The legendary “Perfect Man” – Sandow – my Review of Sandow (2018) – by Lorraine Dmitrovic

Some men are born heroes. Others become living legends over time. Some, like “strongmen,” journey through eras as heroes and legends and are remembered that way forever. Extraordinary strongman Eugen Sandow, today regarded as the “Father of Modern Bodybuilding,” truly once wrestled a lion and was also a mentoring force to future real-life Olympian, Launceston Elliot.

Sandow (2018) suggests how their paths crossed for fame, money, respect, and of course the love of sport. Each attained worldwide recognition because of their achievements. Sandow became a pop star of sorts, worshipped for his physical prowess and perfect physique; Elliot won an Olympic gold medal yet was never elevated to superstar status.

Sandow teaser trailer, 2017

To view my review on Yeahflix:
https://yeahflix.com/sandow-review/

 

Official trailer for Sandow (2018), starring
Timo Kervinen as the legendary strongman

In the opening credits, “via stock footage” filmmaker Alexander Cooper showcases Sandow going fist to claw with a lion in a poetic ballet danced to music that cleverly merges into a modern day panorma (filmed by drone) of the Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece.

We become acquainted first with an aged Launceston on a cemetery stroll with a newspaperman. His memories, his tales of Sandow, begin. To understand the impact the strongman would have on Elliot’s life as a young weightlifter, the filmmaker invites us to understand the many-faceted Sandow. Even with the man’s many faults, Elliot viewed his mentor somewhat as a god whose imperfections could be justified or overlooked because he considered him to be a key to his own success.

Likewise, Sandow didn’t experience instant success, he had to climb for it, training intensely to forge his skills. As with struggling musicians and artists, his first audiences were rapt around smaller stages cheering on the strongman in bloody wresting matches or while weightlifting beauties balanced on each end of a barbell. As word of Sandow’s impressive feats spread his popularity rose quickly in the world spotlight.

Still, it had been a long journey to become “Sandow” – overcoming being bullied through young adulthood by his friends, and by his father as well, who constantly belittled him and told him he would never be honoured with the statue he longed for. His turning point  came with his association with the illustrious showman and starmaker Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (wonderfully played by Olivier Maigniez). Strongman Sandow also soon became a businessman, investing in any and everything related to health and/or strength.


Olivier Maigniez, who played Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.
(photo  ©: David Meyers)

The Great War (World War I (WWI), 1914-1918) devastated Sandow’s business ventures such as international spas and clinics, and publication of a magazine was ceased. He became an inspiration to returning WWI soldiers, visiting convalescing men in hospital, one of whom had lost his sight. Where strength was needed in body and spirit of others, Sandow often personally strove to fit the bill.

The film is as much about relationships – whom to love, trust, control, betray, impress and challenge – as it is about the rise-to-fame stories of Sandow and Elliot.

Timo Kervinen as Eugen Sandow on the strongman-wrestling circuit in Sandow (2018)

The necessary re-casting of the lead role with Finnish actor Timo Kervinen as Sandow is a bonus. Timo is totally convincing in a believable performance with his natural physique of a Victorian strongman. He skillfully conveys bravery, sometimes tinged with narcissistic macho, and contrasts Sandow’s sincerity and invincible confidence all without any braggadocioWhile his Sandow is a magnificent public figure and perfect specimen of a man in a life filled with superhuman milestones, Timo also makes the strongman down-to-earth human, subject to the same fears, insecurities and sad occasions experienced by the everyday man . Timo expresses all this with amazing creative balance, and he has the audience on his side quickly, and faithfully, throughout the movie.

Sandow - Timo Kervinen and Tiffany E Robinson during the filming of Sandow (2018) (503x900)

Timo Kervinen and Tiffany-Ellen Robinson on location during the filming of
Sandow (2018) (photo courtesy of Timo Kervinen)

Sandow - Timo in training in a London gym, 2016 (720x900)

Born in Finland, Thor-like actor Timo Kervinen in training in a London gym, 2016
(photo courtesy of Timo Kervinen)

The production design authentically captures the opulent Victorian Era in costumes, with scenes often revealing the pretense of public decorum against the clashing realities of private life. Skilled, artful camerawork and an excellent script give this lean-budgeted movie a far more impressive look and feel. A carefully chosen contemporary soundtrack refreshingly enhances the Victorian feast. Add picturesque locations, inventive action sequences and unexpected emotional outbursts, and Alexander Cooper’s Sandow is undeniably a winner. Albeit, had closer attention to sound editing been possible, the movie would’ve spilled over with even more shining moments.

Cooper gives us a first class room with a view, encourages us to follow the dreams that Sandow and Elliot are chasing. He doesn’t overlook the tiniest details in an era when cocaine was legal and the opportunity Sandow has to make moving pictures with Thomas Edison.


Timo Kervinen as Eugen Sandow and Tiffany-Ellen Robinson as the strongman’s wife

Sandow’s wife, Blanche Brookes Sandow played by Tiffany-Ellen Robinson, and perhaps more than one mistress (such as singer-actress Lillian Russell portrayed by Jane Nerissa Broadhead), were not fans or cheerleaders. They loved him the way real women love real men; indeed, because of his wife’s love he would be denied the final symbol of legend, denying him what most men, famous or unknown, have always been bestowed with at the very end – what Sandow had wanted above all since childhood. To him, it was a “symbol” of conquering power over weakness and insignificance. And something he knew would have impressed his father. You’ll understand when you watch the final scenes. The real people in his life didn’t love the legend, they loved the real man.

Sandow (Timo Kervinen) and Lillian Russell (Jane Nerissa Broadhead), production still

Interview with filmmaker Alexander Cooper for Sandow (2018)

Lorraine:
How did you first become aware of real-life strongman Eugen Sandow? What particular things about his life encouraged you to present him and his story for a feature film?

Alexander:
I first became aware that there was a real-life circus strongman who was the founding father of bodybuilding, when I read an article about him on a website called “Forgotten Newsmakers.” Images of travelling circus strongmen began to fill my head and I started to imagine what life might have been like for these travelling circus ‘rock stars’ before rock and roll existed. Also being a big fan of Stallone and Schwarzenegger films when growing up, I was able to put into the film, what I wanted to see. The real life Sandow travelled a lot; my father was away much of the time on business trips when I was a boy, and I’d often wonder where he was. This film was not intended as a biopic per se, although it was inspired by real characters. It’s very much fictionalized and draws on many of my own life experiences.

Lorraine:
How closely did you work with your Director of Photography (DoP) and film editor on Sandow?

Alexander:
Very. Richard Bertenshaw is an extremely talented DoP with a bright future. We worked very closely on the shoot although he wasn’t involved in post production. His input into the film was immense, and he produced some amazing cinematography including some very impressive drone footage. Later on in post production, I instructed the editor from afar, since Birdie Sawyer was based in Maine, USA. I had started with a local editor in the UK, but as has happened before, I was let down; she decided to travel abroad for months on end, and with no response from her, I had to find a replacement. Birdie Sawyer edited the footage, but he didn’t sync all the sound together, which caused me further difficulties in getting the film completed.

Lorraine:
Your screenwriting resulted in a good, tight script mixing then-present and childhood flashbacks with many highlights of Sandow’s professional life. Knowing his history, how were you inspired to choose which elements?

Alexander:
The story was developed by a French writer Gerard Maurez, who had initially created a script that had included many other elements I liked but were never filmed owing to time and budgetary constraints. The final draft, which featured the Elliot character telling the story, was created by me. My brother had also thought of other elements, such as Sandow visiting the blind soldier in hospital. Other elements came together from very strong improvisation by the actors. One that comes to mind is the dinner scene which follows Elliot’s training montage in the garden, and also Elliot’s training in the river; these were never planned as such since Elliot was going to be running on an athletics track, which was a difficult location to pin down. 

Lorraine:
Did your shooting script have any major changes during filming, say because of new information about Sandow come to light? Were any of Sandow’s descendants involved in any way in the production?

Alexander:
Quite a number of scenes in the script were cut due to time and budgetary constraints. No descendants of Sandow were involved in the shoot.

Lorraine:
The film opens through the point of view of a now older Launceston Elliot, Sandow’s once young fan-friend, giving a special outside-looking-in insight. The strongman became the young man’s mentor. How did you decide to use this approach?

