Picart, Carolyn Joan S. "Visualizing the Monstrous in Frankenstein Films." JSTOR: Pacific Coast Philology Vol. 35, No. 1 (2000), pp. 17-34.
Picart writes that the production and evolution of a Frankenstein film itself is a Frankensteinian exercise, with the careful sewing together of pieces of scripts, copyright and budgetary considerations, commercial packaging, visual iterations of what the monstrous entails, directorial prerogatives, and actor interpretations. In the process she argues, the novel itself becomes radically reworked, particularly in the way the monster is visually presented to the audience. Unlike the novel, he can no longer deprives us of the sight of him and his monstrosity.
Picart argues that the myth of male self-birthing underlying Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has undergone many filmic transformations that "hyperbolize, exaggerate, or radicalize" the myth itself. She argues that the film adaptations constitute an evolving "dystopian shadow myth," which "lays bare many suppressed anxieties we have towards technology." She goes on to argue that the myth of male self-engendering can be traced back to Greek mythology, including the birth of Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus.
Later, Picart claims that Frankenstein's monster is the ultimate tool, and the replication of our bodies and our intelligence through scientific technology. Humans, she writes, approach the Frankensteinian myth and the "machine" in two ways. They either view the creature as a monstrous Other that they must harness, or as a part of themselves they must acknowledge, recognizing that the Other is part of the Self.
Picart engages in a lengthy discussion of female monstrosity and other gender-based issues. She states that within the Frankenstein film category, female monsters usually live short lives, functioning as servants such as Nina the hunchbacked nurse in House of Dracula. These female monsters, she argues, are infused with masculine spirits that are trapped in female bodies.
With regards to the 1931 film, Picart writes that Whale's film and other Universal products of the era contain many elements of German Expressionism in terms of atmosphere and symbolism. She writes that Whale's films employ the aesthetics of black and white film, using techniques of chiaroscuro and symbolic framing. She notes that the film relates the creature's suffering to that of Jesus Christ through a close-up shot of the monster being strung up on a pole, with its body presented in a painful pose resembling a crucifixion. Ultimately, Picart analyzes many other Frankenstein films over the years as a way of arguing about the problematic nature of Frankenstein narratives, and the presence of the "ruthless repression of the monstrous feminine and the feminine-as-monstrous." Although much of the article is about gender, there is a lot of useful information about Whale's cinematic strategies. Her argument that the production and evolution of a Frankenstein film is itself a Frankensteinian exercise is particularly interesting and relevant to the question at hand.
White, Dennis L. "The Poetics of Horror: More than Meets the Eye." JSTOR: Cinema Journal Vol. 10, No. 2 (Spring, 1971), pp. 1-18.
In this article, White is interested in analyzing the pieces that make up what most people consider to be a good film, regardless of genre. He writes that it is not simply the pieces themselves, but something within those pieces and the way those pieces are constructed that make a film good or bad. He writes that horror films are typically B-movies, making their analysis typically superficial and mostly limited to a summation of plot. There is little possibility for a horror film to be considered a work of art. Nonetheless, White links art and horror, tracing the link back to Greek tragedy. He talks about the word "horror" being found in Aristotle's Poetics.
With films in the Frankenstein franchise, White calls the films "nothing more than a stringing together of every horror cliché from dark castles to mad scientists to the return of the dead." He claims that any film having anything to do with the supernatural, cults, monsters, mad scientists, graveyards, etc. is classified as a work of horror, and is often easily abused due to carelessness and overconfidence from the filmmaker. White acknowledges that these films can be successful because they provoke the emotion of horror, but only if carefully executed.
For films like James Whale's Frankenstein, much of the film's power is generated by its confounding of analysis, much like in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu. Later, White writes that although many films since have attempted to duplicate these well-known films in terms of the appearance of characters and the style of sets, duplicating these elements alone does not suggest what gives films like Frankenstein or Caligari its power.
White argues that the two most popular subjects in all films tend to be love and death, which are often linked. The horror film tends to display violent death and bizarre love, and plays upon our fear of death. Audiences not only tolerate this, but also seek out and enjoy horror films. Fear of the unknown also plays a major role in the horror genre. In addition, in films like Whale's Frankenstein, the monsters are typically male. Not only are they male, but their threat is often sexual. The villagers fear a child molester more than they do a murderer. Lastly, White argues for a less obvious fear found in horror films - that of rejection and alienation. This is clearly present in Whale's Frankenstein, and even more so in Mary Shelley's novel.
