_Frankenstein_ (1931) at the Bo’ness Hippodrome, Saturday October 15th

Posted by Matt Foley on October 19, 2016 in Blog tagged with , , , , ,


It was a great pleasure to introduce James Whale’s Frankenstein at the Bo’ness Hippodrome on Saturday 15th October as part of their Universal Monsters series, which is running in the weeks up to Halloween, and which is curated by Falkirk Community Trust’s Arts Development Officer Alison Strauss. The Hippodrome is a wonderful cinema. It was restored only seven years ago to all its 1910’s glory. Full of character, it’s an intimate venue in which to watch both golden oldies and current blockbusters — a building and a meeting place that the people of Bo’ness can be very proud of. A particularly impressive architectural feature is the Hippodrome’s central dome that sits high above the audience seating in the auditorium; it is decorated with golden stars that rest upon a brooding blue background (pictured above).

The opening to my introductory talk focused upon both the connections and the divergences that Whale’s Frankenstein makes to, or from, Mary Shelley’s original novel (1818; 1831). The essence of Shelley’s imaginings that inspired the tale, which she recounts in her Author’s Introduction to the 1831 version, still drives much of the drama at the heart of the Universal version. In the 1931 film, Henry (rather than Victor) Frankenstein remains a monomaniacal “student of unhallowed arts”, to use Shelley’s language, and his creature seems to be born as a blank slate upon which the world — for good or for bad — will make its impressions.


I did point out, however, that there were many nineteenth-century adaptations of Shelley’s Frankenstein, and that new versions appeared, too, in the early decades of the twentieth-century, thus creating a series of iterations of the tale that shaped the emerging Frankenstein mythos. Indeed, perhaps most notable of these, Peggy Webling’s stage adaptation of the 1920s and 30s provided many of the materials for Whale’s Frankenstein. The Webling script was written at the behest of Hamilton Deane who played the creature for Welbing and who, himself, had adapted Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) for the stage in 1924. Deane’s performance for Webling emphasized a sympathetic side to the monster that Whale admired. Of course, particularly evident in Jack Pierce’s famous make-up for Boris Karloff’s lumbering creature, the Universal film itself shapes much of the iconography of Frankenstein as we visualize it in our shared cultural imagination today (see the trailer below for a taste).


Most importantly, it was terrific to see Frankenstein at the cinema as the audience of its era would have done. The influence of German Expressionism upon Whale’s own aesthetic was particularly pronounced by the big-screen showing.

Do get along to the next two films in the series: The Invisible Man will be introduced by Professor Ann Davies and Bride of Frankenstein by Dr Timothy Jones.

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