Saturday, 19 June 2010

Has CGI Killed The Movie Midget?

The funniest moment in Tom DiCillo’s film industry satire Living In Oblivion comes when the bitter diminutive actor Tito (the excellent Peter Dinklage), playing a dwarf in a David Lynch-style dream sequence, loses it. “Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it?” he asks director Steve Buscemi “Do you know anyone who's had a dream with a dwarf in it? No! I don't even have dreams with dwarves in them. The only place I see dwarves in dreams is in stupid movies like this! You can take this dream sequence and stick it up your ass! Tito may have had a point, but at least he had the job. Today he’d be counting the days to panto season.

When I was a kid our movie screens were full of midgets. There were scary midgets (Don’t Look Now), evil midgets (The Man With The Golden Gun), heroic midgets (Willow), German midgets (Even Dwarfs Started Small), orange midgets (Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory), even Kung Fu midgets (For Your Height Only. Seriously, this film exists. If you don’t believe me, look it up. You can watch the trailer on For an actor of restricted growth, the seventies and eighties were a pretty sweet time. Sci-fi/fantasy films were packing them in down the Odeon, armies of rampaging teddy bears were toppling galactic empires (Return Of The Jedi) and E.T. was phoning home. Nobody was playing Hamlet and Hollywood was still years from producing films like The Station Agent (or even Bad Santa) where little people would get to play fully-rounded, believable characters, you know, like other actors do. But if you had to play a stereotype, who wouldn’t want to play a thieving time-travelling dwarf (Time Bandits)? Or a machine gun-toting pint-sized Martian prostitute (Total Recall)? Okay, maybe not that last one, but be honest has there been a decent Bond baddie since Hervé Villechaize stabbed Roger Moore in the arse with a pitchfork in The Man With The Golden Gun?

But things have changed in Hollyweird. Suddenly little people aren’t being played by little people. Something dark, something sinister has crept out of Mordor and changed the way movies are made. CGI used to simply be a tool, a trick the director kept up his sleeve for those astonishing, open-mouth moments where the killer robot from the future would reform from a puddle or those creepy adverts where a dead actor shills for a car company. Then along came Peter Jackson and his buttock-numbing vision of Tolkien (682 minutes and rising with every new special edition). Instead of employing Hobbit-sized actors he took ordinary actors and shrank them down to Hobbit-size. And its not like we’re talking about great actors here. One of them was in The Goonies for God’s sake. You can’t tell me Warwick Davis isn’t a better actor than some of those bozos. Warwick Castle is a better actor than some of them. Since then CGI has also been used to shrink down one of the moronic Wayans brothers for Little Man, a ‘hilarious’ comedy (complete with breast-feeding jokes) about a midget burglar masquerading as a baby. And as for Tim Burton’s take on Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, one man played all 165 Oompa-Loompas. And he was 4’4”, hardly Oompa-Loompa-sized.

Strangely this CGI trickery only seems to work the one way. No-one is stretching Kenny Baker to Gandalfian proportions and despite sterling work in a monkey suit in Mighty Joe Young and Instinct ‘Mini-Me’ Verne Troyer’s phone remained strangely silent during the casting of King Kong, the part eventually going to Andy Serkis who at 5’8” (admittedly no Andre the Giant) was still about 30 feet shy of the Big Apple-wrecking ape. Maybe Peter Jackson’s just scared of midgets? These days the only place you’ll see an actor of restricted growth is in cheap horror movies (most of which seem to star Warwick Davis as a sociopathic leprechaun/goblin/plate-throwing inbred mutant) but sooner or later the computer geeks are going to infiltrate even this area of cinema. L.A. is going to be awash with really short waiters.

Still, at least there’s always porn or panto….

Published in art disability culture

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