Sunday, October 29, 2017

Don't Make a Scene: The Silence of the Lambs

The Story: It's the first of four encounters between them, the encounters that make the tent-poles of The Silence of the Lambs.  Stages that separate the investigation of "Buffalo Bill" as it progresses from wholly unknowable to the linking of clues and attributes that will lead the FBI right to his door-step. This is the first one, where the young trainee meets the monster she has been sent to interview for any insight.  It's the beginning of just another mentorship in Clarice Starling's navigation in the world of men she has made a career of.

And her first stop in her investigation is the plexi-glass cage of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, doctor of psychology, connoisseur of just about everything, including the flesh. But he's no ordinary boogey-man; in a line of the spastically criminally insane, he is set apart.  And as played by Anthony Hopkins, he is completely different: where the rest of the inmates are monkeys flinging themselves at their barriers, his Lecter is a creature of stillness, economy, and guile. Oh, he's evil, alright, and a megalomaniac, as well, but despite having peculiar tastes, he's quite well-mannered.

For a cannibalizing serial killer, that is.  

Ted Tally's screenplay is intact here, the parts not used crossed out, and one telling detail changed on Hopkins' insistence—rather than our first glimpse of the bad doctor being of him lying down (reading Italian Vogue), the actor chooses to have his character stand in the middle of the room, waiting, politely, cunningly, expectantly and unexpectedly. 

It's a great performance, all deliberate theatricality (matched by Foster's to-the-bone naturalism) and manipulation, the laser stares, the slow movements, the jokey (and slightly dismissive) winks, the measured reedy voice that turns to sneers when vexed. It's a performance of great intensity, broken only twice when Starling's own directness causes Lecter's to falter.

There is the backlash. There is always a backlash, especially with Best Picture Oscar winners. The Silence of the Lambs is the only horror film to ever win that particular Oscar category—although it won all the "Big" ones like Actress, Actor, Director, Screenplay (the only films to have done that before being It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). It was also designed—very consciously by the makers—to overturn a trope of horror films; the "damsel in distress" in this case is another woman. Tables began to turn, and nobody said "Boo."

Hallowe'en is coming up.  Soon the concentration on morbid concerns will be over. One can only hope.

The Set-Up: FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is tasked by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) with a trial by fire—tracking down the daughter (Brooke Smith) of a U.S. Senator (Diane Baker) who may have fallen victim to a serial killer named "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine). For starters, and with few leads save conjecture, Crawford sends Starling to interview the man Crawford is most well-known for capturing—Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).


