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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lost and found

Friday fun link: the long-lost first film of Frankenstein, produced by Thomas Edison's studio in 1910.
An interesting document in its own right, it is also an example of the ways censorship does not merely suppress art, but influences the shape of the art that does appear. Rich Drees writes:
As the popularity of motion pictures grew, so did the attention they received from moral crusaders and reform groups, who decried the new medium as being dangerous and encouraging of immorality. Some called for strict laws governing film content and some communities banned theatres all together.
Knowing that these groups could pose a serious threat to his bottom line, Edison ordered that not only the production quality of his films be improved, but also their moral tone. The Trust even set up the first Board of Censors, consisting of film executives and religious and education leaders.

Frankenstein was the perfect choice to kick off production under this new moral banner. It's a story that deals with the extremes of the human condition, life and death, and the dangers of tampering in God's realm.
Plus, Edison made sure that publicity stressed that some of the more sensational elements of the Mary Shelly's novel had been toned down....One of those changes made to the narrative concerns the creation of Frankenstein's monster. While Shelly's novel did not go into specifics about the monster's creation, the creation scene in the film certainly owes more to alchemy than science.
The film certainly didn't stress the danger of unchecked scientific experimentation, not when the boss has transformed the world with his own scientific marvels. Instead, the monster is cast more as a reflection of Frankenstein's baser instincts and dark reflection of a mind that presumed to meddle in God's domain.
The film itself is a mixed bag, and parts (particularly the beginning) are poorly preserved. But there are moments of real power, notably the creation of the monster and the creature's final exit.
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