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‘Frankenstein’ Rare film to be screened

Published: Mon, December 13, 2010 @ 12:02 a.m.

What: Centennial showing of “Edison’s Frankenstein 1910” film and lecture

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Oakland Center for the Arts, 220 W. Boardman St., Youngstown

Admission: $5 at the door



“Edison’s Frankenstein,” a rare film and one of the oldest in American history, will be screened Friday at the Oakland Center for the Arts.

The evening will also include a lecture and commentary by author and Youngstown native Chris Yambar, who will sign copies of his graphic novel adaptation of the film and exhibit the original art from the book.

The strange story behind the 15-minute film vaguely parallels the novel on which it is based.

In 1910, inventor Thomas Edison, who also owned a film company, produced the film. It was the first based on Mary Shelley’s horror novel “Frankenstein.”

It was the fledgling days of filmmaking, and a shocked public raised an outcry because of the film’s content. Copies were gathered up and destroyed, and the remaining copies became a Holy Grail of Silver Screen history.

A lone copy surfaced in the silent film collection of Alois Dettlaff of Milwaukee during the 1960s, but it was a guarded reel, shown only to a select few over the next 40 years. The eccentric Dettlaff never allowed the film to leave his estate and refused to have it restored.

Yambar obtained a copy of the film in 2003. He and illustrator Robb Bihun examined the film frame-by-frame, noting everything that occurred. They fought the temptation to make it gory, keeping their adaptation as bloodless and straightforward as the film.

“We looked for every subtle nuance we could find,” said Yambar. “In silent film, everything was important.”

In order to improve the narrative, Yambar had to create scenes to bridge some of the segments together. He said he did this with great respect for the original material.

The result was a 40-page graphic novel, along with an additional 22 pages of historical overview by Frankenstein historian Frederick Wiebel Jr.

“The graphic novel sold out within 18 months,” Yambar said. “Since that time, Mr. Dettlaff has passed on and the whereabouts of the single print has again vanished. Either it’s in hiding — he told no one where he kept it — or it went up in smoke like all silver nitrate does when it decides to leave this world.”

Last summer, a single case of the first-print graphic novels was discovered in a warehouse in Cleveland. So in celebration of the film’s 100th anniversary, Yambar decided to hold a screening and book signing in his hometown.

Copies of the graphic novel will be on sale at Friday’s screening, while supplies last. Original page art will also be available for collectors.


1TheDeadBodyMan(2 comments)posted 5 years, 6 months ago

I must admit I am slightly confused by this article. If a "lone" copy surfaced in Dettlaff's collection, was guarded, shown only to a select few, never restored and has since disappeared...where did Yambar get a copy? And where did the copy being screened appear from?

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2TheDeadBodyMan(2 comments)posted 5 years, 6 months ago

Nevermind... I did my own investigative reporting to fill in the author's "gaps".

In 1975, at the urging of TV news photographer Charles Sciurba, Dettlaff undertook making a copy of the film with the aid of Clarence Stelloh, who had worked as an engineer at Western Electric during the early days of sound film. Working over several weekends, the pair used a 16mm camera and a modified step printer to copy some 14,000 to 15,000 images at a rate of one to two frames a second to create a 16mm backup copy of the film. Complicating the project was the fact that the film had shrunk by up to 8% at some spots, necessitating Stelloh to make changes ot the printer to accommodate for the varying space between the sprocket holes.

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