ﬁgure set apart from the dark world he inhabits, in a way that makes him the diametrical opposite of last year’s Batman-as-Dark-Knight. the shadow-dweller at one with Gotham City. In 1990, the role of prosthetics has changed. It‘s acceptable, it’s not necessarily horrific (a far cry from the days of Boris Karloff‘s forehead. when the veryfact of a plastic outcrop was nightmarish) In fact. it’s an essential part of a recurrent fetish of post-modernism. Images ofthe body invaded or supplanted by prosthetic ‘foreign bodies‘ appear in the writing of Angela Carter. Thomas Pynchon. Juan Goytisolo, or the photography ofJoel Peter Witkin.
So Dick Tracy isn't particularly new, but it is very representative — it‘s a kind ofculminating. triumphant moment. a festival ofprosthesis. For one thing, as a blockbuster (a film for which massive commercial success if a foregone. pre-sold conclusion) it has one thing in common with other prosthetic spectacles like Batman and Star Wars. Ifthe film is a body. then the sales pitch that surrounds it — the logos, posters, videos, spin-off dolls/Batmasks/two-way wrist radios— is itself a prosthetic addition to it. Ifan incapacitated body needs a spare limb or two to help it work, then the film supplemented by a few thousand extra mercantile tentacles — to help it reach out to the heart and pockets of the punters— is by nature admitting its own inadequacy as a functioning body. You can never quite escape the feeling when you go and see a blockbuster that there’s nothing really there — partly because before you even buy your popcorn, you‘ve ‘really’ seen the film already. And by a perverse knock-on effect, no matter how good the film is. you‘re already preconvinced it’s hollow — simply a support mechanism for it‘s own external limbs, which do the real business (just as the actors are support mechanisms for their own make-up).
But in Dick Tracy. though. we‘re not dealing with a few thousand latex ghoulies liberally squandered a la Star Wars. What makes Beatty‘s film interesting is that it has a carefully graduated prosthetic system. It uses bodies on an ascending scale from grotesque to normal.
On the first rung are the truly impossible uglies— significantly. not saved for last. many ofthem appearing in the first five minutes. Characters like The Brow. Little Face. The Rodent. Flat Top ' are monsters out of Bosch. more latex than flesh. and played by largely unknown actors or by the sort of dependable character players you can put a name but rarely a face to (William Forsythe. R.G. Armstrong. Henry Silva). On the next rung and in a category of their own. are two highly stylised. but slightly more human gargoyles— Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman, warped and gnarled as mobster Big Boy Caprice and his henchman Mumbles. The fact that they‘re still recognisable beneath the make-up is crucial because they’re effectively playing themselves — this category refers to the two actors‘ reputation for being infinitely transformable. the Lon Chaneys of Method Acting.
Next up are the part-grotesques, whose human form remains intact. but with a single denormalisation tweak — a false nose for hood Itchy. a beefsteak-kisser for Paul Sorvino‘s lips, an extra length of chin for the odd nameless thug. One step closer to the norm are minor parts. whose semi-famous cameo status demands they should be recognisable, but who don’t quite reach gargoyle status — Dick Van Dyke with a little padding on his chin. Michael]. Pollard with outsize ears. Then come the mass of bit players, discreetly stylised through clothes or make-up,
'I‘heijstis 26 July 199011