Alexander:
My father. He wasn’t a bodybuilder, but he was certainly a great builder. He built a large country house for me from which I receive a rental income. My father was my mentor really, and he taught me many things. He was an excellent driver and I remember him taking me out on driving lessons, for example. He would always easily beat me in squash – he played at semi-pro level against a Dutch champion in the 1970s.

Lorraine:
What lessons can a man like Sandow impress upon us? His father seemed to not have much faith in him. Do you feel Sandow’s motivation to succeed came from having a true mentor early on while with the circus? 

Alexander:
I think that having a mentor is an incredible thing. A trainer. A father-son type relationship is very special. My father once told me how he liked to take things apart to see how they worked, and then try to put them back together. My grandfather was not very encouraging about this – he would say ‘there he goes, Richard is breaking things again!” So, with my own son I remember how encouraging and loving my father was with me, so that means our bond is closer. In the old days of my father and grandfather, father-son relations could be quite strained and “stiff upper lip” about things.

Lorraine:
Do you think Sandow’s circus experience and training are what ultimately changed his life for the better, physically and inwardly?

Alexander:
I think these are catalysts for growth, but Sandow above all was determined to prove his father wrong, that he could create something special that would outlast him.

Lorraine:
After a last bullying incident, he became even more determined. Ten long years later he took to the stage as a strongman Prussian wrestler and was soon “discovered” by Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., who offered Sandow fame and fortune and top-billing. Do you feel Sandow believed his own strongman “publicity” to the point he thought he was invincible?

Alexander:
Shortly after my father died in 2014, I was at a very low point and one evening I was attacked in London and badly beaten, sustaining a black eye, scarring on my chin and severely broken teeth. I was beaten much more severely than the character in the film and I required months of extensive dental treatment. My teeth were never the same and I was now changed as a person. I was also involved in a car crash near Peterborough while driving back from London. Around that time I truly felt I’d reached rock bottom in my life. So, no – I don’t believe Sandow in the film thought he was invincible. It was a show – an act – and I made it a point that we see the humanity and reality of the man behind the facade.

Lorraine:
The wrestling/boxing match scenes were very believable. Are you a fan of the sports? Sandow’s dialogue post-fight in one scene reveals the price he had to pay – “This was not a show, this is real blood.”

Alexander:
I was particularly a fan of the Rocky movies when I was a boy. It’s a pity that Elliot’s Olympics wrestling match was not filmed, that would’ve been a lot of fun for me. Yes, I believe the characters had much in common regarding their huge will to win. Whereas Elliot wanted a gold medal in the Olympics, Sandow was more seeking the adulation of his fans and especially, in the film, the female ones.

Lorraine:
As shown in the film, Sandow’s career changes included touring with Elliot, creating “Sandow clinics” for training athletes and the general public, and plans with Ziegfeld Jr. to produce a “Sandow Protein Powder.” Negative personal life changes suggest drug use and infidelity. Do you think Sandow had taken on too much to maintain his reputation as a strongman at the cost of his personal life?

Alexander:
Well yes, in the film he’s seen snorting cocaine. As a larger than life figure, as a lot of bodybuilders used steroids, growth hormones and so on, the Sandow character had a tendency to take things to excess in the film. It’s ironic that he urges moderation in Elliot, just as his mentor Atilla had taught him, since it seems impossible for him to put that into practice himself. Is moderation even possible to achieve in life? Someone will always think we’re doing some things too much, or other things too little. My father always urged moderation with regard to my alcohol consumption, but for a long time I struggled with it. “Moderation in all things,” he would tell me, yet I never thought his lengthy commutes driving several hours to and from work by car could be described as moderate.

Lorraine:
How long did you weight-train for the role of Elliot before filming the 1896 Athens Olympics scenes?

Timo as Sandow and Cooper as Elliot during Olympic training in Sandow (2018)

Alexander:
I did preparation for the role in the months building up to the shoot, but as you can probably tell my physique was not ‘enhanced’ by steroids. This was intentional since I wanted a natural look that might have been seen in Victorian times.

