Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dracula and other epic fails

This morning as I cast my gaze around my workspace, seeking some project to tide me over while my novel cools (or bakes, or congeals...feel free to choose your metaphor), I caught sight of my copy of Dracula. I'm thinking of doing this for the next edition of Borrowed Fire, which is not to say that I am in any way tiring of our current tome, The Brothers Karamazov. Far from it! Why, just yesterday I passed the halfway point, and a new post is coming very shortly... However, Dracula intrigues me, because it's one of those books that one expects to be bad, but isn't. Although it does have its problems, chief of which is that in order for the plot to work, the renowned vampire hunter Van Helsing--much like Gandalf the Wizard--must prove incompetent at the very thing he's renowned for.

But speaking of incompetence. When we think of the 1931 Dracula film, we mostly think of Bela Lugosi, his bouncy accent, and his cape. We may not recall what a complete disaster the film is. Wikipedia rather mildly calls it "a mostly disorganized affair." The director, Todd Browning, pretty much abandoned the set; Wiki speculates that this was due to grief over the death of Lon Chaney, whom Browning had wanted for the lead. Anyway, if you've ever asked yourself, Do films really need directors?, take a look at this shipwreck. After maybe the first couple scenes, the actors are literally directionless.

Dracula, the film, resembles an experience I had in high school. I had somehow managed to get cast as a querulous old woman in a Chekhov one-act play (yes, our destinies are set in stone early). As part of an evening of one-acts, this play, whose name I'm still too traumatized to recall, had only one performance. That performance was marred, perhaps 2/3 of the way through, by an attack of amnesia on the part of every single one of the actors. I am not certain if we looked around for help from our director; in any case, I suspect she was only capable of open-mouthed horror (or perhaps she had already flown the coop, like Browning). So one of the actors--possibly me--decided we ought to chase each other around the sofa, screaming colorful accusations, until we collapsed in a heap. The curtain was wrung down to the cheers of the electrified audience, who, while likely unfamiliar with the original text, were certainly not expecting anything like that.

I suppose you could call this a triumph of sorts, although I also recall that before the play began, I was standing in the wings with an actor from one of the other plays, and intoned to him that Chekhov (unlike the other dorky authors being showcased) was subtle.

No comments: