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On Tuesday, May 30, a very noteworthy event took place at the Cinema Paradiso Baden: pianist Gerhard Gruber and actor Ralph Turnheim performed three delightful interpretations of Frankenstein, produced by Edison Studios in 1910. Cinema Austriaco was there. Here is the account of the event by Milo Salso.

Timeless classics

Last night I had the opportunity to witness a unique experience. The event took place at the charming Cinema Paradiso in Baden, a renowned spa town some 25 km from Vienna, and the show was one of the most impressive in 2023. In a sold-out theatre, two absolute legends, silent film pianist Gerhard Gruber and lyricist and actor Ralph Turnheim, set the first ever film version of Frankenstein, produced in 1910, to music.

Published just a little over 200 years ago, Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel has always been fascinating, thanks above all to its masterful depiction in prose of the fears and anxieties of modern society. And it is precisely on the feeling of fright that this 13-minute short film by Edison Studios plays, silent but with great pathos. The task of the Gruber & Turnheim duo is therefore to set the short film to music, reinterpreting it in three different ways: tragedy, comedy and musical.

With piano and music stand, Gruber & Turnheim performed three different and exciting reinterpretations, with a total running time of around 80 minutes (including pause), where the lyrics, in rhyme, and the pianist’s improvisation, “done by ear and by feeling, looking at the screen and at the lyricist” gave life to a dark, but also funny and dancing Frankenstein‘s monster.

A 2006 Nestroy Award winner and a true legend, Gerhard Gruber has given new life to more than 600 silent films, becoming an absolute world leader in his field. Personally, I found it very impressive to watch his improvisation focusing on his fingers, moved with great speed and confidence, illuminated by the light of the keys.

The world’s only professional narrator of German-language silent films, Ralph Turnheim has long experience as an actor and lyricist. He also performed a reinterpretation of Laurel and Hardy, making the characters two funny Viennese men from the early 1900s.

The alchemy between the two artists, masters in their field, is incredibly magnetic, and the audience in the theatre, myself included, inevitably got frightened, laughed and kept the rhythm as the show changed from gothic tragedy to Viennese cabaret to, finally, Saturday night variety musical. It can be said with conviction that the two of them have created a true new genre, one that both brings slapstick masterpieces and great silent film classics back to life, but also introduces audiences to authentic milestones in film history, always paying due tribute to the original performers (in those days uncredited, as it was the production company the real star) with interesting anecdotes and quotations.

“It will be horrible, it will be fun, it will be unforgettable,” Turnheim himself announced during the presentation. It was all true. It was horrible, it was fun, it was incredibly unforgettable.

Info: the page of the event Gruber & Turnheim: Frankenstein on the website of the Cinema Paradiso Baden