Filmmaker Alexander Cooper as Launceston Elliot in the 1896 Olympic weightlifting  competition in Sandow (2018)

Lorraine:
On the production design side, many of the interior and exterior locations are evocative and picturesque. How were they decided on?

Alexander:
Thank you. Filming took place in London at Putney Vale, various mews/streets in SW1 not far from where I used to live, and in the basement of the Mostart Centre in Stoke Newington where we built the sets we needed for some key scenes. Other scenes, including Sandow’s house and the snooker room scene were filmed in and around Haddlesey House in Selby, West Yorkshire and Wharfedale Viaduct at Arthington.

I chose to film in places wherever there were satisfactory locations and resources. Funding this myself I have had to be extremely cost conscious to keep spending under control. Therefore sometimes the locations I chose were sub-optimal. There’s always a trade-off. I had always intended that Sandow would be a big budget lavish production, but funding it on my own I had to use what was available at the time to get it done.

Lorraine:
Do you think Elliot remained somewhat in awe of Sandow, owing him his very life, especially regarding his mentor’s physical strength? What inspired this to be part of their relationship?

Alexander:
My father put up a brave battle with blood cancer for 7 years, but ultimately after three rounds of chemotherapy the inevitable happened, and we had to say goodbye. I did, and do, still remain somewhat in awe of my father, from the time I fell in a bed of nettles when I was four years old and he chopped them all down with a spade. This memory inspired Sandow’s lifting the car in the movie which saved Elliot’s life after their car crash – something any loving father would attempt to save his son. Also how my father persisted and completed the house he spent the best part of ten years building. Losses are inevitable for us all, just as my own father lost his mother in a car crash. Just like Sandow and Elliot, we both have had our strengths and weaknesses, and I have dedicated this film in my father’s memory – “until I see you again.” The dedication in the end credits is a message from me to my father: “This film is dedicated to the enduring memory of Richard Vaughn Cooper.” After his death in 2014 I would meet him sometimes in my dreams, he would either be in a garden in the height of summer or in the lobby of a luxury hotel smiling at me and talking to me about moderation as he used to. I really hope we meet again some day in the next world.

Lorraine:
What stadium is featured during opening credits? In a later scene, what’s the name and location of the long arched bridge?

Alexander:
The stadium footage is drone footage of the Olympic Stadium, Athens Greece, in present day. The long arched bridge you refer to and I mentioned earlier is Wharfedale Viaduct at Arthington. It can also be seen in the British TV series, Emmerdale. I may have mentioned I love this location, which I’d never planned to use; I was made aware of it by a crew member while we were on the Sandow house location in Yorkshire.

Sandow - Timo standing in from of the arched bridge on Sandow (2018)

Timo Kervinen in costume as Sandow during the filming of Sandow (2018)
(photo courtesy of Timo Kervinen)

Lorraine:
Did you immediately know you would cast Timo Kervinen as Sandow? What do you feel he brought to the role of the legendary strongman?
 Sandow - Timo looking in mirror as Sandow in Sandow (2018)

Timo Kervinen in the title role in an introspective moment in Sandow (2018)
(photo courtesy of Timo Kervinen)

Alexander:
Not right away. Actor-model Andrei Lenart was originally cast in the role, and he was filmed in the fundraiser trailer I made, which unfortunately failed to raise money for the film. It was only later when we couldn’t agree to the salary terms for his acting contract that I had to find a replacement. And yes, pretty soon after finding Timo, I decided the role was his. He had already played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s  character in The Terminator stage show in Japan, so he ticked many boxes.

Sandow - film festival poster Sandow 2018

Copyright © June 2018: Lorraine Dmitrovic
All photos copyright © June 2018: Sandow (2018)/Alexander Cooper/Timo Kervinen

 

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Parallel (2016) – review by Lorraine Dmitrovic

Review of Parallel (2016)

Be forewarned, Parallel (2016) is not for family viewing. When considering to watch the movie with the possibility of reviewing it, I admit I had my reservations and hesitated. But I was definitely intrigued by this sci-fi scripted tale by David Magowan from executive producer Alexander Cooper. I had no idea what Parallel, an indie film, was about, and I had no prior knowledge of the graphic and explicit sex scenes it contained.