A successful horror film, White argues, forces viewers to suspend their reliance on a conventional frame of reference of normal life. Instead, viewers are forced to function on the terms dictated by the film itself. The audience leaves real world facts outside the theater temporarily, accepting the film's propositions. In the end, horror is not an exotic emotion, but rather one that arises out of the common fears of everyday life. Overall, the article serves as a useful analysis of the components of horror films, and an interesting evaluation of the Frankenstein series. White's criticism is well argued and effective, and also thought provoking.
Sharrett, Christopher. "Haunted by 20th-Century Monsters - two motion pictures offer insights into 20th century." Findarticles.com: USA Today (Mar. 1999). http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_2646_127/ai_54098993?tag=content;col1. Nov 27, 2008.
Sharrett discusses the somewhat-fictionalized 1998 film Gods and Monsters, which depicts the last years of Frankenstein (1931) director James Whale. Sharrett writes that the film follows Whale's life in its last moments, where Whale, a homosexual, fantasizes about a young handyman who becomes his model and near-protégé. Sharrett claims that the film suggests that Whale is "haunted by memories of the monsters he created for Universal, or rather, by the internal demons these cinematic creatures came to represent for him."
Sharrett discusses Whale's life as a repressed gay man born into a highly class-conscious 19th century British society, where his vision of the world was shaped by the horrors of World War I, which he fought in himself. Gods and Monsters suggests that Whale's version of Frankenstein's monster represented his own "permanent estrangement" from not only Hollywood, but from humanity as well. Whale, in the film, claims he "gave the monster dignity," something not typically present in monster or other horror films.
Sharrett later discusses the way art may or may not function as a type of catharsis. He claims that Whale was unable to find reconciliation with himself or the world around him. In this way, the monster's relation to Whale and his homosexuality becomes apparent. Sharrett relates Whale's struggles to live happily in a repressive, intolerant society to the monster's own struggle, as evidenced in Mary Shelley's novel as well as in the 1931 Whale film. Sharrett argues that Gods and Monsters is not just about the difficulties of homosexuality, but can symbolize the experiences of any oppressed group or individual. He also openly wonders how much of an impact the wars, chaos, and anguish of the early 20th century had on the creation of monsters in film and the horror genre in general. In this respect, this article is very relevant to the main question. Not only do James Whale's own life experiences play a role in the development of Frankenstein as an early horror film, but Sharrett also discusses how the wars and chaos of the early 20th century may have affected the entire horror genre, and thus film history and even the industry itself.
Juengel, Scott J. "Face, Figure, Physiognomics: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the Moving Image." JSTOR: NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction Vol. 33, No. 3 (Summer, 2000), pp. 353-376.
Juengel talks about cinema's fetishization of the face, claiming that the face dominates the visual field, which seals off the viewer from extraneous distractions. This allows for "an intense manifestation of subjectivity." He talks about close-up shots, which transform the face into something gigantic and monstrous, leading to an almost overwhelming sensation.
In James Whale's Frankenstein as well as in the 1935 Whale film Bride of Frankenstein, Juengel writes that the viewer "struggles visually and viscerally with the renunciation of monstrous flesh." He says that Boris Karloff's countenance provides a site of disparity between face and mask, and between human and monster. Using close-up shots reveals the unnatural construction of the monster's face, with the stitches, seams, and folds plainly visible to the viewer. Gazing at Karloff allows the viewer to participate in an endless visual reconstruction of the monstrous body. He eventually calls the myth of Frankenstein a cautionary tale against this sort of unnatural recreation.
Later, Juengel calls Whale's monster a filmic icon that attests to the triumph of technology and reproducibility that is "emblematic of the nascent cinema's cultural efficacy and reflective of a tenuous cohesion at the level of the modern body's signification." For much of the rest of the essay, Juengel does not talk about Karloff's performance as the monster in the James Whale film, but instead analyzes Mary Shelley's original text, discovering what he calls "proto-cinematic techniques" as evidenced by the constant face-to-face "constructions of subjectivity." He claims that these moments of the novel are visual moments, which are marked by detailed descriptions of the monster's physiognomy. Thus, these moments function as cinematic close-ups, forcing viewers to confront and acknowledge the face of the monster.
This article is interesting in that it focuses on one of the interesting aspects that cinema provides to a viewer, which is the fetishization of the face. The make-up and costume work done in James Whale's film is very specific and intentional, making Mary Shelley's monster into a creature fairly different than described in her novel. It is interesting to see how Whale uses close-up shots and a very specific framing strategy in order to capture the novel's face-to-face encounters, and allow the audience to react in a way that Victor himself reacts in the novel. Many of these techniques and art design strategies would be heavily imitated in future science fiction and horror films, making Whale's film an important predecessor to the genres. Juengel's discussion of the cinematic moments in Shelley's text is also particularly interesting, arguing that Shelley's novel is essentially structured for a certain type of cinematic approach, which one can argue Whale effectively achieved in certain respects.
Nagl, Manfred. "The Science-Fiction Film in Historical Perspective." JSTOR: Science Fiction Studies Vol. 10, No. 3 (Nov., 1983), pp. 262-277.
Nagl calls the science fiction film the second oldest extraliterary medium, but also the most widespread and popular of all science fiction vehicles, particularly in Japan and the West. He calls the science fiction boom of the 1970's an outcome of new production and marketing strategies, and the boom of the 1950's he credits as an expression of political anxieties and technological developments. Overall, he writes that the science fiction film "should be recognized as the bearer of conservative and irrational ideologies."
Later, Nagl lists the characteristics of science fiction, which include strong stereotyping, few themes, basic models, and even blatant plagiarism. He claims that the genre is closer to comic books than to traditional literature. Film denies viewers the imagination of the fantastic, and instead condemns itself "to visualization and thus to banalization." He discusses the inevitable overlap of science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres, claiming that many titles fall under more than one category.
In terms of history, Nagl traces the science fiction film back to the work of Georges Melies. He discusses Germany's contribution to science fiction in the early 20th century, when Germany's Ufa was Hollywood's only major rival. In particular, Nagl talks about "Caligarism" and the expressionism of German cinema, which influenced the horror variant of the science fiction genre. Fritz Lang he credits as influencing the rise of technological-futuristic based films with works like Metropolis.
With regards to Frankenstein and the primary question, this article is useful in several ways. Nagl discusses the overlap of the science fiction and horror genres, with the James Whale film certainly fitting into both categories in many respects. In his discussion of science fiction literature, Nagl states that in terms of critical reception, science fiction film neither derives nor measures up to science fiction literature. Critics, he writes, label the science fiction film as a popular and therefore less well-developed form of science fiction. This can clearly be seen in Frankenstein, which certainly removes many of the important elements from Mary Shelley's novel in order to achieve its desired effects and audience responses. The film, unlike the novel, leaves little to imagination, forcing the viewer to confront the visual monstrosity of the creature, whereas the novel provides very few details of the monster's appearance. Nagl writes that science fiction films rarely offer new points of view, instead transferring the simplest definitions of science fiction and relying on stereotypes and simple themes.
Heffernan, James A.W.. "Looking at the Monster: Frankenstein and Film." JSTOR: Critical Inquiry Vol. 24, No. 1 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 133-158.
Heffernan argues that films such as 1931's Frankenstein and other film versions of Frankenstein receive so little attention from academic critics of the novel because of the "visuality of cinema." He writes that film versions of Frankenstein show viewers less of the monster's inner life that the novel does. In James Whale's 1931 film, the monster, unlike in the novel, is totally silenced, forcing it to make gestures and expressions in order to communicate. Thus, the monster's story is severely altered and shortened. Heffernan argues that filmmakers, Whale included, regularly rip out the heart of Mary Shelley's novel by making the monster speechless or reducing his narrative. Viewers are forced to confront the monster's physical repulsiveness, whereas in Mary Shelley's novel there are only sparse details of the monster's appearance. As readers, our "blindness to his appearance is precisely what enables us to see his invisible nobility." Heffernan even argues that any faithful recreation of the novel's central narrative would never even show the monster at all, and instead only the sound of his voice and the images of what he perceives. Yet, filmmakers constantly objectify the creature using Shelley's brief descriptions, or making their own interpretations based on previous recreations of the monster on stage, in paintings, or on screen.
Whale's 1931 film, for example, invented the monster's stitching among other changes. Jack Pierce's makeup for Boris Karloff in the Whale film reminds viewers that the creature was a "patchwork quilt of flesh cut from dead bodies," and a "paradoxically ugly composite of features." Another significant departure from Shelley's novel is the additional of the abnormal, criminal brain to the monster's makeup, a decision that seems to indicate that the inner nature of the creature will be wicked and monstrous, thus making its later actions appear to be a result of that inner nature. Heffernan does argue, however, that the monster is not unequivocally ugly, and does earn some sympathy from viewers.
Ultimately, Heffernan claims that film versions of Frankenstein "violate the tacit compact made between novel and reader" by showing readers exactly what the novel hides. While the monster in Whale's film has captivated millions, resulting in his image being reproduced and disseminated everywhere, there is a fundamental and vast difference between the "impact of his picture on a viewing audience and the repulsiveness of the figure it represents as seen by those around him." The article is interesting in its comparison of novels and films, analyzing what makes each effective or ineffective. His discussion of Frankenstein's translation to screen is particularly interesting because he argues that the sight of the monster itself, arguably what makes the James Whale film a product of the horror genre, is precisely the opposite of what the novel intends and what makes the novel so frightening.
