Welcome to a new world of Gods and Monsters… James Whale had a knack for making horror literary staples like the creeping creaking house, demented scientist and classic monsters appear even darker on the cinema screen. Although the first Frankenstein film was produced by Edison Studios in 1910, it’s Whale’s 1930 interpretation of Mary Shelley’s novel and Boris Karloff’s iconic portrayal that has become synonymous with our idea of Frankenstein’s monster. With its contrasts of shadows and light and humanization of the monster, Whale’s beautiful version endures as the quintessential moment Frankenstein’s creature was born in our popular culture. Five years after the release of Universal’s hit Frankenstein, Whale did the near impossible by making one of the best movie sequels in film history. The Bride of Frankenstein is a complex weaving of Shelley’s subtext of the moral implications scientific discovery produces along with Whale’s personal narrative of sexual preference by introducing one of film’s first homosexual character, Dr. Pretorious. It takes the small portion of Shelley’s original novel of the monster demanding Dr. Frankenstein produce a female friend for him (which the doctor declines to disastrous consequences) and re-imagines it by having a certifiably mad scientist, Pretorious, blackmail Frankenstein into furthering his living dead creations. Whale boldly kicks things off by visualizing Shelley’s prologue in which she recounts the dark and stormy night she shares her monstrous story with husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. This melding of literary history as a launching pad for another re-imagining of the written source is risky move (for starters, she confides that the monster survived) but it works simply because it’s damn well crafted. From this scene, Whale’s celluloid tale of a ‘new world of gods and monsters’ opens up and we’re left with more imagery that solidifies the ever-evolving Frankenstein cultural legacy. Karloff again wholeheartedly embraces his role and makes the monster ever more human and in desperate need for companionship while the bride herself, who is only in the film for mere moments, has become iconic with her electric shocked white-striped hair (played by Elsa Lanchester who is also Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in the film). If sequels have become synonymous with commercial capitalization, cheesy storylines, and subpar acting then consider The Bride of Frankenstein as one of the rare exceptions along with The Godfather: Part 2, The Empire Strikes Back and Dawn of the Dead. As Frankenstein’s monster continues to be emblematic of the ultimate outsider and commentary on the dangers of scientific meddling, Whale’s Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein endures not only as classic films but as poignant films and, best of all, still very disturbing. This essay was originally published on Nitehawk Cinema’s blog (October 2014).
The Birmingham art space TROVE has put out a call for short film works based on the catalogue of legendary filmmaker James Whale. Side note: my favorite Whale film is The Old Dark House from 1932 (see image – that’s Karloff’s hand!). See the call below and also see a previous post on The Girl Who Knew Too Much about Spanish experimental filmmaker Ivan Zulueta’s seminal time-based work Frank Stein (1972).
TROVE call out for shorts film
TROVE is an independent art space in Birmingham, UK. They run a monthly changing programme of contemporary art.
This August (5th-7th August 2011) TROVE will be holding a mini film/performance festival based on the works of James Whale. A film Director born in the Black Country (Dudley, West Midlands) who moved to Hollywood, USA, and made several of the worlds most famous horror films, including Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Invisible Man (1933).
TROVE are inviting you to submit either proposals for or examples of finished short film pieces that fit the themes James Whale explored in his film back catalogue.
Please send DVDs, CV and a short personal statement by July 15th 2011 to
c/o 229 Dolphin Lane
For further info please contact TROVE on info@TROVE.org.uk
And see our website http://www.TROVE.org.uk
Thanks Darren for the heads up!
Forty-two years ago horror legend Boris Karloff passed away. Best known for his role in James Whales’ Frankenstein (although I love him best in Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath) Karloff created an image of a complex, self-referential monster that has evolved throughout the decades. In honour of the man, I’ve included below some brief writing on the influence of Frankenstein in relation to Spanish filmmaker Iván Zulueta’s 1972 experimental film Frank Stein.
The absorption of the cinematic within Iván Zulueta’s work, Frank Stein and King Kong among them, reacts to the political and social constructs of the 1970s. This is why his version the ‘Frankenstein’ story as subject is so fascinating. Born in the 19th century in a novel by Mary Shelley (Frankenstein 1817), this monstrous tale has been told throughout the decades as a reflection on modern society. In the 1800s, the Frankenstein monster could be read as an allegory on the dangers of scientific explorations or fears of an expanding world. At the dawn of the new decade while the idealism of the 1960s waned, Zulueta’s ‘Frankenstein’ represents the confusion and lapsed innocence of this new world. That Frank Stein is filmed from a television broadcast remarks on the change in media consumption and how its accessibility began to blur the line between information and entertainment. Meaning can seemingly be projected onto this monster in any given era, thereby he perpetually symbolises the recycled, relevant, and rejuvenated spirit of the horror genre.
Read more on Zulueta on a short essay I wrote from LUX called The horror film and contemporary art.