Then, upon viewing Parallel, as the plot delved into the otherworldly shadows of its premise, through those rather pornographic scenes, gratuitous and shocking, I saw that the whole theme of parallels – which is reflected even in the opening credits – artistically pertained to the film’s concept. The violent natures of two other scenes were reminiscent of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), and while distasteful, I understood the ideas behind them. Seen in context and objectively, I wasn’t offended by the sex or violence, although my underlying sense of morality was shell-shocked.

The concept is clearly and expertly presented, that people have their unrestricted in nature parallels in a parallel world. The tension comes from not only realizing this is so, but knowing it’s a dangerous poker hand to play from when one world invades the other – a “crossover.”

Faye Sewell as Heather and David Magowan as Neil in Parallel (2016)

Heather (Faye Sewell) and Neil’s (David Magowan) real world is very normal until they meet an unusual stranger named John Machlis (Brian Carter). Explaining himself first as a psychic, he soon reveals that he can introduce them to an alter world, which they skeptically agree “to visit.” The world they discover is stark emotionally and visually. They’re drawn back numerous times to further explore their parallel worlds.

At times, Parallel has the feel of the silent expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). One also feels and wonders if Heather and Neil’s parallels are watching them – camera angles seem to suggest this, such as on the staircase scene. When they verge on acting-out like their alters, also in the staircase scene, he crosses the line in reality that she’s drawn – she wants to keep both worlds separate – and his dark parallel infiltrates his normal world mindset with displays of anger and crude behaviour and comments.

Daniel Westwood as Roy

All the characters in Parallel, including Heather’s work associate Roy (Daniel Westwood) who appears in her alter world, have been reduced to instinctive creatures no longer bound by society rules, conscience or social skills. In the parallel world, they are feelingless creatures with impulsive desires for sex (not love) and the innate urge for power and dominance – the epitome reached by murder. Heather’s parallel, perhaps because of being less aggressive as a female, needs convincing to commit the ultimate act of evil power. In this parallel world there are no consequences for acting on negative impulses – until a crossover, temporary or permanent, into the dark appears imminent.

They’re all tormented in some measure by what they’ve become and done in the parallel. Despite knowing it’s a dark world and they shouldn’t embrace it, they’re drawn magnetically to it, and to Machlis who helps them go deeper into their alter experiences.

Brian Carter as the mysterious John Machlis

Parallel has two potential endings, really. Both are totally unexpected, leaving you confused about how you feel, but not confused about what occurred in each. You want to root for the main characters, hope the best for them, yet you realize you cannot do that or even like them, because of what they’ve participated in and allowed to happen in both worlds.

When at work their boss brings in an expert who explains Machlis as a charlatan and con artist, it doesn’t change the fact that Heather and Neil have become acquainted with sides quite opposite to their natures. Neil admits to liking what he experienced in his parallel. He’s not so sure, however, near the end of the film when he’s disoriented, regretful and confused about which state he’s in.

Faye Sewell and David Magowan

At one point, Neil asks, “What does that say about us?” Good question. As their parallel entities, they’re no more advanced than the first walking-upright men, who killed to eat, took everything by force if necessary, animals relying on pure instinct to survive and have perverse, loveless pleasure when needed. Not quite zombies, but an army of these parallels if controlled might indeed surpass robots and mere humans if they were to be utilized by a country’s military.

Make-up is at times garish, mannequin-ish. Lighting is often harsh in the real world and dark in the other world. The script is tightly written; dialogue is intelligent, to the point. All characters were perfectly cast. The overall production design is sleek, with a stylish, economic use of sets and exterior locations. The camera work is frequently brilliant, impressive, perhaps with a nod to the most shadowy of Kubrick visions. The directors and director of photography have succeeded in initially creating an underplayed calm in the normal world which increasingly snaps to horrific raw action in the black and white parallel world. The absence of excessive slash and gore is refreshing. The pulsing, contemporary soundtrack contrastingly also includes an excerpt from the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in a scene with Machlis.

