Children of the Nitrate

For this year’s Halloween video round-up in the New York Times, a few more words of appreciation for Universal’s significantly upgraded “Classic Monsters” collection on Blu-ray, as well as drive-bys of Shout! Factory’s new editions of a pair of vintage splatter favorites, Roger Spottiswoode’s “Terror Train” and Tobe Hooper’s “The Funhouse,” and not very much at all about Roman Polanski’s precise and impassive “Rosemary’s Baby” — one of the last major American horror movies to rely on Val Lewton’s strategies of suggestion — which has just returned in a fine hi-def edition from the Criterion Collection.

I’ve also got an interview with the eternally underappreciated Robert Zemeckis, on the occasion of his return to live-action filmmaking with the superb “Flight” — opening Friday, November 2 at a theater near you.

79 comments to Children of the Nitrate

  • j.m.

    this seems (based on trailer/reviews) like the first zemeckis film since… what lies beneath (?)… or maybe as far back as romancing the stone (?)… where he seemingly isn’t out to solve a particular technological-aesthetic or narrative problem. a lot of his films seem to be built around specific challenges. how do i make a 3-hr film most of which features only one actor, and keep things narratively and visually interesting? how can i integrate animation and live action? how can i represent the stylization of an illustrated children’s book without abandoning something of the “real”? etc. it also seems like a very “psychological” film (in the sense of the plot turning on internal psychological struggles) which is not something i generally associate zemeckis with. maybe i’m wrong about all these things. i should find out soon enough. very curious to see what he’s come up with. he seems to have (inadvertently?) made this film into something of an event simply because he’s made live-action zemeckis films so scarce.

    i liked reading his thoughts on the advantages and perils of digital production–how it can lead to sloppiness. one of the things i admire most about zemeckis is how carefully constructed his scenes are, built from shots that have a distinct purpose, and a distinct beginning, middle, and end (in fact, “back to the future” is one of the most impressive films ever made with regard to this kind of stylistic economy). this is a feature that spielberg at his best really exemplifies among post-classical directors, though of course in this case the student has bested the master.

  • Thanks for both stories, Mr Kehr – it was particularly good seeing you deal with a “living” filmmaker for once, if you’ll excuse the pun – and I hope Sandy is keeping well away from you.

    I do have a question though on the “Dracula” restoration – does this mean that the print that toured with the Kronos Quartet’s Philip Glass soundtrack was also taken from degraded materials?

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘does this mean that the print [DRACULA] that toured with the Kronos Quartet’s Philip Glass soundtrack was also taken from degraded materials?’

    I do not know about quality of print, but I saw DRACULA with that score. Too much music for everything.

  • david hare

    Agree Junko. The last thing the movie needed was the Kronos Quartet. As though the world of early talkies was somehow beneath such “high culture”.

    And I also dislike the Glass score for Cocteau’s la Belle et la Bete (I always preferred Auric anyway) and I can’t satnd the damn cantata (or whatever it is) for Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. They keep programming it here in bloody Symphony concerts.

    Batten the hatches Dave.

  • Robert Garrick

    I had heard from an archivist friend (who is also a major horror fan) that Universal had done a superb job with this set, and Dave’s article confirms this.

    Let’s hope the set sells well and inspires Universal to give the same treatment to some of the other important titles from its horror library, such as “The Black Cat” (Ulmer, 1934); “The Raven” (Landers, 1935); “Dracula’s Daughter” and “The Invisible Ray,” both directed in 1936 by Lambert Hillyer, whose career began in 1917 and ended with episodes of “Highway Patrol” in 1956, and who was mostly known as a prolific director of “B” westerns; “Son of Frankenstein,” a William K. Everson favorite directed in 1939 by Rowland V. Lee, and a major piece of expressionism; “Son of Dracula” (1943), an early American film from Robert Siodmak and not surprisingly a stylistic tour de force; “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman” (1943), directed by Roy William Neill, with an opening tracking shot in a graveyard that is justly famous, as are the scenes of Frankenstein being unchipped from the ice; and “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948), the last gasp of Universal’s horror style, and Bela Lugosi’s last appearance as Dracula.

