A few explanatory words at the beginning: I have no experience with community re-watches, but nevertheless, welcome to my little impromptu and short-notice re-watch of the Red Dragon story arc in Hannibal season 3. I didn’t research whether such re-watch projects work according to a particular formula, or whether I should’ve posted a set questions/criteria according to which the participants watch the show. To be honest, I’d rather keep this regulation-free. Let’s just have a bit of fun by delving into the back catalogue of our favourite actor! For me, the point of this whole re-watch is: I would like to re-ignite the currently rather feeble flame formerly burning brightly for Richard. And thus I deliberately chose this role and show for my re-watch – because I consider Francis Dolarhyde one of Richard’s best performances. Ideal for impressing me once again.
So how is this re-watch going to work as a community project? Having watched the first couple of episodes yesterday, I am going to note down my impressions here in this blog post. I invite you to watch Hannibal and to share your impressions, opinion, ideas, criticisms – anything that stood out to you – too. You can either do so by commenting on this post; or, if you have your own blog/tumblr/Twitter/Facebook, you can theoretically also write a post of your own. However, I’d love to get discussion going, too, so comments are invited and encouraged! As for my own re-watch post: I am going to simply write down what occurred to me and what I find note-worthy. That is going to be entirely subjective – and mostly focussed on the performance of Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde. For reasons. There won’t be a particular order to the things I write about; they’ll be mentioned in the order they pop up in my mind. And you are welcome to address things that stood out to *you* in the comments, too.
If you are interested in more conventional reviews – I reviewed the individual episodes as they were broadcast in 2015. You can find the reviews for episode 3×08 under the link. It goes without saying that these re-watch posts will contain SPOILERS. So if you haven’t seen the show yet but are planning to, please be aware. From now on I am not going to post individual warnings anymore, so enter at your own risk 😉.
1. Let’s talk about Francis Dolarhyde’s introduction
I noticed it the first time around, but in the re-watch it was even funnier: When we meet Francis Dolarhyde the first time, he is in a company canteen, sitting alone at a table. He’s dressed in a grey/green button down shirt, intensely staring at his hands. There are some co-workers present, and in the background is a row of stained-glass windows that inadvertently spell the word A W E (because they are seen from the reverse, actually spelling the name of the company, GatEWAy!) It’s that kind of attention to detail that I loved about the whole show – and in this introduction of Francis it already refers ahead to the Red Dragon demanding awe..
But back to the introduction of Francis as a new character. Scriptwise, the show is really clever. It introduces Francis almost like a show in the show. It starts off with present-day Francis in his workplace, then we see Francis as a young man (no tattoos yet) working out. The story arc cuts to Francis in an Asian shop, picking up a set of dentures he commissioned. Then we see the extraordinary macro footage of the tattooing process – incredible and mesmerising really – which leads finally to present-day Francis baring himself (and his tattoo) to the Great Dragon. Having read the book by Thomas Harris before I saw the show, I would’ve preferred to see Francis’ back story fully developed – the events of his childhood are actually essential to understanding (and empathising with) him as a human being. But I do understand that proper exploration of his back story would’ve easily taken up a couple of episodes of the show. The condensed back story is not ideal – but it certainly is done well and a self-contained story like a short-short film.
2. Talking of short shorts…
I still can’t get over those extra tight pants that Francis is wearing as he is working out – or whenever he is experiencing some sort of sexual episode. I mean apart from my warmest thanks to the Hannibal⁄ costume department – there is just something endearing about these pants. I am trying to figure out whether they are comfortable in their snugness? Yet they look as if they cut into RA’s flesh?
They certainly display RA’s ass
ets perfectly, especially in the exercise scenes. Those scenes are a thing of beauty. Titillation or not but the play of muscles under his skin is very effectively displayed by Armitage in this scene. His physical fitness is impressive – as we have been told that there was no cheating involved and he actually *does* all those exercises as we see in the film: the slow press-ups, even with one arm on his back; the pull-ups on those flying rings; the muscles stretching and flexing; the handstand press-ups. And the cinematography is just amazing. They are really playing with us here, making us drool over the physicality of the man, while fully aware that he is going to be revealed as a monster later on…
While we are talking cinematography – something that also really stood out to me, is the colour coding of the show. While everything in Hannibal is actually really dark (much to my chagrin – while darkness is atmospheric, it actually means that a lot of things are lost in dusky vagueness. With an actor who excels in subtlety, that is a huge pity… who knows which little twitch and wink we may have missed while have of Francis’ face remains in darkness?); so while the lighting is general very dark, it looks to me as if there is a distinct colour language in this episode. Or is this coincidence?
Not sure what the colours exactly may symbolise but there is a green hue when he is at work, red in China, black in his work-out, and a golden hue when venerating the Red Dragon.
4. Silent movie
Did you notice how Francis basically does not talk in this episode? Well, that is not entirely true. He does attempt to speak, practicing the difficult S sounds in front of the mirror in his attic. I particularly like this scene because here we have the first indication that Francis is a tortured, pitiable soul. And also because dramatically it is just so well shot through the broken mirror: metaphorically and photographically accentuates Francis’ schizophrenia perfectly, with every broken shard giving us a different facet of the man. It also draws the viewers’ eyes separately to the important bits: Francis’ eyes, and his mouth (with his cleft scar).
The most heart-breaking thing occurs in this scene, too: Frustrated with his inability to enunciate properly, Francis emits an eerie, shapeless, high-pitched cry. You can hear the helplessness, frustration and child-like despair in this sound, and I think it is quite remarkable what sound Armitage came up with for this purpose. “HE IS SO GOOD AT THE LITTLE SOUNDS AND GESTURES” is what I wrote in capital letters in my notebook. It’s these details that make the performance outstanding. Despite no talking (at least in the sense of talking as a way of conveying information and meaning to someone else, a tool for communicating) at all in this introduction, Armitage succeeds in telling us a lot about Dolarhyde. He may not have a voice, but there is a characterisation with looks, movements, sounds, alone: Dolarhyde is a man who is kept prisoner by his hallucinations. He is under constant pressure, hyper tense, with either reduced movement or overemphasised movement – staring eyes, spread hands, flexed muscles, slow, deliberate movements… It’s a careful, masterful portrayal imo, and it very much supports my opinion/theory that Armitage acts best when he doesn’t have to speak. (Something I also thought when seeing him live on stage.) And yes, after the first episode of the Red Dragon story arc, I can so feel my admiration for RA return. He is literally a pleasure to watch. No, not just because of an attractive body, but because he acts this difficult character so subtly, so detailed, so quietly and yet so convincingly and so well.
Give the man more roles like this, Hollywood!
Right, I had a couple more things written down, but this post is long enough. I’ll continue with episode 2 etc. another day. But please let me know in the comment what you think, or leave a link if you have written a blog post or any other publicly accessible contribution as part of the re-watch.