Wednesday, June 23, 2010

munch ado

According to oral history, the Baron Münchhausen's astounding feats included riding cannonballs, travelling to the Moon, and escaping from a swamp by pulling himself up by his own hair, or bootstraps, depending on who tells the story. Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720–1797), spelled Munchausen in English, was a German born baron, who in his youth served as page to Anthony Ulrich II of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and later joined the Russian military. He served until 1750, taking part in two campaigns against the Ottoman Turks. Returning home, Münchhausen supposedly told a number of outrageously tall tales about his wild adventures.

By the 19th century, his tales had undergone expansions and transformations by many notable authors and had been translated into numerous languages, totaling over 100 various editions. Baron Munchhausen's adventures have also been published in Russia, where they are quite commonly known, especially the versions adapted for children. It is not clear how much of the story material derives from the Baron himself; however, it is known that the majority of the stories are based on folktales that have been in circulation for many centuries before Münchhausen's birth.

I was fascinated this week by the mention of Munchausen Syndrome on Gyan Ban's blog. It is an attention seeking personality disorder, named after the Baron Munchausen. A predominantly female disorder, in which an emotionally immature person with narcissistic tendencies, low self esteem and a fragile ego has an overwhelming need to be the center of attention. This is achieved by capitalizing on, exploiting, exaggerating or feigning illness, injury, or personal misfortune. The opportunities for attention can be increased by feigning victimhood through alleged victimisation, isolation, or exclusion. The Munchausen person often depicts another, usually a family member, as a victimiser or persecutor, and herself as the victim. Know someone like this? Let the mental health specialists handle it.

Among the many film adaptations, my personal fave is Terry Gilliam's wild and quirky The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1988. The film stars John Neville as the Baron and nine year old Sarah Polley as Sally Salt. Supporting the Baron as his faithful crew were Eric Idle, Charles McKeown, Winston Dennis and Jack Purvis. The film also featured Uma Thurman, Oliver Reed, Jonathan Pryce, Sting and Robin Williams, credited as Ray D. Tutto. (Why? I have no idea.) Here's two of my favorite scenes from the movie, the first is Uma Thurman as Venus, and the second is John Neville as the Baron, trying to have a deathbed scene, which is so hilariously apropos, considering the syndrome named after him. I don't usually post two video clips, but they're both shorties, so take a peek.


68 comments:

  1. She's a perfectly Botticelli Venus!

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  2. Reading this post perked me up. I'm thrilled that you mentioned The Adventures of Baron Munchausen; it's one of my favorite films, way up in the list. The 80s really churned out memorable sci-fi/fantasy films, notable for storyline rather than effects. I've watched The Adventures of Baron Munchausen many times (since the VCD came out years ago and I got a copy); it never gets old (Eric Idle never gets old, ha, ha). Thanks for featuring it.

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  3. S.L., you're welcome! I actually own a wonderful DVD copy and it's high time to pop it in for another watch.

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  4. you are like a door to so much wonder.
    I'll watch these, having never heard of them,
    but certainly the syndrome. sometimes I've wondered if blogging brings out a little of this in some people.

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  5. I know of this condition and secretly suspected a person I used to know. Well, I really didn't know her well. Her son was always sick. Always. And I often wondered if it was she that was causing it.
    Sad, but true.

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  6. Country Girl, my sister and I were talking about the syndrome this morning. A strange disorder. It's scary!

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  7. "Was you dere, Cholly?"

    And I wonder if I'm the only one in this thread who's heard the old radio show.

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  8. Roy, we're of the same generation, but I don't recall ever hearing the radio show! Munchausen radio?

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  9. This is a brilliant post, Willow, I had never heard of the allusive Baron Münchhausen so it was truly fascinating to read all about his engaging history. And from this, it appears that Thomas Carlyle was right when he called history, "a distillation of rumour".

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  10. Dear Willow, This is indeed fascinating. And is it Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy in which a mother feigns the illness of her child?

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  11. Yes, Edith, it's called Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy. Most cases involve inducing physical illness; however, it is also possible for a perpetrator to simulate or fabricate conditions that appear to be psychiatric or genetic problems to a child or another person.

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  12. I've always enjoyed the Munchausen stories -- need to watch the movie again.

    I write about a case of Munchausen by proxy in my upcoming book. It's based on a true case in our county back in the Thirties.

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  13. Great video clips. I really enjoyed them.

    Apparently, some people with the syndrome, actually take their feigned conditions so far as to undergo surgery.