    Even later, Universal could get around to things like the little-known 1941 “The Black Cat,” directed by Albert S. Rogell, starring Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbert, Broderick Crawford, Gladys Cooper, Gale Sondergaard, and Alan Ladd, with a Marlene Dietrich cameo, and stunningly photographed by Stanley Cortez. Supposedly it was on the basis of Cortez’s work in this film that Orson Welles hired him to shoot “The Magnificent Ambersons.”

  • Mathieu

    I just re-saw a bunch of the old Universal horror films at my local cinematheque as part of the Universal 100th anniversary program. In my opinion, ”Dracula” (no matter what print one sees it in) has aged the worse. The pace of the scenes, the performances, Browning’s wooden direction, I just don’t know how this ever became a classic to tell you the truth.

    ”Frankenstein”, however, was another story. Its sequel may be wittier and more subversive, but I now think that the original is an extremely impressive compact and direct piece of work. It’s the ultimate allegory of man’s inability to see his creations through, his repetitive cycle of burning his bridges too quickly (which happens also literally in the film’s bold climax), and the crudeness of his anthropological progression based on both the reasons for excess technology and its quick disposal (crudeness displayed in the quick and abrupt structure, the need for respite such as the beautiful flower by the lake scene cut short by misunderstanding a common theme through the work).
    There’s something urgent about this movie, and unforgiving……. a revelation

    Thank you Dave for your continued quest to remind the film world of Zemeckis’s important place in it. His work grows deeper upon further study, like all the best satirists who work in the epic format (Which Zemeckis is on both counts, and he shouldn’t be punished for the latter). He’s an original, akin to an underground cartoonist who (thankfully) doesn’t present his work in a jittery experimental style but with the use of incredibly sophisticated mise en scene in the camera stylo tradition.
    Of his non live-action work, ”Beowulf” was my favorite, perhaps because Zemeckis did for Americans what the Japanese have been doing for a while, elevate animation to a truly adult sensibility.
    Of his live action work, it’s hard to pick……. perhaps ”FLIGHT” will be among his better work??? Dave??

    I’ve been salivating on this film for a while now, and a week seems to long to wait.

  • Rick K.

    In the old days (maybe not so old), I used to hear from cinephiles who would boast of having seen a classic film at an archive, museum or revival theater showing an original nitrate print, extolling the subtle beauties which were subsequently lost to safety film. At that time, I only managed to see a handful of films via nitrate projection, as I was only occasionally able to visit film centers which exhibited them … and, alas, my moviegoing experience was probably not cultivated enough to fully appreciate the subtleties which so enhanced the nitrate image.

    These days, when I occasionally share video projection screenings of blu-ray vs. dvd with younger viewers, I will often get a shrug of “I can’t really tell the difference” in return. And I think back to the days mentioned above, wondering if the differences between nitrate and safety were as notable or pronounced as I now find when comparing blu-ray to dvd counterparts (which, to me, are substantial). Moreover, does blu-ray CAPTURE the aura of nitrate when it is presented via such optimal restorations as the new Universal horror collection.

    Of course we need only to log on to the DVD Beaver website to see a side-by-side comparison of video formats, but I was just wondering if there were any nitrate enthusiasts out there who have made any judgements from experience about the blu-ray image in relation to the “mystique” of nitrate ..? A paradoxical query perhaps, in view of the fact they represent different evolutions of the same species.

    Robert, yes, let’s hope Halloween 2013 will be just as celebratory with Universal Horror on Blu-ray, Vol. 2! In fact, we already have a hi-def A&C MEET FRANKENSTEIN, released just a few weeks ago ahead of the set of classic originals.

    Dave, how on earth did a two-color original of KING OF JAZZ survive to 2012? It was always my understanding that most all of the two-color Technicolor materials of that vintage were extremely fragile and had hypoed out of existence many years ago (hence the missing Technicolor scenes from so many early-talkie musicals). I would love to hear more about how or where it was found and managed to survive!

  • Johan Andreasson

    Rick K: This is from The Vitaphone News website:

    “As often happens with film discoveries, a beautiful but fragile 35mm nitrate print of the original 1930 version turned up, at The Library of Congress, while half a country away in Texas, record auctioneer Kurt Nauck, located and was selling the complete set of 16 inch Vitaphone disks, again for the 1930, not 1933, version.”

  • Rick K. (October 30, 2012 at 2:28 am): I don’t know about nitrate quality being transferred to digital disks, but having seen hundreds of movies on nitrate I think the great advantage has been the experience of how the movies were supposed to look, sometimes in prints struck from the original negative. GONE WITH THE WIND, BICYCLE THIEVES, LOUISIANA STORY: those nitrate screenings will remain definitive for me. THE THIRD MAN in a brilliant nitrate print looks very different from the wishy-washy re-release version. Many archives keep screening nitrate because of the original experience. But I’m not a nitrate fetishist. Some years ago I saw a new Library of Congress print of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, struck from the negative, on safety film of course, and it looked stunning.

  • Alex

    I recall Rowland V. Lee’s “Son of Frankenstein” (1939)as quite as good as its Whales precedents. Indeed, it, like the two other Rowland V. Lee films I’ve seen — “A Zoo in Budapest” and “The Count of Montecristoc” struck me as made with both narrative vigor and sensitivity to character and milieu (the latter very fully established).

    Might Rowland V. Lee be a neglected autuer, or is my speculation inflated by expsure to only the tip of the Rowland V. Lee iceberg and clouded by mere memory of superior entertainments viewed some time ago?

  • Barry Lane

    Alex,

    You might want to have a look at Son of Monte Cristo. Lee has a sensitive energy that works out pretty well.

  • “how on earth did a two-color original of KING OF JAZZ survive to 2012? It was always my understanding that most all of the two-color Technicolor materials of that vintage were extremely fragile and had hypoed out of existence many years ago (hence the missing Technicolor scenes from so many early-talkie musicals). I would love to hear more about how or where it was found and managed to survive!”

    This is a very old memory Rick so I may not have all the facts right.

    William Everson screened a very nice 16mm print of “King of Jazz” in 1975 and in his introductory remarks he said that British authorities found a pristine 35mm print when they were taking inventory of Benito Mussolini’s personal film library in 1945-46. Later the Bing Crosby Society in the UK heard about the discovery and was able to have 16mm prints struck. Somehow this 35mm print made its way from the Imperial War Museum to the Library of Congress. Maybe someone else can connect all the dots or correct my memory of Everson’s story.

  • “In my opinion, ”Dracula” (no matter what print one sees it in) has aged the worse. The pace of the scenes, the performances, Browning’s wooden direction, I just don’t know how this ever became a classic to tell you the truth.”

    “Dracula” is certainly a curiosity, but I personally like the pace of the scenes and the performances. Bela Lugosi’s strangely timed line readings, the way he walks down that London street with his 1000 yard stare, the stilted acting of the ingénue and her suitor, Dwight Fry’s stage whisper (“Dwight Fry has a stage whisper the size of Pasadena,” someone wrote,) Edward Van Sloan’s carefully enunciated diction, the contrast between the fluid moving camera of the opening scenes and the static set pieces lifted from the play all give “Dracula” a touch of the marvelous (in the surrealist sense of the word.) And that this is not calculated makes even better, and makes the movie truly weird.

  • Robert Garrick

    I agree with X on “Dracula”–he says it perfectly. Early sound pictures usually went one of two ways: they were either talky to a fault, or they had long silences between dialogue. I love the latter style: It preserves a lot of what was great about silent films, but substitutes dialogue for title cards, which were always on the screen way longer than they needed to be. For me that’s the big problem with silent films–the breaking of the mood when those cards come on screen, and stay on screen, and stay on screen.

    The chilling spaciousness of Castle Dracula is captured in those long silences, especially when there’s nobody frying bacon just offscreen.

  • Thanks Dave for the great interview with Robert Zemeckis (perfect title). I’ve always been a fan of his but for because he was such a major filmmaker throughout my childhood his films always had the ozone tang of the mega-mainstream about them and it could be hard to tell if he simply represented the best Hollywood had to offer or if there was anything deeper going on. I appreciate how you’ve been able to outline the themes in his films, in particular in some of your remarks on this blog about Beowulf, Contact, The Polar Express, and Back to the Future; your capsule review of BTTF and Used Cars; and pieces you’ve written in the Times and elsewhere about Forrest Gump and Cast Away.

    Hopefully this doesn’t sound like overkill but the anticipation I have for Flight I imagine is similar to the anticipation people had for Frenzy, because it looks like not just a return to form (literally) after a period of experimentation but a direct treatment of a recurring theme in the director’s career, in this case substance abuse. Even if he didn’t film a documentary about it in the late 90s, both Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Death Becomes Her have a nearly identical moment where the drunken protagonist stops and pours out their drink, and he’s memorably depicted intoxication in characters as diverse as Lieutenant Dan, the mead hall partiers, and even Doc Brown. (The introduction to Pursuit of Happiness, which used to be on YouTube, included some of these characters and more in its opening montage.) He also produced The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, which co-stars Woody Harrelson as a terrifying out-of-control drunk.

    I don’t have any special interest in addiction but Zemeckis seems to have a remarkable amount of perspective on it. It makes sense that he was connected to The Corrections for so long, which is not necessarily about addiction but is about people slowly and comically turning towards self-destruction. The thing about Flight that excites me the most is the implication in the trailer that Denzel’s character would not have made the maneuver that he did unless he had been inebriated. Considering that Zemeckis has such a clean, clear, you might say “sober” style, the idea of a drunk achieving a success that apparently can’t be duplicated by his sober peers seems like a very personal topic for him to cover. I’m not trying to imply that he’s a recovering addict and that’s why that’s interesting, what I mean is that as someone who recognizes that his career owes a lot to luck, who has overcome some very public, embarrassing failures, whose own success seems to be directly related to being willing to work nonstop and make very difficult decisions, the idea of someone becoming a hero as a result of their personal weakness and self-indulgence seems like something he might fundamentally opposed to if he wasn’t, as you’ve said on this blog, seeming to be fighting the blackest kind of despair.

  • Dear Dave and other friends in the U.S.: while being entertained by Halloween fiction we have certainly all been following with great concern the true horror in the news about Hurricane Sandy. I hope you and your folks are safe.

  • nicolas saada

    same here: how is everyone ?

  • Alex Hicks

    Barry Lane,

    Yes, I “want to have a look at Son of Monte Cristo.”

    Robert Garrick,

    My hipper friends tell me that a paranoid “spaciness,” as well as a “chilling spaciousness,” is captured by “those long silences” at the Castle.

  • In Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” there is a lot of discussion of movies: there is a fan club whose members must have watched “King Kong” over 50 times, the characters talk about the German Expressionist directors, and the book ends in a movie theater while the people in it are waiting for the rocket to hit.
    But, and which is relevant here, is his great description of Karl Freund’s dark, expressionistic cinematography and those creepy hallway scenes in them as a kind of “corridor metaphysics.”
    The book is full of insightful details about how movies were thought about in the late-40s and is a literary expansion of the tone and moods of classical Hollywood horror and science-fiction films.

  • Barry Putterman

    Antti, Nicolas (and other concerned citizens), be it known that both I and our host live in an area of Manhattan which has been without power since Monday evening. This is not as dire as it might sound since all I had to do is walk uptown here to The Everett Collection and Manhattan suddenly is business as usual.

    No doubt Dave is staying somewhere furhter uptown where power is not an issue. Casey the cat and I are stuck in the dark after the sun goes down, which is uncomfortable, but minor in comparison to what others in New Jersey, New York and environs are experiencing.

  • Alex

    David D.,

    Indeed, “Gravity’s Rainbow” ends in a movie theater toward which a “Rocket” is falling. “Come-on! Start-the show! The screen is a dim page, or a projector bulb has burned out. It was difficult for us, old fans who’ve always been at the movies (haven’t we?) to tell which before the darkness swept in.”

    Next time, though, it’s less likely to be the proverbial Rocket (or Dracula, that iconic Morettian aristocratic predator)than it is to be the electricity going out — as in “Die Hard, IV.” or J. J. Abraham’s “Revolution” or Leon Panetta’s worse-case-scenario hacker attack or Newt Gingrich’s Republican primary freakout about an electromagnetic pulse Re obliterating the electronic money –and circuitry– at some global financial sector…

    But for now, Hurry up with the lights, Guardians!

  • Junko Yasutani

    Barry, I am glad to read that you are well, and that cat is well.

    Reading about people suffering in America and Haiti I am sympathizing from memory of tsunami.

  • Greetings, all!

    My neighborhood is still without power (and soon to be without water), but after spending a couple of days in what uncomfortably resembled a George Romero movie I’ve made it to higher ground uptown, where the showers are warm and the wi-fi is still alive. Our mayor is telling us that it will be three or four more days before the 14th Street power station comes back on line (you can see it exploding on YouTube, or so I’m told), which likely means a week or so. Not a fun experience, but it’s only a mild inconvenience compared to what so many people up and down the Atlantic coast have suffered.

    Many thanks for all your kind thoughts.

    Dave

  • David Cohen

    Best wishes to you Dave and all others on this board who live in the New York/New Jersey area.
    I live in Maryland now and we got off light this time. I am still horrified as to what happen to New York City, as well as my beloved New Jersey.

  • Steve Elworth

    Here in Brooklyn, I never lost water or power but not everyone here is that lucky. I am very happy to hear that our stalwart host. Dave is OK. It is also good to hear that my old friend Barry and Casey are OK. Last night was not really Halloween with all of The festivities cancelled. But thanks to Cinema we can still have our imaginary thrills by the way, this week’s title is the best ever.

  • Barry Putterman

    Dave, thanks for the tip about water. I did see people filling up water cans along my route up to Everett Collection. I’ll buy some bottled water on my way home back into the darkness. Three or four more days or maybe a week or so. This is getting serious.

    Steve, thanks for the kind thoughts. To echo Larry Fine in some Stooges short of memory; I can’t die, I haven’t seen the restored KING OF JAZZ yet!!

  • nicolas saada

    Actually the footage of the explosive power station looks like a clip from CLOVERFIELD.
    TAKE CARE ALL OF YOU IN NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY.

  • Seeing as how a few of us are Jerry Lewis auteurists, I thought the following would be “of interest” – thanks to a hot tip by a Facebook friend, I found on YouTube a handful of TV episodes that Lewis directed in the years after CRACKING UP. I wrote about one, an episode of a silly sci-fi actioner called SUPER FORCE. (I plan to write about another, more interesting specimen, from an ’80s Showtime sitcom called BROTHERS, hopefully soon.)

    Since some of you spoke kindly of my efforts to examine sequences from other off-the-radar selections (HELL’S HALF-ACRE, BLACK BART), I thought you might enjoy this one, as well. At the end of the post I include a link to the full episode on YouTube – middling video quality but Jerry’s personality comes through pretty well, I thought.

    http://thefilmsaurus.com/2012/10/31/jerry-lewis-directs/

    New Yorkers without power and other basic infrastructure components, to echo those above, thoughts and prayers are with you. My routine is only saddled with minor inconveniences (walking to work, messy gridlock), so while I’m not particularly religious, I feel blessed to have basic necessities (fresh food at the market, hot water, electricity, a Blu-ray player).

  • Great piece, Jaime! Cool images too, and I look forward to watching the video.
    You might be interested, I recently translated Serge Daney’s first few Cahiers contributions, one a review of Frank Tashlin’s Who’s Minding The Store?. Daney’s not the easiest guy to translate (ie. long sentences, complex ideas etc) but here it is, if anyone is interested : http://torontofilmreview.blogspot.ca/2012/10/serge-daney-three-early-cahiers-du.html

    I’ve seen a few pictures of the effects of Sandy on New York. I wish you all the best.

  • Where were you when the lights went kaboom? Very KISS ME DEADLY: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/30/coned-explosion-hurricane-sandy-video_n_2044097.html

    (I was home in Brooklyn, safe and dry with my kids. Burned through a lot of stuff on my DVR, from Bert I. Gordon’s TORMENTED, which I somehow missed as a kid, to Polanski’s CARNAGE and, most winningly, Aram Avakian’s COPS AND ROBBERS, not the usual NY movie, which unites a tight Donald E. Westlake script to an offbeat rhythm and sensibility. Best to all as the city and states recover.)

  • “Where were you when the lights went kaboom? Very KISS ME DEADLY”

    Brings back memories of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. It happened at 4:40 AM and lasted 42 seconds. The transformers at the end of my block blew with appropriate noise and luminescence. “The flash, the shock wave, the firestorm,” I thought to myself, but the shock wave came first and then the flash. There was no fire storm but a few small fires here and there.

    One disaster is enough to last a lifetime, and hopefully our comrades on the East Coast won’t have to endure the weather equivalent of aftershocks.

  • “I recall Rowland V. Lee’s “Son of Frankenstein” (1939)as quite as good as its Whales precedents.”

    “Son of Frankenstein” is what we call today a re-boot. The Monster is once again inarticulate, the village is named Frankenstein, the Frankenstein laboratory is now attached to the schloss, and all the subsequent sequels use the premises established by “Son of Frankenstein.”

    So in “Ghost of Frankenstein” Igor’s brain is transplanted into the skull of the Monster, and Bela Lugosi plays the Monster in “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.” As we know know now, Lugosi’s dialog scenes were cut, and the blindness that afflicted the Monster at the end of “Ghost of Frankenstein” was also cut (that’s why the Monster walks with outstretched arms, a trait carried over into the other sequels.)

    Lee’s other 1939 pictures were once fairly easy to see, “Tower of London” and “The Sun Never Sets” (three times directing Basil Rathbone in one year.)

  • Shawn Stone

    A couple of Rowland V. Lee’s Paramount silents are around. BARBED WIRE is a moving WW1 drama with Pola Negri about a POW camp (full of German prisoners) built in the middle of a requisitioned French farm. DOOMSDAY is a less-effective drama about marriage and class with some striking scenes.

    Then there’s I AM SUZANNE!, a rose-tinted proto-feminist musical with Lilian Harvey and puppets, that I am fond of.

  • Robert Garrick

    X, you are a scholar on the Universal horror stuff. Terrific posts on Dracula and Frankenstein.

    No actor is more closely associated with a particular monster than is Lugosi with Dracula, but he only played the Count twice: In “Dracula” (1931) and in “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948), by which time his career had turned into a sad parody of itself. Lugosi is excellent in “A&C Meet Frankenstein,” though, and he displays some comic timing.

    Also, Lugosi did not have the foul mouth he was given in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994). That was the result of some faulty research by the filmmakers–they later checked and discovered that Lugosi was much closer to the courtly, polite Count than to the rather crude character portrayed by Martin Landau.

    Your reference to the Schloss Frankenstein reminds me that Schloss is William Castle’s real last name. Castle produced “Rosemary’s Baby”–he was made the producer (and he was given a lot of money) by Bob Evans, in exchange for rights to the book, which Castle had purchased with the intent of directing it himself. For those who’ve seen “Rosemary’s Baby” and who know New York City a little bit, this is interesting:

    http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=1135

  • “Castle produced “Rosemary’s Baby”–he was made the producer (and he was given a lot of money) by Bob Evans, in exchange for rights to the book”

    And he had a nice Hitchcok-like cameo standing outside the phone booth with his back to Rosemary who at first thinks he’s Dr.Sapperstein.

    Boris Karloff lived at the Dakota when he was appearing in “Arsenic and Old Lace” on Broadway, and of course the place is infamous as the site of John Lennon’s murder.

    On the subject of locations, Bela Lugosi’s last residence was on Herald Way in Hollywood, not Boyle Heights as shown in “Ed Wood.” Bela Lugosi Jr. confirmed this a few years ago. The poet Brendan Constantine lives there now, and a group of poets gathered there one evening to compose poetry in memory of Lugosi. Virgogray Press published the poems in a chapbook called “Dear Bela.”

  • Alex

    Thank for the tips, Shawn Stone and x359594.

  • jbryant

    Youtube has a clip of a dream sequence from Lee’s I AM SUZANNE! that is rather jaw-dropping.

    I used to work in the Legal department of an animation company, and I can’t tell you the silly thrill I used to get when one of the attorneys would get a call from Lugosi’s son (who is also an attorney), and the assistant would announce: “Bela Lugosi on line one.”

  • David D., that’s great work. Bless you and all who translate and subtitle.

  • Rick K.

    Despite his success with the role on stage, Lugosi was not the actor initially chosen by Universal for DRACULA but got it only by default. I think film history may have been significantly different had he not been given the role, it is so crucial to the success of the film which actually launched the horror cycle, and gave the genre its inertia to move forward. The film remains controversial in its treatment (even in this thread). Browning has been criticized for years for its static reputation, perhaps because as a stylist, he seldom indulged in cinematic flourishes, which weren’t common anyway in 1930 when Hollywood was still grappling in the early stages of sound. But its a film which I return to periodically, and have never really felt let down by, other than to wonder what the studio eliminated in the release version which Browning reportedly complained was “cut to ribbons”.

    The more fascinating elements of the original stage material of DRACULA are retained for the film, with the atmospheric opening scenes in Transylvania as a bonus, which are justly celebrated, and usually attributed to Karl Freund’s cinematography. Once the film moves to London, a transition occurs which is totally appropriate, with Lugosi an ideal personification of the Transylvanian atmosphere so beautifully evoked during the first two reels, brought into the more conventional settings of drawing rooms (and sanatariums), creating a rather fascinating dichotomy which is sustained for the duration of the film.

    I’ve used DRACULA in film classes (though not very often) and would say it is among the few films of this period which still work well with young audiences, mostly attributable to that grand Transylvanian prologue (the impressions of those scenes linger subliminally for the rest of the film) and the intellectual by-play of Lugosi/Van Sloan in their life-and-death (or life-IN-death) contest, which of course in modern films would be relegated to the usual array of special effects razzle-dazzle. The performances, and moreover Browning’s staging and treatment of those performances in moments of confrontation especially, still have tremendous power. Beyond that, just as other studios had their specialties, Universal somehow seemed more adept creating those alternate universes where their horror fables took place, whether it be Transylvania or London, an old dark house, Egyptian museum or theatre dungeon, somehow they seemed just right for the macabre prowlers inhabiting those films.

  • “The performances, and moreover Browning’s staging and treatment of those performances in moments of confrontation especially, still have tremendous power.”

    Completely agree Rick.

    Concerning the cuts made to “Dracula,” the shooting script was published around 15-20 years ago and is still on the shelves of UCLA’s Arts Library. I haven’t read it for many years, but one cut that I vaguely recall has to do with Renfield crawling toward the maid who’s fainted. If this thread is still going I’ll check it out of the library this weekend and make a report.

  • Thanks, Jaime.
    This is probably my translation which I’m the proudest of: highlights of Cahiers reviews of De Palma’s 2000′s films. Those guys are just crazy about him.
    http://torontofilmreview.blogspot.ca/2012/10/brian-de-palma-at-cahiers-du-cinema-in.html

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Re: William Castle’s cameo in Rosemary’s Baby, recall that Joe Dante paid it loving homage early in The Howling, when the possibly menacing figure outside Dee Wallace’s phonebooth turned out to be Roger Corman.

  • Alex

    To hit this thread’s neglected openning Zemeckis note, FLIGHT’s great. A complete break with the fantasy and mythopoetic elements of BACK TO THE FUTURE, ROGER RABBIT and GUMP (plus the Wilson fancy of CASTAWAY). As morally grave as the last quarter of CASTAWAY, though bookended between some rather extraordinary action and action prowess (that’s not too far beyond the modest farfetchedness of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and some final, rather Capraesque AA idealism.

  • David Ehrenstein has a brand new book:
    Masters of Cinema: Roman Polanski

    This, like others in the Masters of Cinema series, is a mid-length (104 pages) guide to a famed auteur.
    I haven’t read it yet – it is just out. But sure plan to.
    Details:
    http://www.amazon.com/Masters-Cinema-Polanski-David-Ehrenstein/dp/2866429176?tag=wp-amazon-associate-20

  • Tony Williams

    X, The scene of Renfield crawling towards the body of the maid who fainted does exist in UK prints of the film, at least those on 16mm and early 80s TV showings.

  • Alex

    Having defended Brownoings’s Dracula, I’d add that it’s hardly my favorite Dracular/Nosferatru film, hardly –despite a certain durability– a great movies like Murnau’s Nosferatu, nor a near great one like Herzog Nosferatu the Vampyre, nor a cursed work of virtuosity like Coppola’ s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (curses by Keanu Reeves imncomparably lame performance) nor , indeed, so engrossing a film as Fischer’s Horror of Dracula with it splendid teaming Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing –nor indeed remotely as grippingly innovative and mesmerizing a work as Guy Maddin’s balletic Dracula.

    But these comparisons –Murnau’s Nosferatu perhaps aside– are all somewhat misconceived , for the apogee of the Dracula realm –better even than the strong book, indeed reducing it to mere raw material—is Orson Welles’ premier work for the Mercury Theater of the air, his astonishing 50 minute radio play of Dracula, a masterwork to stand with his Theatrical Moby Dick and his half dozen finest films.

  • “The scene of Renfield crawling towards the body of the maid who fainted does exist in UK prints of the film, at least those on 16mm and early 80s TV showings.”

    To clarify, the scene with Renfield crawling toward the maid ends before he reaches her. In the “Dracula” shooting script volume there’s a still of that scene with this caption: “The end of this [scene] was cut from the final release–note what happens in the script.” I haven’t come to that page yet so I can’t describe the cut footage.

    Another still shows Dr. Seward and Professor Van Helsing in Carfax Abbey next to a still from “London After Midnight” with similar mise-en-scene. The caption for this reads, “A comparative shot from DRACULA cut from the film.”

    The editors note that there was a silent version of “Dracula” that “differs from the talking film only in the cutting in of dialogue titles.”

    Perhaps a further clue to the cuts Browning referred to can be found in a comparison of his version which runs 78 minutes with the Spanish language version that runs 102 minutes.

  • “the apogee of the Dracula realm –better even than the strong book, indeed reducing it to mere raw material—is Orson Welles’ premier work for the Mercury Theater of the air, his astonishing 50 minute radio play of Dracula”

    Yes indeed Alex. The Mercury Theater “Dracula” is a brilliant piece of work.

    For genre fans, Kim Newman’s “Anno Dracula” series features Orson Welles in two books, the latter about his efforts to film the “Dracula” saga that he first set on film at RKO in 1941 and again in the 1980s in “D For Dracula.” Oja Kodar and Gary Graver make appearances too.

    In “Dracula Cha Cha Cha” the year is 1962 and Welles is working at Cinecitta a couple of sound stages away from Fritz Lang who’s shooting “The Odyssey” for Jeremy Prokosh while on another part of the lot Maurice Kruger is working on his comeback picture with the help of Jack Andrus.

  • J

    >>To clarify, the scene with Renfield crawling toward the maid ends before he reaches her. In the “Dracula” shooting script volume there’s a still of that scene with this caption: “The end of this [scene] was cut from the final release–note what happens in the script.”

    In the Spanish version, I believe Renfield reaches the body but instead of being able to prey on it, he snatches an insect from the air over it and compulsively gobbles that. Moving, in a way. (In general, though, I found the Spanish version inferior to Browning’s. There are nice moments, and it’s interesting as an alternative, but the pace is deliberate to the point of being stultifying. And it is sorely missing Lugosi’s presence.)

  • Marcus D

    The American tapestry laid out in “Flight” is quite impressive. Zemeckis seems to be one of the few directors who highlights this country’s flawed, dysfunctional characters without apologizing for them or treating them with contempt. From our used car salesmen to our wacky scientists, he embraces so many disparate American archetypes. In “Flight”, our cast of characters includes union leaders, slumlords, born-again Christians, drug dealers, defense lawyers, and 12-step participants. He even manages to work a cropduster into the mix. And the timing of this film couldn’t be more perfect as we prepare for the election aftermath and British Oscar-baiting season.