Percy Bysshe Shelley
J. Searle Dawley
Tonight’s feature presentation, ladles and gentlespoons, is Frankenstein, Edison Studios’ 1910 production of Mary Shelley’s novel The Modern Prometheus. Directed by J. Searle Dawley and starring Augustus Phillips, Mary Fuller and Charles Ogle as the monster.
This was the first ever movie production of Frankenstein, filmed over 3 days at the Edison Studios in the Bronx, New York. For many years it was thought this film was lost, only a few lobby cards, stills and posters were thought to exist, that was until the early 1950’s, when a print of the film was purchased by Alois F. Dettlaff, a movie collector from Wisconsin. However, Dettllaff didn’t realize the rarity or value of his latest possession until the 1970s, when he had it preserved on 35mm. Though the film had deteriorated, it was still viewable, and had its original caption cards and beautifully hand-tinted sequences.
This version of Frankenstein differs from Shelley’s novel but does touch on some of the themes implicit in her novel. The one thing that has always struck me about Shelley’s tale is the absence of love. It is pointed to throughout the narrative by negatives, from the very creation of the monster, to its lack of a name, to Frankenstein addressing it as “hideous”, “loathsome”, “deformed”. Though the doctor may feel pity for his handiwork, he cannot look at it without seeing “the filthy mass that walked and talked,” which fills him with “horror and disgust.” Talk about absentee fathers.
The creature having failed to win the love of his creator, seeks it in the outside world, when this fails, he realizes he must he have Frankenstein make him a partner. The doctor reluctantly agrees, and starts his preparations on the isle of Orkney. Unfortunately, for the monster, Frankenstein has a change of heart, fearing a world populated by monstrous off-spring, and destroys his second creation. When this happens, you know it’s going to end in tears, as the monster claims vengeance on his maker.
In this film version, the snaggle-toothed monster with the Russell Brand hair is similarly desperate for love, and behaves as a jealous lover for Frankenstein’s affection. But what is more intriguing is the suggestion the monster is not so much real but an element within Frankenstein’s nature, an idea Mary Shelley may have agreed with, for who is Victor Frankenstein? other than a portrait of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the monster? But a metaphor for their love?