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234 × 156 × 18 mm
240 pages
111 illustrations
01 Jul 2006
  • £19.95

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Mad, Bad and Dangerous? The Scientist and the Cinema Christopher Frayling

Since its origin cinema has had an uneasy relationship with science and technology: scientists are almost always impossibly mad or impossibly saintly, and technology is nearly always very bad for you. In Mad, Bad and Dangerous?, Christopher Frayling explores the genealogy of the film scientist in films made in Western Europe, and especially in Hollywood after the 1930s, showing how in film the scientist has often been used to represent the prevailing phobias of the time.

In the 1950s, for example, films were dominated by the fear of botched atomic research, and were a showcase of mutated, outsized creatures and radioactive zombies. Since Hitchcock’s The Birds, however, the role of the scientist has been less straightforward, and by the 1970s damage to the environment and the spread of diseases were the predominant consequences of science gone wrong. Scientists - and the corporations that controlled them - became the ‘baddies’.

The author also examines in parallel the portrayal of real-life scientists in the movies, noting how they are in the main depicted as misfits, immersed in their work, sacrificing any normal life to the interests of science, yet distrusted by the scientific establishment. Interestingly, the cinematic portrayal of fictional and real-life scientists follow very similar dramatic conventions, and Frayling concludes that the mad scientist and the saintly one are two sides of the same Hollywood coin.

‘Christopher Fraylings entertaining and illuminating book focuses on emblematic films . . . [Frayling] looks at changing representations of scientists and the social anxieties they gave expression to.’ — Financial Times

‘Fraylings book, visually enhanced by scores of black-and-white illustrations, successfully breaks through the walls that often separate art and science. The end product is a highly readable, jargon-free account of scientists on screen that will appeal to both cinema buffs and scientific boffins.’ — Scotland on Sunday

‘Frayling has reviewed in detail the changing role and perception of scientists in more than a hundred years of cinema [. . .] He covers films [. . .] rigorously, detailing lost or forgotten reels with the precision and loving hand of a devoted film historian.’ — Nature

‘a splendidly impartial account of how scientists have been portrayed [. . .] This most entertaining book has wide appeal. The illustrations have been carefully selected, and there is a long list of references. Above all, it has been meticulously researched.’ — Patrick Moore, The Times Higher Education Supplement

‘Christopher Fraylings book characterises several thematic variations in the portrayal of scientists and doctors in Western cinema, from silent movies to modern blockbusters. He has cast his net widely, studying posters and publicity stills as well as films and scripts, and compiled an entertaining survey.’ — British Medical Journal

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Christopher Frayling is Rector of the Royal College of Art, London, Chairman of the Arts Council of England, and is well known as a historian, critic, and award-winning radio and TV broadcaster. His books include Spaghetti Westerns (1980) and Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula (1991).

1.  The Scarecrow's Brain
2.  The New Alchemists
3.  Rotwang and Sons
4.  Frankenstein Meets the Milkman
5.  My Lips are Sealed
6.  It, Son of Them
Photographic Acknowledgements