Harrington, Curtis. "Ghoulies and Ghosties." JSTOR: The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter, 1952), pp. 191-202.
Harrington discusses the early creators and innovators of cinema, who discovered the ability of the camera to present supernatural phenomena and hallucinatory images. One of those early innovators, Georges Melies, created films with fairies, ghosts, and magicians. However, for the most part cinema has been primarily used as a means of constructing "earth-bound reality." Few fantasy films were attempted up until the time of Harrington's article (1952) due to their most likely financial failure. Ultimately, Harrington argues that the camera magic of Melies and others like him was simply too obvious to viewers, reminding them of the mechanical nature of cinema. He also writes about 1910's and 20's cinema. Most often it was the Germans, in films such as The Golem, Chronicles of the Grieshuus, and Siegfried, who would take on the ideas mysticism and of the supernatural. It was also the Germans who would produce the first film version of Bram Stoker's vampire story, Dracula. Also, in F.W. Murnau's Noseferatu, Murnau used sped-up action, double exposures, and other techniques to portray the supernatural, techniques that would later be imitated by hundreds of filmmakers working in the horror and science fiction genres.
Harrington argues that the arrival of sound would help develop and establish the fantastic horror genre in America. Sound, along with the stock market crash of 1929, would lead the horror film to become a staple Hollywood commodity. James Whale's 1931 film Frankenstein would be one of the defining films to help launch the fantastic horror genre. Harrington writes that Whale, a British stage director imported to America, brought to his films "a fine sense of Gothic terror in the English tradition," as well as "an irascible though perhaps less evident sense of humor." By 1939 however, the horror film had virtually disappeared, but would reappear during the World War II years. Harrington argues that the films made during the war years by Universal, the studio that had been considered to be the home of the horror film due to the success of films like Frankenstein, would be ridiculous, formulaic, and lifeless. After the war ended, the popularity of horror films declined drastically. Harrington writes that we have seen too much of the monster in Frankenstein in subsequent horror films, all serving as poor imitations to Boris Karloff's creation in the 1931 James Whale film. He writes of his disappointment that filmmakers haven't been able to think up something different in so many years.
This article is interesting and relevant to the question at hand for several reasons. Harrington's discussion of early cinema and special effects reveals some of the complications of the medium, but also its vast potential to portray the supernatural and mystic. With Whale's Frankenstein, Harrington discusses the arrival of sound and its importance in making Frankenstein a staple commodity of the horror genre. Interestingly, Harrington is very critical of the formulaic and lifeless nature of the horror genre in films that would follow Whale's film, which he blames for the genre's subsequent decline.
Carroll, Noel. "Nightmare and the Horror Film: The Symbolic Biology of Fantastic Beings." JSTOR: Film Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 3 (Spring, 1981), pp. 16-25.
Carroll's 1981 article credits horror and science fiction as the most popular film genres of the late 1970's and early 80's, with blockbusters such as The Exorcist and Jaws. He calls the genre's popularity as unstoppable as some of demons and monsters its films depict. He writes about the late seventies, early eighties cycle of science fiction and horror, claiming that the films contain feelings of paralysis, helplessness, and vulnerability. Horror and science fiction films express a sense of powerlessness and anxiety related to the times of "depression, recession, Cold War strife, galloping inflation, and national confusion." The purpose of his article, simply, is to analyze and examine the structures and themes of this cycle of the genres. He states that a good subtitle for this article would be, "How to make a monster."
While Carroll calls himself a connoisseur of science fiction literature, in terms of film he writes that science fiction has evolved as a sub-class of the horror film. In other words, science fiction films tend to be monster films "rather than explorations of grand themes like alternate societies or alternate technologies." His approach is a psychoanalytic one, using psychoanalysis as an interpretive tool. He argues that psychoanalysis is extremely relevant to the horror genre in terms of the genre's themes of repressed sexuality, necrophilia, etc. He ties the horror genre to nightmares and dreams, claiming that many horror stories originated as dreams or nightmares.
In terms of stories caused by nightmares or modeled on dreams, Carroll lists Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, as well as Bram Stoker's Dracula and Henry James's "The Jolly Corner." He writes that these stories are often attributed to fitful sleep, much like Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. With Frankenstein, Carroll calls the monster a "fusion figure," and a composite. He writes that Mary Shelley first dreamed of the creature at a time in her life fraught with tragedies connected with childbirth. Shelley's description of the creature's appearance even resembles that of a newborn in terms of the skin and head.
