mesmer is an Austrian doctor credited
with the first person to possibly use hypnotism.
Comment: To read the synopsis of this film is to get a
tingle down up and down your spine... Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th
century German physician, ranks with the great pioneers of modern
history but remained a man ahead of his time. As such, he is intriguing,
eccentric and brilliant. And few believe him. Mesmer believed
that the body contained a mysterious magnetic force which could
could be rebalanced to return the body to health, something which
has only recent started to be proven in modern history. While
his contemporaries conducted 'blood-letting' by purging or leaching
to rid people of any mysterious illnesses, Mesmer combined playing
a glass harmonica with murmuring suggestions as they were lulled.
He effectively, hypnotized them and is attributed to be the first
person to use hypnosis as a form of therapy. Yet, he was ridiculed
by his contemporaries and persecuted out of the aristocratic society
he had married into.
Sounds absolutely fascinating... and it absolutely failed to
deliver. Literally - until the Internet boomed and online video
stores started selling the video, the world had largely not seen
this movie owing to a dispute with the financial backers. They
felt the script had greatly changed from the movie they had backed,
and also felt that Rickman had failed to deliver a charismatic
Mesmer as they would have liked. So the movie was never released
except in Canada where Rickman went onto win an award for Best
Actor at the Montreal World Film Festival.
The maudlin screenplay, the last by the dyeing Dennis Potter
(he died of cancer shortly afterwards), is very badly backed up
by an extremely poor soundtrack. Whoever edited this film and
felt that authenticity would be assisted by making sure we knew
everyone was talking in large chamber prone to echoing was not
giving the script any assistance at all. If anyone is projecting
their voice to convey a point, it is lost in the echoes, if someone
is whispering or murmuring, it is lost in the background hiss
of the chamber or birds in the trees... And if we should by chance
be in a room with minimal echoes, a sound track usually blares
in, obliterating the voices. I haven't seen the DVD version of
this, but if it has cleaned up the sound, no doubt my appreciation
of this movie will rise somewhat, if nothing else because I can
hear what the plot is..!
With a maudlin script and bad sound, you may wonder if it is
worth tracking down this film. If you find the DVD version - probably!
Roger Spottiswoode has gone for the austere approach to the 18th
century, with bright colors but sparse decoration and little embellishment.
Thus the flowers in the sunny garden and extravagant clothes of
high society contrast colorfully and warmly with the spartan greyish-white
buildings. With an ailing script, he has focused on drawing out
the best from the performers (albeit, he dwelled too much on women
moaning - whether in pain, insanity or pleasure).
It would be easy to cast Amanda Ooms as just another pretty face
in the movie, but when she regains her vision and faces her father
for the first time, she metamorphoses into a hard women with such
surprising ease that one wants to applaud her.
As for Alan Rickman, this was to be his first film where instead
of playing an overtalented supported role to some average American
actor, he was to come into his own with the daring lead role of
Franz Anton Mesmer. In defiance of the pouncy white wigs of this
time, Rickman's Mesmer flaunts his longish blonde hair and wears
his clothes with a sense of flourish and extravagance as he strides
about confidently curing the insane in one scene, deflating like
a balloon in the next as his confidence is challenged. Shades
of Rickman's Emmy Award Winning performance from Rasputin
are very evident in this film, and he truly shows how magnificent
an actor he is. Whereas most actors can be pigeonholed as being
better in some parts than others, Rickman shows true versatility
as he sucks you into the mad and eccentric world of a genius ahead
of his time, a complete contrast to his early career-defining
roles as a villain in Die Hard and
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Then
Mesmer is practicing his medical cures, Rickman is bold an confident.
When Mesmer is suddenly faced with the Baron who has a voice fed
on helium, he wilts in the face of the enormity of what he has
to cure. And always, Rickman refrains from delivering any cliched
Hollywood scenes which involve bodice ripping and other sexual
innuendo's, thus strengthening the integrity of the character.
Now, if only one could have actually heard his magnificent voice
instead of it being lost in the surrounding echoes of the set...
To see Rickman in his first lead role and to learn a little bit
more about the fascinating historic figure, Mesmer makes for interesting
viewing. My only advice is to try and seek a copy with 'clean'
sound so that the bulk of the film isn't lost in the experience
of you simulating someone going deaf...