Eye For Books

A fresh look at Edison's Frankenstein

by Jennie Kermode

Edison's Frankenstein by Frederick C Wiebel Jr, Bear Manor Media, ISBN-10: 1593935153, $24.95

When early filmmakers undertook their strange experiments with cameras, lights and action, did they have any idea what their experiments would lead to? It seems a fitting thing to look at early cinema through the lens of Mary Shelley's cautionary yet ambitious tale, and Frederick Wiebel's take on the 1910 version of Frankenstein is fascinating - not least so because the film, too, was once nothing more than a collection of scattered parts, painstakingly reassembled and restored to life.

This is a slow time of year for books on film. Most of those sent to us here at Eye For Film have been written primarily to provide entertainment, so they're often fun but won't often amuse you for more than a few hours. Wiebel's work is something you'll find yourself returning to again and again, and is no less entertaining for it. It's a great piece of journalism, extraordinarily thorough, taking an approach to its subject matter that mirrors the mystery at its core. There are also lots of illustrations which will intrigue history-lovers, though due to the age of the originals the quality is often poor.

Does the film deserve such devotion? Here one might hesitate. It is, after all, less that 15 minutes long, and it doesn't stand up all that well alongside other works of the period, for all its significance as an early entry in the horror canon. In itself it's rather a slight thing around which to frame such a complex narrative, but Wiebel uses it as the starting point for an exploration of cinematic development which is full of insights about changing technologies and industry attitudes. This means that it's well worth a read pretty much no matter what you think of the film itself. And whilst not everyone will see Frankenstein as a great piece of art, it was undeniably significant for the film industry. Screening all over the US, it might be considered one of the first ever blockbusters, a film made with the intention of entertaining, chilling and thrilling in equal measure.

Few books about cinema pack in as much information as this one. For fans of the film, it's a must read, whilst others will find it an intriguing curiosity.

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