Thursday, 16 October 2008

Frankenstein (1910)

Long feared lost and fragmentary, the version of Frankenstein made by Thomas Edison's film company in 1910 is a frightfully good little silent thrill. The adaptation of the story is loose enough to fit into the mere 13 minutes of the film's length, and the end is so infused with the god in the machine that it makes practically no sense at all. But amdist these is a version that is still truer to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly's original text, in which the Monster is a very erudite and self-conscious entity.

Comparisons to the iconic Universal Studios Monster, best portrayed by the immortal Boris Karloff, cannot help but be made. However, for as much love as we might all have for the contemporary of Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Lon Chaney's Wolfman, Charles Ogle's pale, lank, misshapen Monster does surpass the box-headed and bolt-necked nightmare of make-up artist Jack Pierce. The only other Monster who I've seen come this close to the creature created on that stormy night in the Alps is Robert deNiro's in Kenneth Brannagh's yet more confused take on the story.

Though it can be seen as somewhat comical by more cynical eyes, the creation sequence in Edison's version is far more eerie and haunting than other. Opting for an alchemical reaction rather than bolts of electricity, this Monster rises freakishly from the chemical soup, forming body parts from the mire and pulling in a spirit from the aether. Before the creature is even fully formed his agonized and firey limbs are already moving, a twisted perversion of birthing pangs, in which must be unimaginable suffering.

It is unfortunate that this film dates from a time when a quarter-hour was considered too long to sit in a darkened nickelodeon. A full feature-length movie, grafting dialogue from the book with such excellent silent-era make-up and effects would be a marvellous sight to behold. It wasn't until later in the decade that feature-length chills like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari would be made possible by a changed zeitgeist.

Nevertheless, Thomas Edison's Frankenstein is 13 minutes of pre-Universal sublime glory.


David said...

Great blog. I wonder if Lon Chaney saw this--it invites comparisons to his Quasimodo.

EegahInc said...

I love this version of Frankenstein! I'd love it more if the guy who owns the only copy of it would remove his watermark from the print, but I'll take what I can get.

Cory Gross said...

The company I have the most fits about watermarks with is Passport International... When it gets to the point that your watermark is a big black box that is actually obscuring parts of the silent film's intertitle, it's time to reassess why you're in the business!