Sunday, July 15, 2012

Movie Highlight: Frankenstein (1910)

Jan. 1 1818: Mary Shelley publishes Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, which is later recognized as the first science fiction novel.
March 18, 1910: Edison Studios produces the first film adaptation of Frankenstein. The story is changed for the film... slightly.

If you don't have the time to see the movie, I'm going to go ahead and spoil the ending now. You ready?

Nobody dies, everybody lives.
To quote the subtitles: "The creation of an evil mind is overcome by love and disappears." 
That's exactly what happens. The monster literally disappears- appearing in a reflection in the mirror as Dr. Frankenstein looks into it, then dissolving to reveal Dr. Frankenstein's reflection as his love overwhelms his monstrous feelings, upon which Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth embrace.

If you've read the book, you know that's not how it ends. Most of the characters (including Dr. Frankenstein) die over the course of the story, because Mary Shelley wasn't writing a comedy. She was a Romantic era writer who was heavily influenced by Lord Gorden Byron's Manfred in writing her novel, and she wasn't writing to become a best-seller. Her work wasn't received well upon publication, either, in fact, the Quarterly Review denounced it as  "a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity".

In sharp contrast, the 1910 film was not intended to focus upon the horrific events that occur in the story, but instead highlighted other areas of the story.

“To those familiar with Mrs. Shelly’s story it will be evident that we have carefully omitted anything which might... shock any portion of the audience. In making the film the Edison Co. has carefully tried to eliminate all actual repulsive situations and to concentrate its endeavors upon the mystic and psychological problems that are to be found in this weird tale. Wherever, therefore, the film differs from the original story it is purely with the idea of eliminating what would be repulsive to a moving picture audience.”
 -Edison Kinetogram. 2. Mar 15, 1910. pp. 3–4.

The 1910s were a period of social unrest and reform, and people desired an entertaining escape from reality, not a story with a tragic, challenging ending, and they certainly did not want to be shocked.

Despite the obvious curtailing of the story, however, Frankenstein remains the first horror film, and its significance must not be overlooked. Frankenstein expanded what film was capable of covering, and set new standards and tropes that still mark films today.

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