Archive for October 11th, 2016


by Robert Hornak

Mary Shelley’s original novel was born in the long wake of the western world’s great unshackling from regal tyranny. The American and French Revolutions were still visible in the rear view mirror, being free was the lingua franca of the day, and by the early 1800s, a de facto requirement for progress and individual happiness. Meanwhile, Shelley’s own mother had been a force for gender equality, working to break women away from the tyranny of male power structures. It’s no wonder that Mary, whose blood must have pumped with the assumptions of freedom, would push her imagination into the ultimate realm of tyranny, death itself. Her impromptu story that fateful stormy night in Switzerland, having first captured the imagination of the small group of literary souls that surrounded her that weekend, has grown tall, unconquerable, and endlessly re-built into a myriad combinations from horrifying to hilarious. It’s immediate popularity spread even further in play form, needfully limiting the scope of the novel, and adding elements – like, eventually, the right-hand lab assistant – that might help keep the stage-bound version as captivating as was her globe-trotting tale of a man and his philosophically-minded creation. By the age of film, the story was already ubiquitous, and generally known as much from its ancillary versions as its original incarnation. Thus, by 1931, the ground was ready for the tilling, and Universal, seeking to recapture Dracula‘s lightning in a bottle, leapt upon Shelley’s story, setting it before a new audience, one for whom the bright optimism of the Enlightenment had long since been dimmed by the most bloody, spirit-rending war the world had ever seen, the dark memories of which moved alongside the despair pulsing up out of a brand new, worldwide economic catastrophe. It was tyranny of another kind, a spiritual and psychological one, as well as economic, and all steeped in the relative newness of Freudian self-awareness. Man, whose 19th century take-away was that science, not God, would rescue them, had crawled through the mud of war and poverty to conclude that not only would God not rescue them, but that God wasn’t even there, and that it was time for the great human DIY project. In this spirit, director James Whale framed his version in pitch-black bolts of shadow and delivered the ultimate story of man-as-God to a world that could now embrace the creature rescued from death in the mold of these new, early 20th century tyrannical shackles, and would watch him burst forth into the new world – a place where the chance to live forever could be crushed by the ever-adapting forces of hate and fear. (more…)

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