Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The persistence of "Frankenstein" in Popular Culture

This month, the students in my Honors English classes are reading Mary Shelley's Romantic novel, Frankenstein--reading it from several critical perspectives, including psychoanalytic, feminist, gender, Marxist, and cultural criticism. In our class, we also will be reading "race" in Frankenstein, as part of our semester's thematic focus on the alien/outcast/outsider in literature and popular culture. 

To that end, I couldn't resist the urge to include a fascinating artifact from the 1970s--clips from an ultra-low-budget film titled Blackenstein, the Black Frankenstein,which was made in 1973, at the height of the so-called "blaxploitation" era in American cinema. In this film, the creature (complete with an Afro!) is formed from the body of a wounded black Vietnam veteran--a fascinating subtext to explore, given the reality that many black soldiers in particular faced upon their return home from that conflict. This clip is the very last one.

We are also examining the story through the lens of other popular film adaptations. In addition to the blaxploitation piece, below are clips from several of the most popular film adaptations of Frankenstein--including the very first full-length version, which was a silent film made in 1910 at Edison Studios, the 1931 classic, 1935's "sequel," the 1994 remake with Robert DeNiro, and Mel Brooks's hilarious comedic take, made in 1974. I have tried to group them together so that you can see the "birth/creation" scenes together.

All best,


Frankenstein, 1931. "It's alive!" (RT 4:05)

Frankenstein, 1931. The creature's awareness. (RT 3:10)

Frankenstein, 1994. Frankenstein gives "birth." (RT 7:37)

Young Frankenstein, 1974. (RT 10:00)

Bride of Frankenstein, 1935. "She's alive!" (RT 6:14)

Frankenstein, 1994. The Creature expresses his loneliness. (RT 3:56)

Frankenstein, 1994. The Creature confronts Victor. (RT 9:58)

Frankenstein, 1910. Watch the "special effect" at the end! (Full-length 12:41)

Blackenstein, 1973. The "ultimate" in low-budget cinema! (RT 3:40)


Anonymous said...

Ok tried 2x to post to your blog but couldn't. So here's my thoughts: I have always thought of Frankenstein as a Womb Envy story even though it was written by a woman. But then I think of Mary Shelley's birth. Her runner on Judy Chicago's Dinner Party graphically depicts the bloody birth that killed her mother Mary Wollenstencraft, an 18th ... See Morecentury feminist. It then leads me to the opening of the Kathy and Mo Show. Two angels are discussing giving the power of bringing forth life to women. Angel 1 says: "The men aren't going to like that." Angel 2 says" "I know..... let's make it really, really painful, then they won't want it!"


olddoc said...

Rebecca,No I did not see the Edison version,and of course Mel Brook's was one of my favorite directors/ actors. Such a talent. When I saw the 1931 picture at the Oxford or Liberty (I think it was that theater) it was a great horror picture but had no symbolisitic meaning.

I check daily to see when you have a new post and enjoy every one. H.S. Yood

Rebecca Williams said...

Thank you for support, Doc! I continue to be amazed by the hauntingly nuanced performance of Boris Karloff in the 1931 Frankenstein. The scene subtitled "The creature's awareness" is an example of Karloff's fine and very sensitive portrayal--in the Bride of Frankenstein, he is just as good. He will always be my favorite creature--even though Peter Boyle comes in a close second!