Sunday, October 21, 2007
31 Days of Halloween - Day 21 - Movie 1
"Frankenstein" (1931) is an absolute masterpiece. Everytime I watch it, I find myself focusing on a different aspect of it. Sometimes it's the performances, particularaly that little detail where Fritz adjusts his sock before climbing the stairs in the watchtower. Other times the editing and James Whale's direction. Often it's Jack Pierce's amazing make-up brought to life by Boris Karloff's heartbreaking and imposing rendition of the monster. Equally captivating for me is the way the celebration in the town is slowly brought to a halt as Maria is carried through the sea of revelers. On this occassion, my immersion in the gorgeous vertical set design created by Charles D. Hall, was overcome by a sudden fascination with the movie's depth of field. The lighting and composition in this movie is fantastic, with an impressive use of high contrast light and dark areas to focus our attention on certain characters and actions in the film, all the time making the sets seem richer, deeper, than they probably really were.
A perfect example of this is right after the Monster's first appearance, as he moves across the room to the chair, the scene is framed by a support column with chains ascending across the frame, and Dr. Waldman. As Henry Frankenstein opens a skylight, the light first falls across the seated monster, then slides down a wall in the foreground right. There are other examples of this throughout the movie, and while it is directly influenced by "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920), the look of "Frankenstein" has gone on to influence not only countless horror movies made since, but films such as "Citizen Kane" (1941) to the Mike Mignola's great comic book series, "Hellboy."
The cinematographers for "Frankenstein" were Arthur Edeson and Paul Ivano, and they deserve as much credit for this masterpiece as anyone else involved.