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Topic section: The science of screams
TOPIC SECTION:
The science of screams
The ‘mad’ scientist is one of the most instantly recognisable cultural icons. The mere mention of the phrase conjures
Picture: 01B_2000-5000_0138.jpg
Reference print of Paul Massie in test make-up as Mr. Hyde.
Credit: NMPFT, courtesy of the estates of Roy Ashton and Phil Leakey
 up a gallery of mental images: the fortress laboratory at midnight, bubbling test tubes and strange electrical equipment. The mad scientist goes by many names, among the most famous being Baron Victor Frankenstein, Henry

A recurring theme is the split personality, as exemplified by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

 Jekyll, or Doctors Moreau, Phibes, Mirakel, Evil or Strangelove. He also wears many faces. At his most evil he is personified by Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi or the dashingly wicked Vincent Price; in a less intimidating guise he is The Nutty Professor as played by Jerry Lewis (1964) or Eddie Murphy (1996).

Within the broad category of the ‘mad scientist’ there are a number of identifiable sub-categories – crazed lunatics, nerdy cerebral types, rigorous rationalists, nutty professors. But they have one characteristic
Picture: 01A_2000-5000_0020.jpg
Bernard Bresslaw reference print for 'Jekyll & Hyde', about 1960.
Credit: NMPFT, courtesy of the estates of Roy Ashton and Phil Leakey
 in common: they are all ‘social outcasts’, alienated from normal society by their genius and driven by an obsessive, single-minded ambition to achieve their goals. This reinforces another very strong cultural presumption – the close link between madness and genius. A recurring theme is the split personality, as exemplified by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Instead of madness being a wild descent into irrationality, split-personality madness is seen as the flip side of hyper-intelligence. A recent example is A Beautiful Mind (2002), a film about the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, John Nash (born 1928). In 1681 the poet John Dryden (1631–1700) wrote: ‘Great wits are sure to madness near alli’d, And thin partitions do their bounds divide.’ In the cinema, the partition between genius and madness would appear to be as thin as the screen on which the films are projected.

 
 
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Topic Section: The cinema of paranoia
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From the post-war era to the present, science fiction films have reflected the concerns of their age. Films of the early 1950s, featuring aliens and mutants, expressed the paranoia of the time and the Cold War.  > more

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Topic section: Frankenstein’s scream factory
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The question of whether the scientist plays God has been a major theme for movies. The punishment for such arrogance has been portrayed as tragedy. The story of Frankenstein’s monster is replayed in Jurassic Park.  > more
 
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