Later, Carroll discusses James Whale's Frankenstein, which he claims emphasizes the association of the monster with a child. Whale deliberately has the monster walk unsteadily and awkwardly. In terms of appearance, the monster's head is oversized and its eyes are sleepy. Unlike in the novel, the monster in the film is even more like a newborn due to its lack of speech and rudimentary cognitive skills. In many ways the monster is a child, made of waste and filth. Carroll suggests that the monster's rejection by society relates to Shelley's feelings of rejection by her father, William Godwin.
Carroll's article is extremely relevant to the question due to his analysis of the themes and structures of the horror genre, as well as the sources of inspiration behind stories like Frankenstein and others. His argument of science-fiction evolving as a sub-class of the horror genre is particularly interesting, and there is evidence to support his claim found throughout these articles on Frankenstein and both science-fiction and horror.
Spadoni, Robert. "The Uncanny Body of Early Sound Film." Project Muse: The Velvet Light Trap 51 (2003) 4-16.
Spadoni discusses how the first synchronized sound films were widely considered by critics to be a drastic leap forward in terms of cinematic realism. Synchronized sound allowed actors to appear more lifelike and three-dimensional, and ultimately more present. In addition to these benefits, Spadoni argues that sound films helped emphasize the various uncanny qualities of cinema, resulting in a ghost-like visual quality. He argues that this attribute influenced film production in the early years of the transition to sound. Spadoni references critic Alexander Bakshy, who believed the success of the talkies was due to the warmth and intimacy that the presence of human voice provided - something clearly absent during the silent era. However, Bakshy writes, the "personal magnetism of the actor has lost its force" in the talking pictures, mainly due to the viewer's awareness of the mechanical nature of cinema as well as film's reliance on stage techniques and sources.
Spadoni discusses Sigmund Freud's theories on the uncanny in order to argue for the uncanny body effect of early sound film. Specifically, Freud's discussion of inanimate objects that temporarily appear to be alive, and animate objects that temporarily to appear to not be alive. He also discusses the uncanny in terms of the "unheimlich," a term that describes anything that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light. Spadoni argues that early sound film marked a return of the repressed, early film era. The mechanical nature of early cinema and viewer sensitivity to that nature returned, disturbing audiences again until they could adjust to the new technology.
Lastly, Spadoni argues that the coming of sound provoked effects that brought to mind various uncanny sensations that other electronic media have historically provoked, creating a perception of unearthly presences. For example, Spadoni writes that wireless radio enthusiasts would claim that they could pick up communications from the dead in a hissing sound. With sound films, some of these beliefs resurfaced. Spadoni quotes Frankenstein director James Whale, who also relates the hissing of a radio to the presence of ghosts or monsters. Universal Pictures would take advantage of this attitude, bringing an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula to the screen in 1931. Later that year, Universal would make a horror film out of an adaptation of Frankenstein, which used cut-ins and extreme close-ups to frighten viewers. Spadoni asks whether films like Frankenstein were reactivating and codifying viewers' fast-receding emotional memory of the uncanny bodies of the transition cinema." He argues that the coming of sound influenced the development of the horror film as a major genre in American cinema, especially in early films such as Frankenstein. In this respect, this article is extremely useful in that it reveals the importance of sound for not only Whale's Frankenstein, but also for the future of horror and science fiction films and the film industry as a whole.
Samuelson, David N. "Frankenstein Unwound." JSTOR: Science Fiction Studies Vol. 26, No. 3 (Nov., 1999), pp. 487-492. U
In this review of two volumes of cultural criticism, Frankenstein's Footsteps and Screams of Reason, David Samuelson discusses the propagation of the Frankenstein myth over two centuries of popular culture, the topic of this cultural criticism. Although Samuelson focuses mostly on Mary Shelley's novel, he later mentions several Frankenstein films including the James Whale 1931 film. He begins by noting Shelley's foresight, and in particular her fear of Western scientists ignoring the consequences of their quest for knowledge. Her novel, he argues, serves as a cautionary tale that has become very widespread. In literature, film, and beyond, elements can be seen taken directly from her novel, especially allusions to Shelley's creatures, both scientist and monster. Samuelson talks about the modern day fear of genetic engineering and biological research, relating it back to Shelley's novel.