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  14. I'm sure I married one! Always seemed to have a headache! :-)

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  15. My daughter is being tormented by a girl at school who may be suffering from this syndrome! It was quite bizarre to read this as it fits her personality (and tactics) so well.

    I saw this film years ago; I should watch it again. No doubt I would understand it/interpret it quite differently now.

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  16. Hmmm... "Ray D. Tutto" sounds like "Re di tutto" = "King of everything". Meester Veeliams ees being fonny I am teenking!

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  17. There are still Münchhausens around. I know one in particular, a beautiful young lady whose tales were not particularly outrageous, though. ;-)

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  18. BPG, ah, I was hoping someone would clarify that for me! Yep, I think you hit the nail on the head. Who else would do something that outrageous?

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  19. Dear Uma was certainly well cast. I can think of no one better for this role, can you?

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  20. how very cool. i remember stories of baron von munchausen growing up...and i have seen the movie...

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  21. I have seen many of these personalities in my years as a nurse. I will have to watch this film. I had forgotten where the disorder got it's name. Just watched the Inheritance from a book by Louisa Mae Alcott.
    QMM

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  22. the movie is fun to watch, but the syndrome is a bit scary! i can think of my friends mother who had many of these qualities, she must have been undiagnosed!

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  23. Didn't know about this syndrome! Cute videos!

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  24. Willow, Laura Levine is probably the artist for the Sarah Vaughan cover. I found a link if you're interested: http://lauralevine.com/illustration/portfolio.php

    That's a wonderful album, by the way....

    Rick

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  25. Have worked with people with this syndrome, it is very distressing and sometimes very dangerous for family members!

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  26. I re-watched the Gilliam film just a few weeks ago. It's quite fun--& as the first couple of comments pointed out, Uma Thurman is really lovely.

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  27. Rick, thanks so much for Laura Levine's link! I LOVE her work!!

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  28. I've never seen this film...off to Netflix!

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  29. I'm sorry, but I can't get past the schnoz.

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  30. Ahg..i so want to like this movie...gilliam is one of my favorite directors! it does have some good moments, but i like 12 monkeys a lot more

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  32. Unfortunately there are also parents that are seeking attention as saviors and as overly concerned moms and dads. We had not one, but two events in my 35+ year career as a public school teacher, with Muchausen by Proxy afflicted parents. It can be pretty scary when you see what they are capable of. Usually the other parent can offset the one who is doing things to their child, but once we had both parents that seemed caught up in this disorder. We call feared for the students.

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  33. Yes, this is so very, very interesting!

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  34. all so interesting and fascinating-- have not seen the movie but will put it on my NetFlix list.

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  35. I love that Terry Gilliam -- great clips from a great movie.

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  36. Very well written. You know it also reminds me of Madame Bovary.

    Thought on a slightly different plane, but essentially her story could also be linked to this syndrome.

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  37. This is my kind of post Willow : full of fascinating information and written with flair.

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  39. With many, I join in writing that I just LOVE visiting here, and it IS like a "visit". Like some minutes with you, and a coffee, and you either bring memories to the front--or tell me things I did not know.

    In either case you write with such finesse. A pleasure to read.

    For years I played in orchestra at College of Music, downtown Cincinnati, even before St X High School (downtown) days. An took my music lessons there. Played in Cincinnati Symphony 1952-1962. You asked...I should have emailed this part of comment?

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  40. I have often thought that Baron Munchausen was a good actor whose only fault was that he thought that he had actually written the script.
    .........'something quite appealing about writing:producing & starring in One's own Production !

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  41. Munchausen, I have know a few that we referred to as Baron Muchausen, passed over their heads. LOL
    Have to see that movie.
    I had an uncle that my Dad called the Baron.
    Sharpe post

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  42. willow i've read the book but not seen any of the films. i love the line "am i dead" "no". blast!!" just the best! steven

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  43. >> Roy said: "Was you dere, Cholly?" And I wonder if I'm the only one in this thread who's heard the old radio show.<<
    Ah yes, that does go back. In the thirties a comic named Jack Pearl made a living on the radio as Munchausen. When his veracity was questioned, he would say, "Vas you dere, Sharley?" which became a commonly-used phrase throughout the land.

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  44. i (heart) terry gilliam - his oeuvre is outrageously fantastical!

