Title – ‘Gods and Monsters‘
Director – Bill Condon
Starring – Sir Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, Lolita Davidovich
Release Date – 1998
“To a new world of gods and monsters!”
— Dr. Pretorius to Dr. Frankenstein in ‘Bride of Frankenstein’
We’ve got a wonderful treat for you this week on Dekkoo! The Academy Award winning film ‘Gods and Monsters‘ by Bill Condon! Released theatrically in 1998 it went to on win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for two other categories – Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. The script for the film was based on a biography of famous director James Whale called ‘Father of Frankenstein’ by Christopher Bram. Before we jump into talking about the movie I think it’s important to talk about the background of our protagonist: James Whale.
A quick background on the real James Whale:
While James Whale directed nearly 20 films by now only a few have survived the test of time. Most notable among those are ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, ‘The Invisible Man’, and ‘The Old Dark House’. Born in 1889 Whale was one of seven children and had to stop attending school in his teens because of money issues in the family. He started as a cobbler and ended up using his blossoming artistic abilities to paint signs for neighbors. When World War I broke out in 1914 he decided to enlist in the army and avoid the draft that he knew was inevitable. In 1917 he was captured in Flanders and remained imprisoned for more than a year. During that time he used his creative talents to amuse and entertain his fellow soldiers with amateur productions. After the war he spent his time trying to sell cartoons before eventually finding his calling directing plays which he did from 1922 to 1929. After the success of various productions he ventured to Hollywood where producers were looking for directors that had experience with dialog since Hollywood was going through a transition from silent films to talking films. He started off at Paramount Pictures and eventually made his way to Universal Pictures where he met Carl Laemmle, Jr. who offered him the chance to direct any property the studio owned. He chose Frankenstein.
The movie takes place in the 50s – long after the glory days of ‘Frankenstein’. In the 50s James had settled into his Pacific Palisades abode and had used the pool to his advantage; throwing pool parties where large groups of young men fooled around with each other while he watched. After having a small stroke in 1956 he became more withdrawn and hardly left the house. Enter Clayton (played by Brenden Fraser) – the new beefcake gardener. Some have noted that his tall lanky appearance is similar to that of the monster from ‘Frankenstein’. James takes an immediate liking to him and invites him to pose for some sketches. During these sessions they get to know each other and quickly become friends. There are some speed bumps though mostly owing to Whale’s tendency to lapse into memories about parties, sex, and boys which makes Clayton wildly uncomfortable. Watching from the sidelines during this tentative courtship/friendship is Hanna (played by Lynn Redgrave and nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars), his loyal housemaid who clearly disapproves of his homosexuality and tries to place herself in the middle of anything she deems suspicious.
The film oscillates between these sketching sessions, memories from Whales’ childhood and later career, some interactions with fan, (‘take off your clothes and I’ll tell you everything’) and a past lover. Bringing the fun down a notch is Whales’ medical conditions – his strokes have left him severely ill and he toys with the idea of suicide. Ian McKellen is absolutely wonderful in the role of James Whale. He inhabits the playful, sexual, tormented, and reminiscent mind with the skill someone only of someone his caliber can deliver. He truly delivers a performance worthy of winning Best Actor at the Oscars, but sadly he was only nominated for it. The film is also a wonderful accomplishment for Bill Condon who later went on to direct ‘Kinsey’ and ‘Dreamgirls’ along with a host of other more mainstream fare like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn’. It’s a film that will stay with you long after the closing credits. A beautiful swan song to creativity and a life lived honestly.
Watch it with: A group of your creative friends.
Mix it with: Champagne.