Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein Essay
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein
The director has made it clear to the audience that the film will be about life and death by having a statue of Jesus almost toppling over, next to a large figure of the grim reaper representing death. When Frankenstein is digging the grave up, he throws dirt over the statue, perhaps representing how he has no respect for death. The props and costumes are used reflect the setting and atmosphere. Dr. Frankenstein’s clothes differ from the rest of the cast, wearing a cravat and white shirt; the director may have done this to represent his higher status in society, compared to the mourners or Frankenstein’s hunchback assistant.
In Branagh’s film the costumes are all very similar, they play no major part in the first four minutes studied. However they help to keep in with the mono colour of the ice and pale faces. These bland colours create a stark and dramatic contrast to the bright red blood which comes on screen when the monster’s hand dramatically appears. The make up worn by the characters in Whale’s film is heavy, pronounced and very theatrical; designed so that people in the theatre could see the faces from far away, but on camera it looks exaggerated and over the top.
Branagh has used make-up subtly and realistically, creating red cheeks to show cold conditions alongside messy hair and unshaven faces to represent the length of time since the characters have been near civilization. Whale’s theatrical past suggests why all the facial expressions and movements are prominent and exaggerated. Although Branagh also has a distinguished history in theatre, Whale was working in the beginnings of Hollywood when cinema was portrayed much like theatre on screen.
In the first close ups of Fritz and Frankenstein they are both wide-eyed which connotes stereotypical mad scientists and both characters creep around the graveyard with dramatic stage whispers. The facial expressions and emotions in Branagh’s Frankenstein are far less obvious and it is due to this fact that there is a lot more change in emotion over a short space of time. During a few minutes, the expressions of one character changed from fear, to pride, to concentration and then anger. This emotion change is slightly exaggerated to let the audience engage and empathize with the characters.
One way that Branagh lets the audience use their imagination is by his use of positioning within the frame. Most shots are very closely cropped to the faces so that we can see expressions clearly. However, when the monster was killing the dogs, Branagh cleverly clipped the shots so that the suspense could be continued and prolonged. This method of positioning is a big contrast to Whale’s. Most of the shots in his version are mid or long and there are very few point-of-view or close ups. This is partly due to the lack of technology and experience.
Branagh may have used more adventurous and interesting angles but he has had 60 years of Hollywood to look back on; Whale was at a huge disadvantage in this respect and this should of course be considered when deciding who is the better director. Whale did try and be adventurous in some respects: he used an effective high angle shot towards the end of the four minutes, it showed Fritz and Frankenstein walking towards the gallows, which heightened the feeling of a change of setting, and it clearly showed the rocky landscape, which also increased the sense of fear.
Whale has placed the characters so that they were very central within the frame. The camera sticks to the action and follows it, much like if one were watching a play, a method most probably influenced by Whale’s history in theatrical directing. Branagh’s editing is a great deal faster than Whale’s so this gives him more scope to change the camera angles. However, the reason for this difference in speed could be down to the settings of the expositions, not effectiveness of directing.
Branagh’s film begins in a chaotic storm with lots of action, whereas Whale tries to connote sense of fear and slow eeriness. Branagh tries to create an emotional impact and takes it for granted that the audience will understand and follow the action, whereas Whale’s style is more conventional and his editing is used for practical purposes and to see the setting and to follow the action. As an audience in the 20 and 21st century, we are so used to the conventional shock tactics, that we fail to take into account their effect in older films, such as Whale’s Frankenstein.
Although aspects of Whale’s production may seem dated to today’s audience, there’s an atmosphere present that would be hard to re-create, even with technological advances. Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, for all its use of modern technology, lacks the atmospheric build up that Whale’s seems to have. Whale’s film is more like the nineteenth century novel; his style suits the slow unveiling of narrative, as in the book, whereas Branagh conveys a sense of action and fast moving suspense to satisfy the ever-demanding audience.
The fast moving action means that Branagh has not had a chance to build up a sense of fear; everything is over dramatized and with a very fast pace. Although Branagh has indeed created an atmospheric build up, using all the modern technology available, James Whale’s Frankenstein has stood the test of time and, although it was directed 63 years before Branagh’s, has used the most effective techniques available to build up an atmosphere of tension and fear.
If an audience of today find Whale’s directing more or equally effective than Branagh’s then imagine how well it would have worked on audiences unaccustomed to this level of horror within a film. Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Mary Shelley section.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 12 November 2017
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