Frankenstein goes off to college to learn everything. Two years later, he has discovered the secret of life. He’s a go-getter, so he magics up a man in a kiln in his living room. And he is successful beyond his wildest dreams, which is bad news for him.
Too much and not enough
Frankenstein (1910) is one of the earliest horror movies ever made, a stagey 13-minute film that is important mostly because it survived. Produced by the Edison Company—the men who made the paint and the brushes in those days got grumpy if anybody else tried to make art with them—Frankenstein (1910) was old-fashioned and a bit awkward even in its own time.
The operatic gesturing and the fourth wall you could lean against weren’t the whole of its problems. It was a box office failure for any number of reasons. But it was also the first adaptation of Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein, in an era before body horror was considered entertainment. Even before watching it, I have to give it bonus points for ballsiness.
For a while, Frankenstein (1910) stirs up uncertainty about the nature of the monster. Is it the duality of Frankenstein’s own nature, Jekyll and Hyde style? Does it exist at all outside Frankenstein’s mind? Or is it the truth of what Frankenstein is, and its temporary defeat is only an illusion? Nothing as interesting as that. It’s a monster.
Frankenstein (1910) is clearly trying to do something more than pass time. It isn’t satisfied to be a commodity that is shipped out with the projectors and the lightbulbs. It has vision, or at least it wants to have vision. The movie doesn’t quite pull it off, but the intertitles are there to paper over the gaps in the plot. I enjoyed Frankenstein (1910) as much for what didn’t work as for what did.
Maybe the most interesting thing about Frankenstein (1910) is the fact that Frankenstein isn’t a scientist in this version. He’s a magician of sorts, maybe an alchemist. Thomas Edison, the poster boy for technology as the solution to all of life’s problems, was never going to be a big supporter of cautionary tales about scientific hubris. Even though he once electrocuted an elephant in public as a promotional event. So Frankenstein becomes a practitioner of the dark arts and Edison’s version is revealed as an exercise in missing the point.
Go read my very respectful, and I mean very very respectful, synopsis of Frankenstein (1910). ❤