written by James Swanton
directed by Sam Ashurst
by Walter Chaw Of all the remembrances and resurrections marking the 200th birthday of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, perhaps the most innovative is Sam Ashurst's document of James Swanton's one-man stage play Frankenstein's Creature, featuring Swanton as the monster on a single dilapidated set, delivering a ninety-minute tour de force monologue that zeroes in on the most-forgotten aspect of Shelley's novel: its wit. Swanton is by turns needling and pathetic, demanding attention and then declaring that he knows he's ugly...but look closer. He takes delight in his part in his "maker's" downfall, gleefully reenacting the execution of an innocent woman blamed for his misdeeds and portraying a side of the monster all but silenced since its most iconic popular cultural representation. Kenneth Branagh's version did its best to touch on the creature's eloquence yet saddled itself, inexplicably, with Robert De Niro's mean streets brogue. Here, Swanton presents a sensitive, fractured intelligence discovering rain for the first time, rivers, the beauty of a nature to which he is an abomination, and loving relationships from which he will eternally be rejected. He's like a murderous Oscar Wilde. It jibes with my memory of Shelley's monster, immortalized in a book that for the first years of its existence was thought to be the product of bad boy Romanticist poet Percy Shelley, Mary's husband. Ashurst, with subtle and not-so-subtle double-exposures and spare camera movements, creates something that recalls, but is utterly distinct from, Jonathan Demme's document of Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia. It's the best movie of its kind since. At its end, what's been represented is a voracious mind fed on Goethe and Milton, all of that failing to civilize the portion brutalized by the creature's rejection from his "father." The subtitle of Shelley's novel is "Or, the modern Prometheus"--and if the connection follows, this monster, the god's creation, is each of us. We shore fragments against our ruins, and as Swanton deconstructs himself, ripping his vestments from himself stitch-by-stolen-stitch, he reveals that we're broken. Beyond repair, I think.