Bride of Frankenstein

I love the horror pictures Universal made in the 30's. I don't know why - horror is one of my least favorite genres overall- but I simply cannot resist them. Dracula was, I believe, the first one I saw. It was on late at night (Starting around 11 or 11:30, as I recall), when normal commercials have stopped and commercial breaks are filled with big-boobed women breathlessly reciting phone numbers, and ads for terrible phone ringtones. It made for a nice contrast with the film, which is all about repressed sexuality and hidden desires.

There are a few standard tropes in horror, and in this period in the 30's, they were explored one by one for what felt like the first time. Dracula was about the dangers of sex. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was about the duality of man, about the perversity hidden by a thin layer of civilisation. The Wolfman is about our fear of our animal nature, the Invisible Man about how much "others" looking at us influences us, and so on.

Frankenstein is of course a Faustian tale, about the hubris of trying to play God, about the dangers of science, too. There is another more literary strain too, though: both novel and movie are about the responsibility of a creator/author for his creation.

In the first movie, the big mistake Frankenstein makes is not just that he makes the monster, but also that he abandons it. The "monster" is not really evil, but he lacks education: because he was abandoned he has no restraint, no morals. He kills a little girl, not because he wants to, but because he doesn't know that she won't float, and the rest of the people are killed mostly out of fright and anger.

Interestingly enough, James Whale, who directed both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, tried to abandon his creature too after the first film. He wanted to do loftier things than horror, but eventually he was lured back, accepting to direct a sequel only if he could write it.

In the tale that he wrote, the monster gets not just one but two educators. The first one is a kind old blind man, who teaches him not only to talk but also what friendship is. The second teacher however, is the evil-minded Dr. Pretorius, who uses the monster to get Frankenstein to pick his work back up. Frankenstein resists, at first, but once he's convinced he plunges back into full-fledged obsession.

I'm afraid too much from my "return of the repressed" literature course is coming back here, I could go on and on about this film, about its handling of women, about Else Lanchester's performance(s), about the framing of the story, about how it could be analyzed in the context of queer cinema. I won;t though, because the most important thing that you can say about the film is that it's absolutely marvelous, thrilling and entertaining, better than the original, and a classic everyone should see. It will take only 75 minutes of your life, and nothing could be more worth it.

Incidentally, Gods and Monsters, Bill Condon's great film about James Whale, which features a re-creation of the set of Bride of Frankenstein, is on "Canvas" (a Belgian channel) tonight at 0:10. If you don't mind staying up late, it's worth checking out.


Plein Soleil

Alain Delon is breathtakingly gorgeous. I probably could have watched him, photographed and frequently shirtless like he is here, reading the proverbial phonebook, and I still would have been captivated.

It seems shallow to point it out. But in fact, in Plein Soleil, the first film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, Delon's beauty is essential. He has not just an amazing physique, but also an angelic face, a face that seems incompatible with his fundamentally evil nature. If we look just at his actions, then Ripley is a monster, a callous and cold-blooded killer with purely selfish motives, who doesn't even seem to understand love, just desire. But because we're so used to associate evil with ugliness, and beauty with truth and goodness, we go along with his story, try to understand him, try to justify his actions to ourselves, to be able to look at him and admire him without guilt.

This is a very different Ripley than Matt Damon's in Mingella's 1999 film. His Ripley was mostly a cypher, someone so empty that he needs to adapt someone else's personality and life to know who to be. He was a chameleon first and foremost, though admittedly the homoerotic subtext was also a big part of that film, a bigger one than it is in Plein Soleil. Delon's Ripley is more nefarious, also a little pathetic especially in the beginning, ultimately more evil in nature but because of his beauty also more alluring.

I liked The Talented Mr. Ripley, especially for Jude Law's amazing performance. It's the more suspenseful movie of the two. But this one digs deeper somehow. Highsmith created a fascinating character in Ripley, one whose motivation is so obscure many different interpretations are possible, a character also who makes for intriguing films. Ripley's Game, with John Malkovich in the titular role, is an underseen little gem, and I still very much want to see Hopper's take on the character in The American Friend. So far though, Plein Soleil is the Ripley film I like best.


First Bergman, then Antonioni...

It's a good week to die, apparently. I have to admit this news affected me a lot more, because while I've only seen two movies by Antonioni, I love them both.

When you read a synopsis of the plot of an Antonioni movie, it often seems like it's an action movie, almost, a mystery, something suspenseful. Take Blow-Up, for example: "A man discovers he might have photographed a murder". Or the Passenger: "A man takes the identity of a dead man, who turns out to have been an arms dealer". It almost feels like there should be exclamation points at the end, but Antonioni never resorts to them, and subverts your expectations. He lures you in with these seemingly plot-driven premises, and then turns them into meditations on reality, identity, and the inability of finding an absolute truth.

Blow-up ends with the famous mime scene: mimes are playing tennis without a ball or rackets. When at some point "the ball" goes out of the tennis court, David Hemmings picks it up, throws it back, and all of a sudden we hear the sounds of the ball hitting the rackets. Then, in the famous final shot, our protagonist simply disappears. The Passenger ends with a similar disappearance, and a masterful shot that goes on forever, daring us to find meaning or purpose.

I know, I know, two films is too few to really know a filmmaker. I need to see l'Avventura, l'Eclisse, and many more. But I do know that based on the two movies I have seen, Antonioni is a filmmaker I admire and love, and in my mind, he didn't die: he simply, from one frame to the next, vanished into the unknown.


Rest in peace, Ingmar

In memory of Ignmar Bergman, I finally saw one of his films tonight. "The Seventh Seal" or "Det Sjunde inseglet". Appropriately enough, it revolves around death.

I don't know why, even knowing about the iconic chess-match paid homage to by Bill and Ted, I expected stark, grim realism. The film is very grim in parts, but realistic? It's more of an absurd fairy tale, an allegory, and to my great surprise, it's funny.

I'm not sure if I like it yet, don't know quite what to make of it. I do know I've never seen anything like it, and that it's a shame I was reluctant to see Bergman's films until now. It's always sad when a great man dies, but this one leaves a legacy to be reckoned with, and one I'm planning to explore in detail.