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Cover by Mo Starkey

Thomas Alva Edison invented the


modern world. Its impossible to overstate
how important he was to what weve managed
to become in this strangely modern world of
ours. His innovations including the incandescent
lightbulb and the mimeograph all made this
world we live in realistic instead of an image cast
against some far-off wall of Future. The invention
of his that I most appreciate is his contribution
to flm.
While there are many people who could
have claimed that they invented the movies,
Edison is the one who would most likely sue
you if you made that claim. His Kinetoscope,
and later Kinetophone, were important parts
of what introduced moving pictures to the
American public. Edisons company established
the production techniques that defned the frst
two decades of flm production. It should be no
surprise that many of the frsts of flmmaking
were done under the Edison banner. It should
also be no surprise that Tom Edison had nothing
to do with almost all of the flms that bore his
companys name.
Edisons men like KWL Dickenson
and Edwin Potter are responsible for many of
the early advancements in flm, including the
introduction of sound, color, and editing. It
shouldnt be much of a surprise that Edisons
studio was the frst to bring one of the most
iconic of all early science fction flms to the
screen. It should also not be a shock that just
about everyone freely copied his flms and
techniques, leading to the earliest form of mass
media copyright violation.
Mary Shelleys Frankenstein had been
hugely popular for almost a century by the
time that Edisons people put it to celluloid
in 1910. Theres no need to go into the story
of the actual Frankenstein, but the way it
was presented by the Edison company, which
noted that it was liberally adapted from Mary
Shelleys novel, is very different, certainly a more
traditional storyline for audiences of the day. It
was a simple story, sort of, and while certainly
science fctional, with a far more fantasy slant.
Good Doctor Frankenstein goes off to college,
and like many young people who leave home to
study, discovers the secrets of life and death.
He uses this secret to create a new life home,
a monster. He thinks it will be a thing of grace
and beauty, but instead its a monster the likes
of which a more generous god would never
allow. The story is really about Frankenstein and
his beloved and the Creature who is insanely
jealous of her. Of course, once the Doctor is
fully into the love of his girlfriend. The Monster
runs to the Doctors house, looks in the mirror
and disappears.
Trust me, its better than I make it
sound.
The performers here are really good. Dr.
Frankenstein was played by Augustus Phillips, a
well-known actor of the day who was in more
than a hundred flms in a decade. Of all his flms,
only about 10 are known to still exist in their
whole form. Mary Fuller, a big time player from
about 1913 through 1917 who then crashed and
burned, played the love interest. The Creature
was played by Charles Ogle. Ogle was a big name
of the stage who came and did a ton of movies,
mostly as a character actor. He did almost 300
flms, a fair number of which still exist.
There is a lot to learn from Edisons
Frankenstein. The frst is it is never east to adapt
an existing property. This is a very very very
different project than Shelleys novel. Its much
easier to be grasped and much less spooky. Its
a tale of jealousy and the Doctor is shown to
be a much more sympathetic character than
he is treated as in the book. The presentation
of the monster is much different from any
other Frankenstein. He is something of a
misshaped conglomeration, far more organic
and vegetal than any other version I can think
52 Weeks to Science Fiction Film Leteracy: Week 2 - Edisons Frankenstein
of. Hes not the hardened industrial monster
of Whales Frankenstein, nor the parts-is-parts
monster than Mr. Robert DiNero portrayed in
Branaughs Frankenstein in the 1990s. While its
hard to judge Ogles performance in the light
of 100 years of acting progress, its easy to see
that he was in the vein of acting in the 1910s.
Theres none of the quiet pathos that many of
those who have tackled The Creature instill in
their performances, but Ogle does his level best
to get the over-the-top emotion that only a
monster can experience.
For many years, it was believed that
Edisons Frankenstein was a lost flm, that all
copies of it had gone out on that lonely ice foe.
