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Archive for November, 2011

Milestones 1. The Story of Me and the Monster

by on Nov.30, 2011, under Milestones

Are people born to appreciate film, theatre, music, literature? Myself, a self professed   cinéaste,  I believe i am a product of circumstance, hand crafted from a very early age to appreciate cinema for better or worse. My parents introduced me to a wide variety of films staring Brando, Dean, Astaire, Monroe, Laughton, Curtis, Douglas, Day, Davis, Lancaster, Sellers, and I soaked them up mentally and emotionally. I watched anything and everything put in front of me, soon devouring my sisters favourite films and my Brother’s love for the Marx Brothers. For me, film is everything. A journey through an artists mind, transformed onto celluloid for the interpretation of an audience.

Let me take you right back to where it all began to one of my earliest memories. I was four or five years old. For some reason, probably illness, I was allowed to stay up late, curled up on the family sofa with my Parents, my sisters and brother all watching late night TV. I don’t remember the film starting, only becoming aware of select scenes. Did I watch the whole film? No idea. Maybe just soaking up a few scenes but it was at that exact precise moment that caused the trigger inside, the power of cinema to effect and influence not only an emotion from what I was witnessing, but the conception of the cinéaste and my first love: Horror.

‘We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein’. The immortal opening line of Universal’s 1931 masterpiece. Watching the film today, it’s amazing how dynamic and adventurous it still looks. Filmed during the golden age of cinema, a time of mostly static scenes, James Whale introduces some spectacular camerawork amongst over enthusiastic sound stage sets. The film is based on a play by Peggy Webling, a very different plot to that of Mary Shelley’s classic novel and for those of you out there who have somehow been oblivious to the legend that is Frankenstein, it’s primary plot surrounds a young scientist (Here, Henry and not Victor as in the novel, played by Colin Clive) who is seeking to conquer life and death, creating a new living creature out of human parts. He soon realises he’s made a mistake, the monster (Played by Boris Karloff) escapes, although with revenge deep in its damaged brain. A memorable scene, and the only one shot on location is between Karloff and Marilyn Harris, who plays Maria, a young girl. They play a game of throwing flowers into the lake which turns sour when the monster decides to see if the girl will float. It’s a beautiful cinematic moment, one which is till the subject of controversy, debate and censorship. The monster is eventually hunted down by pitchfork wielding townsfolk, the father of Maria and Henry, who has a final dramatic moment with his creation where they tumble together before he stumbles and falls from windmill. The monster overlooking, surprised, shocked, lost and alone. 

Whale’s autobiographical association with this film can be seen throughout, although this could just be critics reading far too much into the film and the directors own life. Horror which he witnessed during his time fighting on the front line of the Great War, masked soldiers hiding the true character, emotion and heart, unable to speak, or express behind the mask. After the war he moved from his British homeland to continue his career as a film maker. His own homosexual social life was one that he never tried to hide and embraced his true self, although at a time in history he must have still felt slightly outcast and different from his peers (although, I’m sure many were in the closet). 

The impact that this film has made upon the world is huge. Iconic and respected as a masterpiece in its own right, but it’s important to recognise that this film changed everything, introduced true modern horror to the world of which ripples can still be felt in today’s cinema, not only in the numerous remakes and re-imaginings, but the whole idea of a villain, who cannot be harmed, stronger, unstoppable, masked and monstrous. These few words will fill your mind with the regular horror names, Jason, Michael, even Freddy  and Pinhead, but Halloween and Friday 13th have all the genes from that initial beautiful creation from Whale.

From my own point of view, how has this film affected me? I’m not sure to the extent, but there are several key characteristics which I’m sure are a direct result. I’m a pretty tall guy, 6’4″. I’ve always been taller than everyone I know, pretty much and I never go a week without being caught in a crowd where I’m at least a foot taller than everyone else around me, resulting in a kind of distance between me and the rest of the crowd, a real Frankenstein syndrome effect. I was also quite a sickly child, often suffering, taking time off school, spending my days on the sofa, which also had a worrying effect on me in my youth of having a body which might let me down, the reality and awareness that we are in our own shell that could just stop working or malfunction. 

One of the biggest psychological impacts that the film had on my tiny 5 year old mind was the Horror of the human body, (probably the reason i have grown to love the films of Cronenberg, but more about this later in the project) one that people would run away from in terror, although the person inside was good and pure. This was a huge learning experience for me at a very young age, to recognise the good inside anyone and understand that not all monsters are bad. The relationship in the film between Henry and the Monster is one of pure love and affection, stronger than Henry’s love of his fiancée even. At the age of 5, I can’t say for certain, but this must have had a huge impact on the way a child witness’ love and companionship, obviously I wouldn’t have understood homosexuality, but the connection and love between the same sex, the respect and heartbreak that can occur, gave me that seed, that depth of liberal thinking. 

The early memories of that film on that night are fond ones which I hold inside. It was from a warm close, safe time in my life with a loving family. The monster came stumbling into my life, his gaunt dominant expression, powerful, strong and brutal with a kind heart and desire to learn and live and grow. The world was against the monster, but nothing could stop him. This was the beginning for me, my first trip to horrorville. 

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