Samuelson notes how Victor Frankenstein, in Shelley's novel, is a forward-looking biological researcher. He dismisses magic and superstition. Thus, the novel is more of a creation myth "based on science as a substitute for God, a surprisingly realistic composite picture of contemporary science, and a refracted image of the dark side of science." He notes that the novel saw many reprintings during Shelley's lifetime, including several theatrical stagings. After Shelley's death, James Whale's 1931 adaptation helped turned the Frankenstein story into big business. Samuelson does say that although the film and other remakes did not particularly respect the artistic integrity of the novel, they did manage to maintain certain elements of science and the quest for creation. Even remakes like Mel Brooks's spoof Young Frankenstein maintained this theme as well.
Later, Samuelson discusses the idea of a "Biological Revolution" that began in the 1960's, when molecular testing became possible, and after the structure of DNA was unraveled. This would lead to genetic engineering, developments in organ transplants, and other innovations. He mentions Gordon Rattray Taylor's 1968 non-fiction book, The Biological Time-Bomb, which highlighted fears of the loss of control over one's body and the "dissolution of the traditional human image." Later, the birth of the first test-tube baby in 1978 led to more widespread acceptance of this new technology after the baby appeared to be normal. With regards to the Frankenstein myth, both of the novel and of the films, DNA experiments turned the debate from a moral argument to a technical argument, pushing the Frankenstein argument further away. He argues that more educated audiences are more accepting of modern technology, and that the Frankenstein fears have shifted into fields of artificial life and the cyborg.
This article is interesting and relevant to the question because of Samuelson's discussion of Mary Shelley's fear of the never-ending quest for knowledge and the dangers of science, themes that would become very emblematic of the horror and science fiction genres. These themes would be even more apparent in films like Whale's Frankenstein, as well many others others in the same genre that would follow for several decades.
This case addresses the adaptation of a novel to the big screen. It is between the makers of the 1907 version of Ben-Hur, the Kalem Company, and Lew Wallace's estate, The Harper Brothers.
For us, the piece of this case that is important is "whether the public exhibition of these moving pictures infringed any rights under the copyright law."
If the court were to side with Wallace's estate, then movies would not be created without the author's permission because they "have the exclusive right to dramatize their works." If the Kalem Company were victorious, then any novel could be made into a film based on the current copyright law because no one knew film would exist upon the law's creation. The difference between a stage play and a motion picture is that each shot of a film was a still frame--hence a piece of art in its own.
The Supreme Court said that "drama may be achieved by action as well as by speech," and that "action can tell a story, display all the most vivid relations between men, and depict every kind of human emotion without the aid of a word." With this, the court found "that Ben-Hur was dramatized by what was done" meaning that the Wallace estate was the victor.
For my question, "How can one scene effect a studio?" we can start by saying that this case established that MGM could buy the rights to the novel Ben-Hur. Moreover, this case establishes that all authors' rights are protected in adaptations and led to all studios having to buy rights to make films.
For MGM, seeing the build-up and hype from the novel to the stage play, helped them decide to go forward with the purchase of the rights that would lead to their movie that would end up costing them around $4,000,000. And as mentioned in this bibliography, Ben-Hur led to a series of first in US popular culture. The epic proportions of the chariot race scene are no exception, and because of this case we got to see the 1925 version, the 1959 version, and all of the grandeur of the imitators that followed.
Call#: Van Pelt Library BM176 .W95 1996
Call#: Van Pelt Library BM176 .W95 1996
In this book, Stephen Wylen explores the history of the Jews and emphasizes the parts of Early Judaism that are significant to Christians who want to understand the state of the race during Jesus' life.
For us, the important part of Wylen's book is the chapter titled "Hellenism." Here he describes the taking over of Judah by the Roman general Pompey. The highlights circle around Pompey going into the Jerusalem Temple and claiming that the Jews' religion was fake because there was no idol to worship. The Jews "thought of themselves as citizens, in every way equal," but they didn't participate in "public civil...ceremonies because all of these things were formally dedicatd to the gods of the city." Wylen says that this fact led to a "constant source of tension between Jews and Gentiles."
The tension remained in Jesus' time. Wylen brings forward the stories of the New Testament to illustrate the feelings the Jews and Gentiles had for one another. In 66-70 AD the Jews failed to rebel and in 115 a "full-scale war broke out between the Jews and Gentiles." This was under the Roman emperor Trajan who was responsible for the expansion of the Circus Maximus.
Relating all of this to my question, "How can one scene effect a studio?" we can start by looking at the basics of Ben-Hur. First off, Judah is a Jew who is friends with a Roman, Messala. The story starts off with the two being friends, but later Judah Ben-Hur is arrested and Messala, who now has power, makes sure Ben-Hur is casted away. This follows the history mentioned above and brings the tension between the Jews and Gentiles into our film. As a side note, Ben-Hur also encounters Jesus--an encounter any Christian would like to see visually through an art form like film.