DR. LECTER'S CELL is coming slowly INTO VIEW... Behind its barred front wall is a second barrier of stout nylon net...
Sparse, bolted-down furniture, many softcover books and papers. On the walls, extraordinarily detailed, skillful drawings, mostly European cityscapes, in charcoal or crayon. Clarice stops, at a polite distance from his bars, clears her throat.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter is lounging on his bunk, in white pajamas, reading an Italian Vogue. He turns, considers her... A face so long out of the sun, it seems almost leached - except for the glittering eyes, and the wet red mouth. He rises smoothly, crossing to stand before her; the gracious host. His voice is cultured, soft.
DR. LECTER Good morning.
CLARICE Dr. Lecter... My name is Clarice Starling. May I talk with you?  
CUTTING BETWEEN THEM as Clarice comes a measured distance closer.
CLARICE Doctor, we have a hard problem in psychological profiling. I want to ask for your help with a questionnaire.
DR. LECTER "We" being the Behavioral Science Unit, at Quantico. You're one of Jack Crawford's, I expect.
CLARICE I am, yes.
DR. LECTER May I see your credentials? 
CLARICE Certainly...
Clarice is surprised, but fishes her ID card from her bag,
holds it up for his inspection. He smiles, soothingly.
DR. LECTER Closer, please...
DR. LECTER Clo-ser...
She complies each time, trying to hide her fear.
Dr. Lecter's nostrils lift, as he gently, like an animal, tests the air. Then he smiles, glancing at her card.
DR. LECTER (continuing) That expires in one week.
DR. LECTER You're not real FBI, are you?
CLARICE I'm - still in training at the Academy.
DR. LECTER Jack Crawford sent a trainee to me?
CLARICE We're talking about psychology, Doctor, not the Bureau. Yes. I'm a student. I'm here to learn from you. Maybe you can you decide for yourself whether or not I'm qualified to do that.
DR. LECTER Mmmmm...
DR. LECTER That's rather slippery of you, Agent Starling.
DR. LECTER Sit. Please.
She sits in the folding metal desk-chair.
He waits politely till she's settled, then sits down himself, faces her happily.
DR. LECTER Now then. What did Miggs say to you? (she is puzzled) "Multiple Miggs," in the next cell. He hissed at you. What did he say?
CLARICE He said - "I can smell your cunt."
DR. LECTER I myself cannot.
DR. LECTER You use Evyan skin cream...
DR. LECTER ...and sometimes...
DR. LECTER wear L'Air du Temps...
 DR. LECTER ...but not today.
DR. LECTER You brought your best bag, though, didn't you? 
CLARICE (beat) Yes. 
DR. LECTER It's much better than your shoes. 
CLARICE Maybe they'll catch up. 
DR. LECTER I have no doubt of it.
CLARICE (shifting uncomfortably) Did you do those drawings, Doctor?
DR. LECTER Yes. That's the Duomo, seen from the Belvedere.
DR. LECTER Yes. Do you know Florence?
CLARICE All that detail, just from memory...?
DR. LECTER Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of view.
A pause, then Clarice takes the questionnaire from her case.
CLARICE  Dr. Lecter, if you'd please consider -
DR. LECTER No, no, no.
DR. LECTER You were doing fine, you'd been courteous and receptive to courtesy...
DR. LECTER You'd established trust with the embarrassing truth about Miggs...
DR. LECTER ...and now this ham-handed segue into your questionnaire. (Tsk-tsk-tsk).
DR. LECTER It won't do. It's stupid and boring.
CLARICE I'm only asking you to look at this, Doctor. Either you will or you won't.
DR. LECTER  (Yeah.) Jack Crawford must be very busy indeed if he's recruiting help from the student body.
DR. LECTER  Busy hunting that new one, Buffalo Bill... Such a naughty boy! Did Crawford send you to ask for my advice on him? 
CLARICE No, I came because we need - 
DR. LECTER How many women has he used, our Bill? 
CLARICE Five... so far. 
DR. LECTER All flayed...? 
CLARICE Partially, yes. But Doctor, that's an active case, I'm not involved. If -
DR. LECTER Do you know why he's called Buffalo Bill? Tell Please, enlighten me. The newspapers won't say.
CLARICE I'll tell you if you'll look at this form. (he considers, then nods) It started as a bad joke in Kansas City Homicide. They said... this one likes to skin his humps.
DR. LECTER Witless and misleading. Why do you think he takes their skins, Agent Starling? Thrill me with your wisdom acumen.
CLARICE It excites him. Most serial killers keep some sort of trophies.
DR. LECTER I didn't. 
CLARICE No. You ate yours.
A tense beat, then a smile from him, at this small boldness.
DR. LECTER (You) Send that through (now).
She rolls him the questionnaire, in his sliding food tray.
He rises, glances at it, turning a page or two disdainfully.
DR. LECTER Oh, Officer Starling...
DR. LECTER you think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?
CLARICE No. I only hoped that your knowledge -
Suddenly he whips the tray back at her, with a metallic CLANG that makes her start. His voice remains a pleasant purr.
DR. LECTER You're sooo ambitious, aren't you...?
DR. LECTER You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes?
DR. LECTER You look like a rube.
DR. LECTER A well-scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste.
DR. LECTER Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Officer Starling...?
DR. LECTER That accent you're trying so desperately to shed - pure West Virginia. What was your father, dear? Was he a coal miner? Did he stink of the lamp...?
DR. LECTER And oh, how quickly the boys found you! All those tedious, sticky fumblings, in the back seats of cars,
DR. LECTER ...while you could only dream of getting out. Getting anywhere - yes?
DR. LECTER Getting all the way - to the F...B...I.
His every word has struck her like a tiny, precise dart.
But she squares her jaw and won't give ground.
CLARICE You see a lot, Dr. Lecter. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? How about it...?
CLARICE Look at yourself and write down the truth. (she slams the tray back at him)
CLARICE Or maybe you're afraid to.
DR. LECTER You're a tough one, aren't you?
CLARICE Reasonably so. Yes.
DR. LECTER And you'd hate to think you were common. My, wouldn't that sting! Well you're far from common, Officer Starling. All you have is the fear of it. (beat) Now please excuse me. Good day.
CLARICE And the questionnaire...?
Suddenly he whips the tray back at her, with a metallic CLANG that makes her start.
DR. LECTER A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti...
Lecter hisses and sucks through his teeth, startling Starling.
DR. LECTER Fly back to school, little Starling.
DR. LECTER Fly, fly, fly...
DR. LECTER Fly, fly, fly...
He steps backwards, then returns to his cot, becoming as still and remote as a statue.
Frustrated, Clarice hesitates, then finally shoulders her bag and goes, leaving the questionnaire in his tray. 

The Silence of the Lambs

Words by Ted Tally (after Thomas Harris)

Pictures by Tak Fujimoto and Jonathan Demme

The Silence of the Lambs is available on DVD from M-G-M Home Entertainment.