“SCIENCE!”—old guy from Thomas Dolby’s song/video
When I was a preteen, I got my hands on a Super 8mm camera. Fascinated by the device, I would shoot anything that grabbed my eye. Nothing more than stock footage to say the least, but as crude as my ability was, my passion was evident. I was obsessed with this new hobby. My first short was filmed at age 9, and was titled The Werewolf of Coatesville. It was an ambitious little flick with a runtime of 4 minutes, that starred my cousin and myself, with its main premise, the werewolf, yours truly, to be shot and change back to man inspired by every wolf man or werewolf film I had seen up to date. We were happy with the footage except for one thing, we had no clue on how about editing our celluloid classic. To this day, the film has been long forgotten and its whereabouts unknown. As unfortunate as its loss may be, I do remember the level of excitement the process instilled in me. That excitement and sense of awe, was rekindled when viewing today’s classic short film, Frankenstein (1910).
Victor Frankenstein, Augustus Phillips, a young, ambitious medical student, leaves his sweetheart and family behind to begin his coursework at university. Like most new college students who explore their new found freedom, usually experimenting with alcohol, drugs, or a raunchy rendezvous, Victor becomes absorbed in the unholy mysteries of reanimating the dead.
Victor’s new obsession takes hold as he forgets everything else that is important to him as he is preoccupied around the clock to create a human being. Practice does certainly make perfect, and sick Vic finally gets his dead man to spring back to life. Cocky and naïve to the fact he has just broken a law of the universe in letting sleeping corpses lie, his curiosity has created a monster portrayed by Charles Ogle. A game of cat and mouse ensues around Victor’s flat and he faints out of shock at the terrifying creature he has bestowed upon the world as his greatest work. Being a genius certainly has its downfalls.
After sometime and barely regaining his strength and wits about him, Victor returns home to fully recover and escape the morbid obsession that almost led him to his own demise. Victor soon falls back into a routine of normalcy and plans for his upcoming wedding to Elizabeth, portrayed by Mary Fuller. The monster has tracked down Victor at his family’s house and attacks his master, before seeing himself in a mirror and his abhorrent appearance that Victor had created. The monster flees in sorrow, anger, and jealousy that Victor gets to go return to his idyllic life while he is sentenced to be a vile creation for the rest of his days. The film strays from the original source material as this adaptation emphasizes the monster was birthed only because Victor’s mind was tainted with impure thoughts that were not acceptable or normal by good men. This take on the classic is very similar to the main theme of Robert Louis Stevenson’s popular novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), where it examines the duality of man.
Frankenstein is an American silent short film written/directed by J. Searle Dawley, produced by inventor Thomas Edison (the light bulb), and adapted from the infamous novel by Mary Shelley. This public domain rarity was the first filmed Frankenstein story and shot in only three days at Edison’s Studios in New York City. Frankenstein remained lost until it was discovered among many other films by an amateur collector in Wisconsin. Upon its rerelease, it has been distributed many times over the years, ranging in all different qualities and runtimes (12-16 minutes) depending on the copy you view. There are multiple copies online for free and various DVD compilation collections to choose from to view Frankenstein. This is the only Frankenstein flick that shows the monster being reanimated by chemicals from the ground up rather than being assembled in pieces and kick started by lighting or electricity.
Frankenstein is a very important film even today for its effective fiction narrative, ingenuity, experimentation with special effects. This is definitely a quick view and a rare treat if you are new to shorts or silent films. It’s pretty amazing this piece of history is still alive and well after 105 years. Quite a humbling factual morsel to swallow about how short we are really here making our mark in the world. So get out there, and be inspired or inspire others. Psychologist Rollo May summed it up best with, “Life comes from physical survival; but the good life comes from what we care about.”
- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin@rickbaldwin79 and firstname.lastname@example.org