Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Unhappy Galvanic Tale of George Forster

I might be alone in really liking Kenneth Branagh's version of Frankenstein. But then, I like all film versions of Frankenstein (that I know about). Not so much for the monster, as for Frankenstein himself: in love with science, with electricity, with the coming of a modern age in which death can be overcome by the application of knowledge.

Here's Kenneth Branagh as Victor, sweatily delivering his new-born monster:

And here's my favourite Victor, and one of my favourite actors, the brilliant Peter Cushing:

There's something about cerebral, brooding blokes who get excited about electricity, isn't there? I also find Nikola Tesla to be very interesting, and quite dashing in this photo, too:

He's a bit Ralph Fiennes-ish, isn't he? I'm so up for a film version of Tesla's life with Ralph Fiennes. Although Bowie made a cool Tesla in The Prestige.

Anyhoo, on to George Forster. The real-life Frankenstein's Monster. Hanged for the murder of his wife and child, his body was passed over to one Professor Aldini, who practised Galvanism upon him. It's a pretty horrible business, but at least he didn't come back to life, because then George Forster would have been hanged all over again, as this newspaper article from 1803 points out quite gleefully at the end. Go have a read.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Making the Reader Feel

I've been thinking a lot about how much harder it is to make a reader think than to make a reader feel.

Making our audience emote is usually considered to be a great thing, whether you're an artist or a filmmaker or a novelist, but recently I've become very aware of how much feeling I'm being asked to do when I could be taking something more from an experience. And once I started noticing this tendency in all modern entertainment to try to wring tears or laughter from me, I began to really resent it. For instance, someone recommended the American TV series Bones to me. It's quite entertaining. It has a lot of incidental music and close-ups and moments of angst-ridden meaning when we're reminded that the protagonist's parents disappeared and she NEVER SAW THEM AGAIN. Last night I watched an episode in which the protag. finally opened the Christmas parents her parents had left for her before their disappearance, fifteen years ago. I cried. And then I felt really stupid. I'd just been manipulated into crying, once again. I'd wasted emotion on that programme. By the end of the day, after all this being poked into emotion-emitting, I'm a dried-out husk of a person.

I'm not saying I want to just watch and read intellectualised art. I'm just saying that when we have been made to really consider a situation, a character, an event - that's when we are truly immersed in the experience. Then just the slightest emotion can have huge resonance. We don't need disappeared parents and rousing music.

A good example of this has to be The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison. Three students get involved in some sort of mystic rite and it has repercussions throughout their lives. Not obvious, demon-chasing repercussions. There's no pentacles and big fat devils (although I haven't quite reached the end yet). There are constructions of realities that nobody can escape. They live quiet, scared lives as a consequence.

It has been hurting my brain to read this book because I had to do some thinking about it. What's the last book that really made you think, rather than feel?