Starring… Rasputin!

Doug and I went to see the movie Free Guy, starring the ever-hilarious Ryan Reynolds, a thoroughly delightful movie that seems like a cross between The Truman Show, Inception and Tron. We loved it. But it was the previews that caught my attention. The King’s Man is the upcoming prequel to the Kingsmen series. It’s set during World War I, and Rasputin will make an appearance, doing flying sidekicks and all sorts of things you don’t find in history books. As this week is the anniversary of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family in a basement Siberia, it got me thinking about Rasputin portrayed in film. He’s such a character, you almost could not make him up. But he was real and he had a huge role to play in the life of Alexei, the prince who had hemophilia, and the overthrow of the monarchy. Pretty sure he had nothing to do with the King’s Man.

Where else has Rasputin appeared? I found the following on the internet. Within nine months of Rasputin’s murder in 1917, there were two low budget silent films about Rasputin. Producer-director Herbert Brenon released The Fall of the Romanoffs, and producer William A. Brady released Rasputin, the Black Monk.

There was Rasputin, a 1929 silent film, produced by Momento Film Company and directed by Nikolai Larin. Rasputin, The Holy Devil is a 1930 German film produced and directed by Martin Berger. Rasputin, Dämon der Frauen was a 1932 German film;  and Rasputin and the Empress, was a 1932 MGM production, with Lionel Barrymore playing Rasputin!

There was La Tragédie impériale, a 1939 film based on the book by Alfred Neumann; Raspoutine, a 1953 French film directed by Georges Combret; never released in the United States or England. The Night They Killed Rasputin, a 1960 film;  Rasputin the Mad Monk, a 1966 Hammer film. Hammer was known for the horror genre so it seems right that Rasputin was played by Christopher Lee!

J’ai tué Raspoutine (I Killed Rasputin) is a 1967 film featuring an interview with the real Prince Felix Yussupov, who participated in his murder.

My favorite is the spectacular Nicholas and Alexandra, a 1971 epic British film based on the book by Robert and Suzanne Massie, who have a son with hemophilia. Rasputin was expertly played by Tom Baker.

Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny is a 1996 HBO TV film, in which Rasputin was played by one of my favorite actors Alan Rickman, who won a Golden Globe for his portrayal.

And finally the upcoming The King’s Man, a 2021 Matthew Vaughn film.  Welsh actor Rhys Ifans will play Rasputin, who will pull a lot of martial art moves apparently!

And surprise! Rasputin, an upcoming film to star Leonardo DiCaprio as Rasputin! Maybe this will be his second Oscar?

The Bloody Movies

It’s Oscar time! Tonight, Hollywood celebrates top movies and actors of the year (oh yeah, The King’s Speech; who can resist any movie with Geoffrey Rush?). I decided to see how many movies had “blood” or “bleed” in the title, with a reference somewhat to hemophilia. There are movies about hemophilia—which we have written up in PEN—but there are no commercial movies named for hemophilia.

Of course, if you have teenagers in the house, you’ll know that most movies with blood (937!) or bleed (20) in the title are of the Horror genre. Like Blood-Sucking Freaks or the Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh or Bloodsuckers From Outer Space; I kid you not. It’s best to avoid any movie with “bloodsucker” in the title. We’ll try to avoid those. In fact, let’s give these our own genres and synopsis:

Bleed (2002), starring Debbie Rochan. Thriller.
A single mother takes her child to her HTC to treat his bleed, when she meets a stranger who offers her a job—to deliver a briefcase to Mexico City, no questions asked.

The Bleeding (2011) starring Vinnie Jones, Sci-Fi.
A child with a mysterious blood disorder stumps a colony on Mars in the year 2099, as hemophilia had been wiped out for fifty years. Is he a mutant, or some secret experiment?

Bleeder (1999) starring Mads Mikkelsen. Thriller.
A spy with a bleeding disorder finds it tough to complete a mission to assassinate a rogue dictator in the Middle East when he runs out of factor in Oman.

Bleeding Through (2004) no actors named (never a good sign). Comedy.
Hemophilia buddies on a motorcycle trip from Boston to Denver realize one is not adapting to his prophylaxis regimen and has break through bleeds. With each stop to get treatment, they pick up more cyclists to join their trip, and create a convoy, unaware that one of their new friends in on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

Bleed With Me (2009) ditto
Sequel to Bleeding Through. Hemophilia buddies on a road trip from Boston to Miami decide to skip the HTC again and just bleed it out together. They don’t get far.

There Will Be Blood (2007) Daniel Day-Lewis. Drama.
A rebellious teen with hemophilia decides to run away from home and refuses medical treatment, when the girl he loves rejects him.

Book of Blood (2008) Sophie Ward. Drama.
A mother of a child with hemophilia decides to write a book about hemophilia, which changes her life. Hmmm.

Captain Blood (1935) Errol Flynn. Comedy.
A man unlucky in love and work tries out to become the superhero icon for a new factor product, becomes a national figure, and finds that wealth, fame and attracting the daughter of the president of the United States brings on situations beyond his wildest dreams.

Camp Blood (1999) Vincent Bilanco. Family.
A camp counselor with hemophilia falls in love with a girl with von Willebrand disease at a family camp, a love which is forbidden.

Blood in, Blood Out (1993) Benjamin Bratt. Sci-Fi.
A vampire with hemophilia needs human victims to keep his hunger—and bleeds—at bay.

Blood for Blood (1995) Lorenzo Lamas. Sci-Fi.
An experiment goes terribly wrong when a scientist with hemophilia who pioneered a permanent cure for hemophilia transfers blood—and something else—from a mutant to himself.

The Bloody Brood (1959) Peter Falk. Family.
A religious family decides not to let hemophilia stop them from having the big family they always dreamed of. They get more than they bargained for!

