New York Times Review (1980): John Hurt stars as John Merrick, the hideously deformed 19th century Londoner known as "The Elephant Man". Treated as a sideshow freak, Merrick is assumed to be retarded as well as misshapen because of his inability to speak coherently. In fact, he is highly intelligent and sensitive, a fact made public when one Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) rescues Merrick from a carnival and brings him to a hospital for analysis. Alas, even after being recognized as a man of advanced intellect, Merrick is still treated like a freak; no matter his station in life, he will forever be a prisoner of his own malformed body. Unable to secure rights for the famous stage play The Elephant Man, producer Mel Brooks based his film on the memoirs of Frederick Treves and a much later account of Merrick's life by Ashley Montagu. The film is lensed in black and white by British master cinematographer Freddie Francis. Though nominated for eight Academy Awards, the film was ultimately shut out in every category. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide 1980, 124 minutes
The story of Joseph Merrick (erroneously called "John") in the movie and elsewhere is poignant and fascinating. One can start with Wikipedia which has a good bibliography. It may not be important whether Merrick had neurofibromatosis or Proteus syndrome (except to physicians) because the story has so many important issues about disability and deformity which supersede the diagnosis.
Milne Library (VHS)
Sawyer (? Format)
Mel Krant's teaching points: