Tuesday, December 1, 2009


A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jeff called to see if I could go with him to hear the Philip Glass Ensemble play Glass's score to Dracula at the Winspear Opera House.  I love Glass's music, have been wanting to go to a performance at the Winspear, and would relish the rare opportunity to spend time with Jeff.  Alas, none of it happened.  Things change when we have a half dozen kids between the two of us!

However, I did find that the good ol' Fort Worth Public Library has a copy of the DVD with the Glass soundtrack!  So I checked it out.  This is the 1931 film, starring Bela Lugosi, with Glass's 1999 score.  On the DVD you can choose the option of watching the movie with or without the score.  The DVD features the score played by the Kronos Quartet, so the PG Ensemble probably played a different arrangement live.  A couple years ago I watched the old Jean Cocteau film La Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast) with the Philip Glass score, and figured this would be in similar style.

This version of Dracula, probably the most famous, seems full of cliches.  That's because all of the imitators have made cliches of this film, I would guess!  The hand creeping out of the coffin, the black cape, the funny European accent, all have been copied and parodied to the point of silliness.  That shows what a cultural icon Bela Lugosi's portrayal is.  I kept waiting for Lugosi to say "I vant to suck your blood!" but he never did.  I guess that came in later parodies. . . .

Speaking of parody, how about this.  Early on, when we first see Count Dracula and his wives coming out of their coffins at sundown, we also see a shot of what looks like a bee coming out of a tiny box.  Is that a joke?  Or is it some symbolism, since when a bee stings, it dies, and now this bee has eternal life in Count Dracula's castle?  Then we see a pair of armadillos emerge from a dusty corner.  Are they dead armadillos coming out to hunt for blood?  Do vampires change to werewolves, bats, and armadillos?  Or do armadillos symbolize some specific kind of evil in Transylvania?  I don't know.  It just seemed sort of odd.

On an interesting film history note, this DVD also includes the Spanish version.  It opens with a brief interview of the female lead.  (In the Spanish version, her name is Eva instead of Mina.)  She states that the English cast started filming in the morning, and the Spanish cast came in and used the same sets at night.  I didn't watch the whole Spanish version, but enough to see that there were certainly some differences.  The actress said the critics gave higher marks to the Spanish version.  It made me wonder how often that was the practice in that era of Hollywood, filming English and Spanish versions in tandem.

Something else I wonder about in the story is the fate of Van Helsing, the slayer or hunter of Dracula in many stories.  At the end, after he and Mina's fiance rescue Mina and kill Dracula, the reunited lovers leave the abbey, but Van Helsing stays behind, saying, mysteriously, that he'd be along shortly.  Does he return to Dracula to study the corpse?  Does he drink Dracula's blood to gain immortality?  I don't know.

Dracula is a fun movie to watch out of curiosity.  Obviously, special effects have changed the way we watch movies now.  In this version, the special effects mainly consisted of long stares from Lugosi.  None of the actual biting, or really even the bite marks, were shown.  We never see Count Dracula in his werewolf manifestation, and of course the bats look a little silly flapping around.

Glass's score, like any good film score, does not take the viewers attention away from the movie.  There were times that it didn't seem to fit stylistically, but for the most part added to the experience and intensity of the film.

If you have any interest at all in film history, monster movies, or the Dracula legend, definitely put this on your list to see.  Otherwise, don't go too far out of your way.

Bottom line, 2 stars.

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