Bloody Movie (1987) Alan Hale Jr. Comedy.
Alan Hale Jr. returns as Skipper and this time is stranded on a deserted island with 25 members of a hemophilia nonprofit after their fundraiser at sea hits stormy weather. Hey, it could happen!

Share your own movie titles and captions, and enjoy the Oscars!

Great Book I Just Read
Race to the Pole by Ranulph Fiennes

A magnificent book about a magnificent man. Ranulph Fiennes is a living polar explorer and adventurer, and knows his topic well, having suffered through some of the worst situations ever. Here, he tells the fascinating tale of Robert Falcon Scott, famed British explorer, who reached the South Pole in 1914 under brutal conditions… only to discover Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beat him by just days. Fiennes does his homework flawlessly, citing excellent references, and is a superb writer. He challenges the legacy that Scott was “old school British,” and his inflexibility at doing things the military way led to his demise on the return home. His body lies there to this day. He delves deeply into Scott’s personality, ambitions and motivation, revealing a complex and disciplined man who learned to be an exemplary leader. You will writhe when reading the passages of how these explorers suffered, and yet how eloquently they wrote, even as they lay dying. Most valuable and clever is how Fiennes tears apart, through careful analysis of the literary world and British culture, the “myth” that developed which left Scott unfairly with a poor legacy. Excellent book and highly recommended. Four stars.

Sunday Night at the Movies

Movies are on my mind for two reasons: 1) we finally broke down and bought a real TV (no one in our house has watched TV or movies in months, possibly years, since we cancelled cable and then our TV died, and 2) I was privileged to watch the new documentary “Bad Blood,” by director Marilyn Ness. This movie debuted July 28 in New York City, and I was invited and couldn’t attend due to travel. You can watch the trailer on YouTube. It’s about history, our history, the history of hemophilia, AIDS and hepatitis C. I want to blog about what I saw, but…. you’ll just have to wait for the review to come out in PEN in November!

Instead, let me offer you another movie about hemophilia history: “Nicholas and Alexandra.” Made in 1971, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Robert K. Massie, who is the father of Bob Massie, who was in the film “Bad Blood,” it’s the story of the most famous historical figure with hemophilia: Prince Alexis, heir to the Russian throne.

Massie boldly hypothesized that hemophilia was influential is causing the Russian Revolution of 1917, in which the Communist came to power, as the royal family was preoccupied with their only son’s suffering from untreated bleeds. Enter the evil, mad monk Rasputin, one of history’s most easily recognized figures, who was able to hypnotize the boy and calm him, and gain control over the affairs of state, and you have a true story that is almost too unbelievable to be true. And it starts as a beautiful love story between the royals. I loved the book, but the movie deserves praise too.

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (known for “Planet of the Apes” and “Papillon”), it was nominated for Best Picture, and is sumptuous in its costumes, settings and scenes. The acting is superb. There are heart-wrenching moments watching the parents agonize over the pain their son suffers. You’ll learn about Russia, history, hemophilia and human nature. The film ends abruptly and brutally in August 1917, as the story of the Romanovs did, in real life.

Rent it on Netflix this week, or buy it on eBay. It’s worth having; if your child has hemophilia, be sure they watch this to know the importance their disorder made to the world. World War I changed the entire world forever, and so perhaps, did hemophilia.

Great Book I Just Read

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
And speaking of classics, I read Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw in one night. A psychological thriller, beautifully written, and it always keeps you guessing. This is one book meant for a book club. In the nineteenth century England, a governess is sent to live in a huge, remote mansion, to tend to a young brother and sister who have no mother. She soon believes that the former caretaker, Peter Quint, has returned from the grave to possess the children’s souls… or is she only imagining the apparitions, the noise, the children’s own secret glances and whisperings, as though they were in on the scheme? Cleverly written, there appears no right or wrong answer, despite the happenings and events, or is there? Enjoy a spooky night at home with this book, also made into an excellent movie by the name of “The Innocents.” Four stars.

Best Film on Hemophilia

Tonight are the Academy Awards, and I am bound to watch the end to see if Daniel Day-Lewis wins Best Actor for his portrayal of a wildcatter in “There Will Be Blood.” The movie’s name could have aptly suited its rival, “No Country For Old Men” (which I think is the better film overall and should win Best Picture) with the amount of blood shed in it. But blood is something Hollywood and its fans feast on these days.

Blood is our domain, too. The Awards got me thinking of movies about hemophilia. And the first that came to mind is the spectacular “Nicholas and Alexandria,” the story of the last Tsar of Russia, whose son Alexis had hemophilia. Actor Michale Payton uncannily resembles the Tsar. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book of the same name, whose author Robert Massie, has a son with hemophilia (who lived, oddly enough, about 2 miles from my house in 1987. I happily met him and confided his father was one of my favorite authors). The book is of course much better than the movie, but the movie does a tremendous job of bringing to the screen one of the most endearing love stories, most tragic leadership failures, and most climatic political outcomes of the 20th century. No spoilers here: everyone knows how the story ends. The royal family is gunned down and Lenin assumes control of the country, ushering in the Communist regime. The movie invites you into the intimacy of the royal family, reveals the sinister designs of the monk Rasputin, and relives the horrors of a world at war. As painful as watching little Alexis suffer is watching his father sign a document, renouncing the throne–300 years of Romanov rule ended–then turn and cry like a child.

It’s interesting that the movie opens with the birth of Alexis, the long awaited heir to the Romanov throne. But immediately the family, who knows hemophilia is a risk, sees signs of the disorder. I strongly encourage you to rent this movie through iTunes, or purchase it on Amazon to get an appreciation of historical hemophilia. Never before or since has Hollywood so carefully and beautifully made hemophilia the center of world events, or the center of such an epic film.

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