March 17, 2010

Edison's Frankenstein In The Round

One hundred years ago, the startling Monster in the Kinetograph Frankenstein drew its aesthetic inspiration from theatrical tradition harking all the way back to 1823, when T.P.Cooke first leapt onstage wearing a belted toga, a “counselor’s” wig, and blue greasepaint on his face. Cooke’s imitators and successors copied and perpetuated the look.

By the time Charles Ogle donned the tunic and wig of The Monster at the Edison studios in 1910, he stood in a direct line of shaggy Frankenstein monsters, the image of The Monster in the first half of its performance life, as dominant then as the radically different Pierce and Karloff version has been since 1931.

Charles Ogle’s grimacing Monster is an irresistible inspiration for figure and mask art interpretations. The best of the bunch is William Paquet’s superb sculpt, originally produced as a resin kit by Monstrology Models and reissued in 2009 by Fritz Frising. The figurine is beautifully detailed, with wild crepe hair and realistic drool.

An earlier resin kit produced by Bruce Turner’s Cinema Art Models, captured the Ogle Monster in his trademark hula dancer pose.

A bizarre re-imagining of the Edison Frankenstein was produced by Aztech Toys and issued by Mezco as part of the Silent Screamers series that included the Metropolis Robot, the Golem and Nosferatu, all given an altogether unnecessary makeover.

Finally, a brand-new, one-of piece is the fabulous 100th Anniversary Tribute Display Mask created by sculptor and makeup artist Tony Pitocco on a special commission from mask expert and collector extraordinaire Bill Luciani. It’s a perfect, stunning likeness of the saucer-eyed Monster, seen here for the first time.

There can be no doubt, Ogle’s Monster will continue to inspire for another hundred years.

Bill Luciani's 100 Heads of Frankenstein
All posts about Edison's Frankenstein


Max the drunken severed head said...


Every one of these products make the mistake of making the front and lower edge of Ogle's headpiece LOOK like the front and lower edge of a headpiece! The flaws are a little less apparent in the film than in the famous photograph of Ogle. But, in any case, the edges and less-than-perfect appearance was meant to be overlooked-- just like when you see the where the edges of a modern foam latex appliance join an actor's face. The front of Ogle's headpieceis likely cloth, as with clowns' wigs of the day-- and as such could not be made to blend seamlessly with the face.

Just like the grease paint eyebrows aren't meant to be interpreted as showing you a Monster wearing greasepaint lines on his forehead.

Are the designers that limited in imagination? I see Tony Pitocco didn't paint the eyebrows like the solid painted lines they were on Ogle; he "feathered" them to simulate hair.

As far as I can tell, these items are meant to celebrate the film character of Ogle's Frankenstein. NOT the historical actor as he appeared on the set. If I'm right, then these products unintentionally disrespect both the film and the makeup design-- not a great way to celebrate the first film adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic.

I'm looking now at the classic Teves bust of the Karloff Frankenstein. Although in photos you can clearly see the circular edges of the putty used to help hold the "electrodes" to Karloff's neck, Teves did NOT recreate this. He re-created the Karloff Monster, not Karloff AS the Monster. The Ogle Monster deserves the same!

Okay, the cranky old guy will get off his soapbox now...

Pierre Fournier said...

You raise a very interesting question, Max. What is the makeup MEANT to show? Are we supposed to see a high, deformed forehead… or a bandaged forehead, with hair sprouting above? Considering how the arms, legs and feet are swathed in bandages, was the forehead meant to be bandaged, too?

I’ve only seen the film on the net, and once on TV, and the images are too small, too fuzzy, too deteriorated to show details. I’ve studied stop frames and screen caps. I’ve used Photoshop to try and coax out a suitable image. Look at the pic in my repost this week (“First Frankenstein of the Movies”) where Ogle is standing. See how the separation line and the cloth on the forehead are very visible, much like they are on the still photo from the program book where, apparently, no attempt is made to hide the cloth or “blend” it in to suggest anything but bandages.

Makeup back then, 100 years ago after all, was primitive by today’s standards, but it wasn’t prehistoric. A skullcap, a high forehead could be done without looking as awfully crude as the Ogle photos suggest.

So here’s my na├»ve question: Because we have been conditioned, so to speak, by the Pierce/Karloff design of a high, square forehead, are we reading that into the Ogle makeup when it was really meant to show the monster with a bandaged skull?

Opinions are welcome!

Max the drunken severed head said...

Dear Pierre--

Thanks for raising interesting questions.

In 1910 the standards were pretty low-- but only as compared to what would soon come.

I take the view I do based on old photos of circus clowns and comedy performers on the stage, who wore exaggerated headpieces with cloth fronts and tops and hair on the sides. With a clown, as with this Monster white cloth was meant to be viewed as all of a piece with the white greasepaint on the face, even though you could still see the edge.

With the likely small budget of the Edison film, the proximity in time to theater and circus makeup as the standard for creating character makeups, and the lack of later, more sophisticated film stocks and lighting, I'm not convinced that it was possible for the makeup to have been much better in the Edison film.

The thought of the design being a bandage with hair out of the top is intriguing. But the dummy in the chemical cauldron seems to have no bandages on, and the high forehead is there on the dummy. Further, when the brand new Monster from the burning vat makes his first appearance in Frankenstein's bedroom, he seems to have no clothes on at all! You see hair all over him, and not the ragged sleeved tunic seen on the KINETOGRAM cover photo.(Hard to say for sure he's "nude", but that's how it appears when I see the footage; you can't see the Monster's lower half-- and I think that's intentional.) The high forehead is in that sequence. Would the Ogle Monster be wearing a bandage around his forehead and nowhere else? P'shaw, I say, p'shaw!

The Monster in the film is clearly meant to be seen as towering over its creator, matching the description of the monster in the novel. Ogle, already a tall man, is padded and bewigged in a way to stress that larger size. Why wouldn't the front of the headpiece be there to exaggerate the size of the head, rather than just be a bandage in front?

I must say, after looking at the film multiple times, that the hair on the Monster's head appears to be designed to appear as if it's flowing not just from the top (and down over the sides of a bandage), but from the sides of the head itself.

Besides, if that's a bandage, it is a singularly wide one with no overlap. That's possible, I suppose, but unlikely, it seems to me.

At this point, I still think the designs of the Ogle Monster items reflect a lack of understanding of how the Monster is to be seen, and show how sometimes you can't "see" the past through the lens you view the present with. The work done on the mask and the resin kits show good sculpting skills and design-- and I wish I'd said that in my first comment.

Max the drunken severed head said...

One other thing-- after looking closely many times at the photo and film of Ogle, I can see no bandages anywhere except on the legs. The arms and chest show only a ragged, tattered tunic-- at least that's what I see. Apparently, the sculptor for the Cinema Arts figure viewed Ogle's Monster the same way.

rob! said...

The glob of spit is a great, if gross, touch.

Fritz die Spinne said...

Hey, this was a nice surprise. Hard to imagine it is nearly a year since relaunching Monstrology Models. Thanks, Pierre!

The Paquet version of this Monster is still available if anyone is hoping to add it to their collection.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the unnecessary nature of the makeovers in the Silent Screamers line with one exception: Nosferatu. The design of the Nosferatu figure is closely based on stylized depictions of the character that appeared in original movie posters.

Rainer F. Engel said...

In fairness to the two resin kits presented you should realize that those were made in the early nineties with no more reference available than the one or two photographs from Famous Monsters magazine. The actual movie wasn't available at that time, so they had to take some artistic license to fill the voids.