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  45. Beautiful film clips. I didn't think I would be interested but they were wonderful. I learned about Munchausen by proxy from a young relative. The truth dawned on us slowly when all 3 of her children were constantly undergoing medical attention. I learned that it is possible to build up quite a medical history or false or exaggerated claims. Then the ego of the medical profession becomes a problem when no one wants to admit they were wrong. When a doctor started to get suspicious, she would just switch to another.

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  46. Hello Willow,

    Fun though the character may be, the disorder isn't, particularly in the Proxy variant; horrifying really, the lengths to which someone will go endangering another's health. I wouldn't care if they only affected themselves!

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  47. Great clips! Love the death scene.

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  48. Wonderful posting! Have always loved Munchausen. Great choice of clips as well. Willow, you are amazing to be able to accomplish all that you do and still maintain your wonderful blog. Thanks for sharing.

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  49. Uma cracks me up--she's such a good sport. As for the syndrome, there have been some creepy cases of women who actually harm their own small children so that they themselves wind up getting attention, all the while making it seem as if they are the perfectly doting, caring parents. So bizarre to me...

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  50. In my 45 years as an RN, I've seen several cases of Munchausen and, in my years as a forensic nurse in the child abuse arena, Munchausen by proxy. These are very sad cases where an adult, usually the mother, makes her young child sick to gain the attention of others. She will tell doctors symptoms, alter lab findings ( ie, put blood in urine by pricking her finger ), etc, sometimes resulting in the child's having hospitalization and/or surgery! Often the parent has some medical background! She comes across as extremely caring and loving which is one of the reasons this pathology is hard to diagnose.

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  51. How interesting! After reading your post I'm finally going to watch that movie!!

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  52. Though never a fan of Uma (she has always seemed, even as a teenager, to be "overripe") I loved the movie.

    The syndrome speaks to a disorder so much worse than poor self esteem. It's like having anti-esteem. I agree: turn to the professionals!

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  53. I really liked this. I had totally forgotten about this gent and his tales until I saw the post. I wish some of my dreams turned out like his and I wonder if that's what we think about when we see the tunnel of light? Now, for sure, I will have to take a closer look.

    I also know lots of people like this with this syndrome. I didn't know it had a fabled name.

    Off hand, I can think of some radio personalities and tv ones too who have a go at fame now and then. Unfortunately, they turned out to be wealthy by dumber than an ox.

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  54. The movie was a masterpiece and am now ordering it on Netflix.
    The syndrome, Munchausen by Proxy, in which the child is portrayed as the one who suffers from a disease, puts the mother in the position of a poor martyr..so strange. Endlessly interesting...

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  55. Fascinating condition, especially the --by proxy version.

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  57. While I enjoy the 1988 version, I am more keen the 1943 that Josef von Báky directed under the Third Reich. Very strange.

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  58. Love it. Now I want to rent the movie!

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  59. Thanks for an educational post. The Baron sounds worth learning about.

    But I must say, travelers' tales aren't always as crazy as they sound. "Oceans of wine" ... didn't the Greeks write about the "wine-dark sea"? And as for cucumber trees, in SE Asia we had "pickle trees," which bore a small, long, sour pickle-shaped version of starfruit.

    Yes, Uma does look just like the Botticelli Venus, altho' of course a little thinner. Have you seen Vatel, where she plays opposite Gerard Depardieu?

    Re: the symdrome, I can think of few things sadder, especially the proxy thing. As a mother who does tend to seek the attention of others (and don't many of us?), it motivates me to fervent prayer. "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. Show me the evil in myself and change me to be more like Christ." Let me change my attitudes while they are only attitudes, before they become delusions and actions.

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  60. One of my favorite Gilliam films. A pure joy of a film.

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  61. What an interesting post willow!...I haven't seen this movie and loved the clips...as far as the syndrome goes...How sad!

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  62. How would Munchausen's and hypochondria differ? A matter of degree, perhaps. The film looks brilliant, a must see! Love Canadian Sarah Polley; how sweet here and Uma Thurman is gorgeous as Botticelli's Birth of Venus! Very oppulent and angelic.

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  63. "cucucmber trees" --hee. I could use that for a Creative tuesday entry I should imagine. And yes, i think most of us would be rather gobsmacked if that first scene transformed before us.

    thx for info on the Baron. He's one of those characters many of us have heard of but know littel of so I did enjoy learning more here.

    I will keep my eye opne for this movie adaptation too. :)

    BTw, love your masthead. IF that Kafka or who?

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  64. I've read about the syndrome--but had no idea from where it came from! Thank you! I was just fascinated by this post.

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Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)