Frankenstein's Cinematic Dream
Marc Redfield, Claremont Graduate University
1 I refer here to "Whale's Frankenstein,"
but as James A. W. Heffernan rightly notes, "the genesis of this film
exemplifies the way filmmaking disperses the notion of authorship" (135n10).
See Heffernan's note for an informative summary of the complications:
the screenplay, based on an American version of a 1927 London stage adaptation
of Shelley's novel, is credited to two writers, and shaped in part by
as many as four more; and at least one important scenethe scene
in which the monster drowns the girl Mariawas, according to Heffernan,
shaped by Boris Karloff's wishes rather than Whale's (Heffernan, 135-36n10;
here Marder on translation in the text: Walton speaks only English, so
if the monster speaks to him at the end of the novel, he does so in a
foreign language. Marder links this linguistic exile to the absence of
hypervisible body, the movie monster can also at times appear less sexually
complicated than his textual originalhence the Mel Brooks's parody
in which the creature ends up in bed reading the Wall Street Journal,
his monstrous body capable of awakening and satisfying the desires of
Madeleine Kahn's Elisabeth.
this respect as in all others, Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein
pays canny tribute to its model. "This is where it all began," says the
main character wonderingly, upon seeing the lab. Later, Igor draws a sketch
of a sample monster and sets it swinging, and the camera fades to a hanging
bodya fine, and finely parodic, recollection of the 1931 Frankenstein's
troping of cinema as the animation and motion of (dead) bodies.
Lipking acutely if somewhat irritably notes of the plethora of Frankenstein
interpretations that these "readings seldom take the trouble to notice,
let alone challenge each other" ("Is Frankenstein a story of homophobic
paranoia? the repression of the proletariat? an abandoned woman? Collectively,
the response of modern criticism has been, Why not?" [315, 314]). The
text's densely overdetermined doublings and redoublings make this possible.
expect that someone has long ago noted that Elizabeth's role is in some
ways modeled on that of Lotte in Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther
(one of the monster's favorite books): like Elizabeth, Lotte promises
her mother on her (the mother's) deathbed to take her place: "In the quiet
of evening, the shade of my mother always hovers round me, when I sit
in the midst of her children, my children...." she tells Werther.
is a nice detail, given the later use of an equivalent German word by
Benjamin, that Walter Scott would write of the "shock" that Frankenstein
gives to "some of our highest and most reverential feelings."
an interesting account of Frankenstein as a "machine text" associable
with the early Industrial Revolution, see Hansen.
scientific ("chemical") studies, for instance, closely repeat his fantastic
("alchemical" and "chimerical") childhood obsessions (21); both, of course,
turn out to be versions of a desire to raise the dead.
The creature will later, appropriately, swear "by the sun" (100).
On speed and technology, see Derrida.