In 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley began writing what was to become her first novel, Frankenstein; or: The Modern Prometheus. She was housebound in a Swiss holiday villa, when the idea for the horrific character came to her in a dream. In 1965, Ingmar Bergman began writing what was to become his twenty-seventh film, Persona. He was bedridden in a Swedish hospital, when the images for the opening montage came to him in a feverish dream.
The opening sequence of Persona, a ‘poem in images’, is a moody montage of startling footage. Intensely personal, these images spell out Bergman’s artistic obsessions: cinema, life and death, religion and sexuality. The sequence is surprisingly horrifying: its imagery is very much akin to what one would expect of, well, a Frankenstein movie.
Surely this is a coincidence. It’s a coincidence that Persona‘s opening sequence is riddled with images of lifeless bodies under white sheets – resembling Frankenstein’s monster before his reanimation. It’s a coincidence that Bergman shows us how life is breathed into still images by a movie projector, just like lightning breathes life into the Creature. It’s a coincidence that Persona uses the same horror iconography (skeletons, spiders, bloody entrails) that is to be found in Frankenstein films. It’s a coincidence that the religious references in Bergman’s visual poem echo the blasphemous hubris of Victor Frankenstein.
But these sure are a lot of coincidences. So many that one could even, say, recreate the opening scene of Persona using only footage from Frankenstein films.
Perhaps Ingmar Bergman was channeling the Victor Frankenstein that is in every filmmaker. Like Frankenstein’s patchwork brute, a movie is pieced together from disjointed shots, and then animated by light. What else is film than resurrecting dead matter: creating motion out of still images?
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