It wasnt until the 1970s when Alois Detlaff came
forward and let the world know that he had a
Nitrate copy. Not in perfect shape, it was the
only existing full copy (no more than a few feet
were known to exist otherwise). He allowed
a copy to be made on safety flm, and later
authorized a DVD release. This was a big deal, as
it was one of the few flms that had been known
as a lost flm to be found and then released on
DVD. Sadly, I dont think Alois lived to actually
see it hit the streets.
There is so much more to this flm. The
techniques used for the creation of the monster
are pretty lame, even for the times. It was done
by making a wax fgure, putting it into a furnace-
like situation and then flming it and showing it
backwards. It was a technique that takes back as
far as the Destroying and Building Up the Star
Theatre short from 1901 where the destruction
of the building was captured in time-lapse and
then played backwards, making it look like it was
being re-built. The Star Theatre was something
of a sensation, but by 1910, the technique was
old hat. Still, its kinda creepy to see the results.
The static shots are typical of flms of 1910,
a style called Tableau, though the settings are
simpler than most. It wasnt shot in the Black
Maria, which Edison had stopped using as the
shooting location a few years prior, but was shot
in The Bronx, supposedly in one of the more
modern studios that had started popping up.
The Edison companys list was huge, and
literary adaptations were popular, but it might
be fair to say that this was one of the most
important pieces of early American science
fction. It was a sensation in the 1910s, shown
around the world and considered one of the
best flms of 1910, but it lost importance after
the release of Frankenstein in 1932 because
that version was seen as far more important
and closer to the novel, and therefore should
be seen as the canonical version. This happened
silent versions getting more attention.
The Edison version was dubbed and
shown around the world in unauthorized copies.
One of the reasons Hollywood came to be was
because flmmakers wanted to make movies
without cutting Old Tom in on the profts.
They moved to California, initially to the North
(including Niles in what is now Fremont) and
after Edison caught on and started sending folks
to shut down productions, to the South, closer
to the border with Mexico so crews could fee
across to avoid the law.
You can fnd Edisons Frankenstein on
YouTube and there is a recent release of a
preserved version on DVD to celebrate the
Centenary of its release. It is a signifcant piece
of flm history and should be viewed not only
as an important part of the story of science
fctions flmic evolution, but as a part of a story
of the study of flm history.
many times, as flms like
20,000 Leagues Under
the Sea or the Snow
White which inspired
Walt Disney as a child,
when a better version
would become available,
would see the older one
largely discarded. That
practice led to the loss
of many of the most
important early literary
adaptations. One of the
rare examples was the
Wizaed of Oz, where
the release of the new
version led to the older,
SILENT MOVIES: A
Trip to the Moon
and Frankenstein
by
Frank Wu
In 1985, my world expanded. Before
that, I had READ about wonderful flms and TV
shows Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Kiss
Me Deadly, The Killing, etc., etc. But if I wanted
to SEE them, I was at the mercy of channels 5, 9
and 11, which never re-ran anything worthwhile.
In this day of youtube and NetFlix, its hard to
remember just how hard it was to see, for
example, Forbidden Planet or 2001. You had to
*gasp* wait.
In 1985, that all changed. My dad bought
a VCR, and suddenly any movie that was ever
released on VHS was accessible. I could even
omg! buy copies of my favorite movies and
watch them any time I wanted. It was like a
Cambrian explosion of flm.
The frst movie I ever owned with Metropolis.
We learned in ninth grade that, to truly
appreciate a poem, you had to see it six times.
I must have watched Metropolis ten times that
number.
Why? Film has evolved, obviously, since
the silent era. Back then (especially if you look
at Melies work), there was no color, no dialog,
no sound effects, no camera movement. Just
static shots without frantic editing, and worst
of all, organ music. Lugubrious organ music that
because there are not always aural cues along
with the visual cues. However, you have to pay
such close attention that you become too aware
of every ficker and feck and all the other off-
putting aspects of silents. Thus: A silent movie
demands extra attention and then punishes you
for giving it.
However
The reason a poem needs to be read
six times is that eventually you lose track of the
actual words and you can dig into the deeper
meaning. With repeat viewings, you forget about
the theatrical over-acting and story takes over.
You can also relax a bit and really luxuriate in
the vistas of Babylon in Intolerance and huge
skyscrapers in Metropolis.
Last night Brianna and I sat down and
watched Melies A Trip to the Moon and The
Conquest of the North Pole and the 1910
Edison version of Frankenstein. Shed never seen
any of them before, but she was familiar with
the visual style of A Trip to the Moon via the
Smashing Pumpkins Tonight, Tonight video.
Bri made the interesting observation
that silent movies are more to be studied than
truly enjoyed. In some ways, yes. As we talked
over the flm (one of the advantage of silents!)
we marveled at the clever use of stopping
and starting to camera to make the Selenites
explode. I could watch exploding Selenites all
day long. We also discussed how Melies had
used forced perspective. He presented vast
landscapes and laboratories but these were not
built in three-dimensions, merely clever trompe
loeil paintings on fat backdrops (an advantage
of a fxed camera!). The scenery is so delightful
(and editing so slow) that A Trip to the Moon
boasts a higher ratio of famous shots to total
shots of any flm ever made.
We both enjoyed A Trip to the Moon a
reminds you of the dreadiest sermons
youve ever heard. They say that organ
music is the right music for church,
because when it starts, you feel the
majesty of God, and then it ends, you
feel the mercy of God. Funeral music
doesnt belong in movies not about
funerals.
The hardest part about
watching silent flms, though, is the
lack of plot redundancy. At the end of
sci-f flm today, frinstance, you will SEE
the good guys blow up the bad guys
spaceship, and then you will HEAR
some character saying Yow! We just
blew up their ship! Hurrah! In a silent
flm, you have to pay closer attention,
lot more than Frankenstein. Moon works with a
silent movies strengths, with fun effects, a simple
plot, unimportant characters, and marvelous sets.
In Frankenstein, there is only one real effect shot.
It was created by flming a dummy of the monster
burning, then projecting the flm backwards. The
fames leaping ONTO the monster thus seem
like spiritual energy assembling the tissues. It is
an interesting, effective shot, but far too long.
The emphasis of Frankenstein, unlike Moon is
on plot and character.
The story follows the standard
Frankenstein mythos: Frankenstein (the man,
not the monster) goes off to college, creates
a monster, which then goes crazy, chasing the
scientist as he prepares for his wedding. What is
unique about this version of Frankenstein is the
ending.
It doesnt end with the monster being
destroyed in a fre or explosion.
Rather, the flm emphasizes the doktors
state of mind. It was delusion that drove him to
creating the monster in the frst place. And it is
love that resolves the crisis. This is explained in a
helpful title card: The creation of an evil mind is
overcome by love and disappears. The disappears
part is fascinating. This is what we see on-screen:
the monster beholding himself in the mirror then
the monster disappears, leaving only his mirror
self. Then the man looks in the mirror but he
doesnt see himself, he sees the monster. Then the
monster in the mirror changes into the man, and
the doktor sees himself fnally. Using the crude
visual techniques of the time, the flm conveys a
beautiful message: Love destroys the monster in
all of us. Or, as described in the flm catalog, The
Edison Kinetogram, When Frankensteins love
for his bride shall have attained full strength and
freedom from impurity it will have such an effect
upon his mind that the monster cannot exist.
This is an interesting idea that the
monster is not destroyed by fame, but rather
driven back into the heart by love. Indeed, the
monster is only seen by its creator, suggesting
that it may not have existed in corporeal form to
begin with perhaps it was always just a spiritual
demon waiting to be pushed back into a secret
closet in Dr. Frankensteins heart.
Its a strange and bizarre and
marvelous take on the Frankenstein story. But,
unfortunately, like many silent flms, despite its
myriad charms, Frankenstein remains a slightly
cryptic, impenetrable cipher, more to be studied
Top Gun
Taral Wayne
In Westerns, the Top Gun is the fastest
draw, the deadliest shot, the most dangerous
man in Dodge.
Other gunslingers come from far and
wide for a showdown. They want to be Top
Gun, but you can only get the title by killing a
man who already has that reputation. Top Guns
are gunned for, almost by defnition.
Top Guns are no less gunned for in
fandom than they were in the Old West.
Fortunately, there are no bullets fred, and the
motivation isnt envy. Its admiration, rather.
In fandom, artists who admire other artists
approach them with requests rather than .44
caliber lead.
In a way, its the same thing a measure
of the pecking order. The shootist with the
most notches on his gun doesnt normally go
looking for guys with fewer notches. Its the
other way around.
Among fans, its rare for a Big Name
Artist to make a request from a newbie, or an
obviously less talented artist. It probably speaks
well of fandom that it happens at all as it does.
Talent is impossible to defne in absolute
terms, and what one person sees as talent
may be nothing but an excess of style or mere
imitation to another. I might very much enjoy
the work of ___ or ___ and value their work
for subjective reasons, or out of friendship. Not
everyone will see the work of ___ as I do, and
theres no reason they should. Similarly, other
people see virtue in work where I see none.
To get to the point, I dont think I boast
when I say Im a Top Gun as an artist in fandom.
Im not at the top of everyones personal pecking
order, but according to the general consensus
I move in elevated circles. What this means is
that I have a lot of people gunning for me.
Happily, this doesnt mean people trying to gun
me down, just that I draw more attention than is
always good.
Particularly, I attract requests. Lately Ive
been attracting a lot of them. Some requests
are that I draw a particular character, and other
requests are for trades. While it is fattering, its
also a problem, because I almost inevitably have
to turn requests down. I dont really like to, but
the alternative is a self-sacrifce Im not prepared
to make.
For one thing, I only have so much time.
Whenever I draw for a customer, Im taking time
from drawing something I might prefer to draw
for myself. Not that I hate drawing nekkid bunny
girls with come-hither expressions and lewd
body language, but there are other things in life
besides sex. Perhaps a better way of putting it is
that there are less blatant and more interesting
ways of looking at human sexuality than coochie
poses. The only difference between drawing for
a customer and honoring a request is that the
customer is at least paying me. My time has
value.
As often as not, too, I have no interest
in the request. Sometimes I have no idea even
what the request is. For example:
Can you draw the third porcupine girl
on the left in the swimming pool scene in that
episode of Heathcliffe where he dreams that hes
Hugh Heffner? Can she be naked instead of in a
bathing suit and can she have a banana Daiquiri
in her hand?
Chances are very good that I never
watched the show, that I have no idea what
episode that is, and that I dont give a damn
about porcupine girls anyway. I dont particularly
like banana Daiquiris, either. Not all requests
are like this, of course. Some are far more in
keeping with my own peculiar thoughts and
fetishes. Ive even been given a good idea, once
that I promptly stole. By and large, though,
requests are random demands on my time and
effort that in no way arouse my interest.
Requests for trades are even trickier. Its
easy to say, Im busy, be sure to close the door
quietly on your way out. But when another
fan asks if you would exchange your work for
his, theres no way you can avoid implying a
comparison by refusing. No matter what you
say, what you mean is, your work isnt as good
as mine, and I dont want it. I wouldnt have
to refuse all trades, if better artists came to me
with a request for one. (There are better artists,
I hate to admit.) But for some reason that never
happens. I suspect theyre of much the same
mind as I am about requests, and just dont very
often make them.
I usually cop out by saying I dont collect
art. Then I think better of the outright lie, and
add except art by my actual friends, which is
far more nearly true.
In fact, when I was going to conventions,
I would sometimes arrange a trade between
myself and another artist I admired, but who I
didnt always know well. I like to think I gave
equal value in exchange, but only they can be
the judge of that. But, I also sometimes traded
with complete strangers whose drawings would
not quite make the grade as refrigerator art,
let alone be an equal swap. In cases like that, I
would usually just take a minute to do a quick
head & shoulders of Beatrix, with a throw-away
caption like, I bet that double-cheese & bacon
hamburger tastes great. Last that I remember,
they did. Later, Id give away the art Id gotten
in exchange.
Face to face, its just too hard to say
no. Also, I enjoyed a lot of advantages at
conventions, often going home (from the early
cons) with two or three thousand dollars in
profts. I felt a sense of noblisse oblige to the
unknown fans who wandered up to me and
gushed admiration for my art. Without them,
my prints and portfolios would sit on a dealers
table unsold.
On-line, though, its a lot more bother.
First of all, Id have to remember the request.
Then Id have to make a point of fnding time.
Then Id need to get pencil and paper out, draw,
put the sketch in an envelope, then mail the
stuff from the post offce sometime in the next
couple of days. Its much easier to waffe a little,
then turn a request down. Maybe if I were years
younger, and my enthusiasm hadnt been burned
out by drawing hundreds and hundreds of nekkid
bunnies for money, I wouldnt be so reluctant
to do requests but thats spooge under the
bridge. No amount of wishful thinking will undo
those drawings and bring back my enthusiasm.
Im probably lucky I sometimes feel like
drawing at all. And that, perhaps, is the best
reason not to honour requests. Im conserving
a dwindling resource.
Ill just leave my six-shooter here in the
dust, Pilgrim you can be Top Gun now.
Letter Graded Mail
We start with Eric Mayer!
Chris,
Melies infuenced flm making for a mere
ffteen years? Ha. My friends and I were using
his techniques with our Super 8 cameras in the
sixties. We did the vanishing man trick, with
one of us pointing a ray gun at one of our little
brothers and *poof* he was gone! What fun!!
There was the invisible man, whom you couldnt
see except for his shoes shuffing along. We kept
stretching the envelope. Claymation and real
fre is tough to pull off. We even invented an
advanced technique that I think has never been
adopted by the flm industry. We shot a scene
combining live action and claymation by the
brilliant expedient of having my little brother
perform stop action along with the clay snake
attacking him.
Well, by 1915, Melies wasnt nearly the
infuence that he had been. It wasnt odd to
fnd three flmmakers that would see a Melies
flm and then theyd make their own versions
of the exact same flm. It was how a lot of the
early trick photographers learned their craft.
It is interesting to realize how flm began
to expand mans abilities to create an unreal reality.
Today I guess were getting dangerously close to
being able to create technological mirages that
are indistinguishable from real life, or perhaps we
already have? How much is what really goes on
in the world like what were shown on the news?
How do we know that Im not one of those
technological mirages? If I learned anything
from watching Bladerunner, its that were all
probably Replicants.
Hey now, I know Taral writes a lot of
articles and needs materials, but liquid snot
-- thats not a material I want to read about.
Okay, back in the early nineties I came upon
a plastic nose full of candy snot at a novelty
shop and took it to a Christmas party where
people pulled gifts out of a grab bag. That was
a new and exciting innovation in gross candy,
at least in Rochester and the kid who got
that was the star of the party. Tastes change. I
was thrilled to fnd rubber vomit when I was
a kid. Today they probably make candy vomit.
I remember that snot candy! It actually
tasted kinda good!
At least north of the border Taral
could actually go and see a doctor. Down
here in the third world he might have written
his last article. But if hes hearing Curly things
cant be all bad. How can people not love the
Three Stooges? A fat guy on his back on the
foor twirling around in circles going woo
woo woo woo. Whats not to like? My favorite
Christmas record was by the Three Stooges
- I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.
Heres wishing you plenty
of hippos in the coming year.
Best,
Eric
I really dont understand how anyone can
not love the Stooges... either the Three
Stooges or Iggy and the Stooges!
Image from Marc Schirmeister