But back to the tension between Jew and Gentile, being that there was a massive, well-documented war among the two, it would be great for a studio to capitalize on the magnitude of the recorded history. To do so, a film would have to find a way to dramatize the conflict between its two developed main characters--enter the chariot race. As noted in other articles in this bibliography, the chariot race in Ben-Hur was the climax of the film.
So a studio had to decide whether or not to push for an epic scene with grand architecture, massive numbers, intense drama, and a showdown between two former friends who represent two races that historically fought. While the saying goes, down put all of your eggs in one basket, the success of Ben-Hur in both the stage play (mentioned in the bibliography) and the film was based on whether or not the producers had the guts to go a scene that had a lot of positive qualities going for it. The only downsides I see, have already been highlighted--time, money, and resources.
Call#: Van Pelt Library GV715 .G88 1986
In this book, Allen Guttmann takes a look at all aspects of sports' spectators from a historical standpoint. He starts with Ancient Greece and Rome. He then moves through the Renaissance and concludes with modern, professional sports.
For us, the important points come in the chapter, "Greek and Roman Spectators." Here Guttmann describes the importance and popularity of the circus and its arenas. He does this by citing the religious calendar which shows "10 days of gladiatorial games and 66 days of chariot races" in the fourth century A.D. That's right, 66 days of chariot races!
Guttmann then continues and reminds the readers that the "material cost of mounting...[the] games was enormous." Moreover, the "economic factor was more important than moral considerations" when determining what events to hold. And one event, no matter what the economic stance, can be proven popular, as Guttmann says, by simply looking at the architecture. The Circus Maximus, which housed the chariot races, held "five times more spectators than the Colosseum."
Guttmann even found a quote from Ammianus Marcellinus regarding the chariot races: "the mass of the people, unemployed with too much time on their hands...For them the Circus Maximus is temple, home, community center and the fullfilment of all their hopes...They declare that the country will be ruined if at the next meeting their own particular champion does not come first of the starting-gate and keep his horses in line as he brings them round the post."
With all of this popularity among the people of the time, one could only imagine how the hype could be lived out forever on film. So for my question, "How can one scene effect a studio?" we can ponder the thought process of the crew that had to capture all of the historic glory of the chariot race. Pointed out more so by Guttmann, is the cost of the event at the time. If it was expensive to have the games back in Ancient Rome for 66 days, a studio executive could predict that it would also be expensive to stage a race that had to be captured on 200,000 feet of film.
On the other side, the same executive could see all of the excitement generated by the Romans and create an epic scene which would propel his studio into the future. And, as we know, Ben-Hur (1925) succeeded in shooting an amazing chariot race scene that setup MGM for years to come.
2006 by The Johns Hopkins University Press.
The article addresses the use of technology in stage plays. Producers needed a way to show "spatial freedom" and a way to simulate depth. Waltz examines the history of the used techniques.
Ben-Hur's chariot race, in the 1899 play, implemented the "panorama-and-treadmill combination...a three-part moving-panorama system: one upstage, placed parrellel to the front of the stage, and two wing panoramas, angled outwards from either side...six cylinders supported and turned the painted canvas." The cylinders were driven by a motor.
More and more detail is delved into by Waltz as she explains how the eight treadmills were operated by the horses, and how the effect of Messala losing a wheel at the end of the race is executed. Scientific American, as quoted by Waltz, tells the reader that "ingenious" methods were used to create the desired effects--the sense of "motion perspective." The scene was successful and created a precedent for later Ben-Hur's.
For my question, "How can one scene effect a studio?" we can start by saying the precedent set effected the audience of the film. Everyone was expecting to see a magnificent chariot race because of all the technology used in the stage play. MGM and the Kalem Company (who made the 1907 version) felt the pressure. MGM especially had to spend money and other resources in order to meet the audience's expectations. Overall, the scene had a lasting effect, and the descriptions outlined by Waltz added more details that a filmed version of the chariot race would have to call their attention too.
Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
In Chapter 8 of A History of Narrative Film, Cook analyzes the effects of the introduction of the sound film into the American studio system. He asserts that the emergence of sound drastically changed the makeup of Western cinema. Cook discusses the development and popularity of the musical film genre that came about during this time as a result of sound film technology. He also discusses the added potential for realism enabled by the sound film, such as in the urban gangster films with their tough vernacular speech and distinctive “rat-a-tat-tat” of the Thompson submachinegun.