It’s a strangely satisfying film, the colour and the black and white of it, and it will continue to disturb your senses long after watching. It serves to ingrain the warning to never speak to strangers – or are they strangers? – and to not trust what you see before you, whether your eyes are open or closed in an altered state. And, oh, if you step close to a line that could separate you into two worlds, stare at it first for the longest time. Be sure before taking that step over – the crossover – or you may find yourself standing before that literary line from Dante’s 1814 Divine Comedy -“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Sometimes it’s best to heed the old adage “curiosity killed the cat.” Yes, move back, slip away posthaste from those dark places you want to, but really shouldn’t, discover within yourself. Parallel’s Pandora’s box will unleash things if opened – and you should never, ever dare peek inside the box long enough to want to step inside.

Parallel (2016) available online to view/purchase:
Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk

Interview – with Alexander Cooper, executive producer-actor of Parallel (2016)

Alexander Cooper, executive producer-actor, Parallel (2016)

Lorraine:
How did you become involved as executive producer, also wearing a number of different hats on Parallel?

Alexander:
I wanted to make a film, so I set about looking for a script. I put an advert on the website “StarNow” in early 2015. Shortly afterwards I met the writer of Parallel, David Magowan from Glasgow, as he had responded to my listing. I read his script and it struck a chord with me. I knew very quickly I wanted to make the film. Having no contacts in the film or film finance industries, we presented the concept to investors in London to raise funds. Having failed to find a backer, so it was up to me to get the film made. I attempted a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. It raised a few hundred pounds, but no where near the eventual 15000 GBP it ended up costing. I wore so many different hats because there were so many things that needed doing and I couldn’t afford the staff.

Lorraine:
What do you feel makes Parallel special and different from other doppelganger-type movies?

Alexander Cooper in a scene from Parallel (2016)

Alexander:
I think that Parallel is genuinely sexy and thrilling. On another note, others have said that it is a universally thought provoking film which makes the audience think and ask questions about their own lives.

Lorraine:
Did you know of David Magowan’s work before he responded to your StarNow ad?

Alexander: 
I had no idea about David’s other work before he showed me the script of Parallel.

Lorraine:
Briefly describe your working relationships with cast and crew. Were there any especially heavy or light moments on set/on location while filming?

Alexander:
I won’t go into details of specific names of crew members; but I will say that the shoot itself was fraught, and felt at times as if we were shooting in the Parallel itself. The day we filmed the scene where Rhianna’s thugs beat Neil in the warehouse was especially heavy. In fact, the same day we were due to shoot an orgy scene and the crew broke up the shoot. A few days later they asked forgiveness and requested that I finish the shoot with them. I did, and that was fine in the end, but with various problems including crew members holding my intellectual property hostage, let’s just say I had made some mistakes in the crew hiring process. I had no such problems with the cast thankfully.

Lorraine:
How did you come to choose Ieva Makselyte as a first-time full-fledged director? She achieved a very cohesive film and natural performances from the cast. Was she “attached” or the actual director?

Alexander:
That was quite random. I put out a listing on a website – I believe it was Film & TV pro. She came forward and seemed to fit the bill. Looking back, it would have been easier if I had just directed the film myself; at times indeed I had to intervene to get what we were looking for with shot choice and so on. That was my mistake, and so with my film Sandow (2018) I took on the director mantle and all creative responsibility. I was much happier and got much more respect on the Sandow set. Ultimately Ieva was credited as director. I wish her all the best with whatever she decides to do in life.

Lorraine:
Many cast members are also on the crew. Was this in the plan from the get-go, or did that evolve?

Alexander:
Various crew members were involved as extras, this was helpful to save some time and money.

Lorraine:
What are you working on now?

Alexander:
I’m just waiting for the final sound editing on my official directorial debut, Sandow. It’s a sports drama inspired by early strongmen and the founder of bodybuilding. I directed it, and as written on the IMDb, it’s “a hugely ambitious feature film project inspired by first British Olympic gold medallist Launceston Elliot and his trainer, legendary circus strongman and founder of bodybuilding Eugen Sandow.” I play Launceston.

One day I’d like to make a film I’d call “The Decision,” about an army officer who’s tormented by a female voice and a fateful decision he made. As of yet, I have no dates fixed for this production, and I’m considering making it in the “$3 film style” to shoot it like a stage play.