Cook maintains that the existing genre of the horror film was the most greatly enhanced by the addition of sound. He alleges that sound not only enabled eerie effects to make the films’ horror elements more effective, but it also allowed horror films to retain the depth of literary dialogue present in so many of their original sources. He attributes the success of Dracula (1931) to the boons offered by the sound film.
Scott W. Hoffman " Ben-Hur". St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. . FindArticles.com. 30 Nov. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g1epc/is_tov/ai_2419100110
This article outlines the history of Ben-Hur. It was written by Lew Wallace and started "an amazing series of first in American popular culture." With its publishing in 1880, Ben-Hur slowly became a very popular book. It only sold 2800 copies in its first seven months, but it sailed over a million in 1911.
In 1907 the Wallace estate ended up suing the makers of a film based on the novel which led to the "first recognition of an author's rights in film adaptations." However, in 1922, the Goldwyn Company purchased the rights to the film and set the epic in motion. The most notable attribute of the epic which was released in 1925 was the chariot race.
The chariot race nearly broke the studio because of its massive budget and demands on both human labor and population. Hoffman says that the race "changed the face of filmmaking," and because of that, the audience of the time flocked to see the premiere. Hoffman further tells us that the critics of the time "praised the film (more for its 'grandeur,' however, than its 'story')."
For my bibilography I'm going to focus on the chariot race scene and how it affected the studio. How its shooting changed the face of filmmaking and why the history of the situation leads to an epic rush of emotion that led to the chariot race being remembered throughout Hollywood's history. Hoffman starts off answering my question of "How one scene can effect a studio?" by telling us that the film was known more for its grandeur and that "its considerable expenditure of money and horses made this sequence a brilliant tour-de-force that established...lavish production values."
Call#: Van Pelt Library Rosengarten Reserve PN1998.3.L82 E34 1997
Call#: Ctr for Adv Judaic Studies Lib, 4th & Walnut Sts. PN1998.A3 L833 1984
Beidler also examines how the use of cinematography serves make The Best Years of Our Lives as true to life as possible. Most notabely, he delineates the production of “democratic shots,” in which innovative camera techniques allow for the focusing on all subjects and actions taking place in a given scene, allowing the audience to decide what to focus on. These “democratic shots” that encompass all action taking place within a given scene also lend the film the feeling of a home video. This point in particular is emphasized in the wedding scene at the end, where the guests’ mingling beforehand, the feeling of close quarters and sense of intimacy in Homer’s family’s small living room and anticipation of the bride are all conveyed through the filming. These insights into efforts to humanize the film and make it as accessible to audiences as possible plays a large role in understanding how the film was able to suceed in allowing people to relate to it, from plot to prop to filming. These less obvious qualities of the film, though small, contribute to audience’s ability to connect with it and its message, rendering it an effective tool in remembering of Word War II, specifically the profound way it changed everything.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.2 .S6 1980
Sorlin defines a historical film as one that “includes dates, events and characters known to all members” of the community of the audience. Even a subset of these details is enough for the audience to read the film as part of the historical genre. The historical film requires an understanding that “something real and unquestionable exists, something which definitely happened and which is history.” Even though this is the general understanding, it is not always the main concern of the filmmakers to reproduce the past accurately, and Sorlin believes that historians should accept this and not worry about mistakes made in the representation of past events. In this sense he agrees with Toplin that minor exaggerations or reconfigurations of the past are excusable. Indeed, as Toplin states, "historical films are all fictional."
On this website, one can find in-depth information pertaining to some of the biggest films ever produced. However, I am going to focus on the 1970s section because Jaws can be found on the page where the movies from 1975 are located. In addition to critiquing the film, reviewer Tim Dirks gives a detailed explanation of major scenes and key dialogue.
Dirks describes Steven Spielberg’s Jaws as a “…masterful, visceral and realistic science-fiction suspense/horror-disaster film” and even compared it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Additionally, there is a list of five sources that Dirks tells us both Benchley and Spielberg used in the writing of the book and the making of the film. With these resources, one can easily draw parallels to Moby Dick or even 19th-century literature.
Furthermore, there is a section that includes information and notes on how the production schedule was delayed and other such details. Along with these facts, Dirks also writes about the setting in which Jaws takes place – Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Perhaps one of the best features of the article on the film is that Dirks includes the historical significance of how Jaws was released nationwide with the aid of prime-time television advertising. He also states that the film was an impetus for future “blockbusters” that were to be released in the summer. The film Jaws is obviously an important Hollywood film, and this website gives one an excellent starting point from which to begin collecting information or data.
Pfaelzer, J. (1999). Salt of the Earth: Women, Class, and the Utopian Imagination. Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, 16 (1): 120-31.
This is an article that deals with representations of working women and class in the film.