The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen
"The ultimate book on Dracula."
"For anyone interested in Bram Stoker's Dracula, this is an indispensible book. Bravo!"
"The best written and most intelligent book on Dracula I have read."
--Maurice Hindle, editor, Penguin Classics edition of Dracula.
"Tracks Transylvania's most popular vampire with dry wit and the skills of a fine detective."
--New York Times Book Review
"An enthralling chronicle."
Yes, Drac is back. David Skal's acclaimed backstage chronicle of Dracula's masterful ascent to fame has been fully revised and updated, and now available from Faber and Faber.
American edition: W.W. Norton and Company, New York,1990. Revised edition: Faber and Faber, New York, 2004. British edition: Andre Deutsch,London, 1991. Japanese edition:
Dracula lives! And in this cobwebby excursion through the life of a cultural icon, we follow the archetypal vampire's relentless trajectory from literary oddity to a master media myth of the twentieth century.
Here is an irreverently entertaining, authoritative guide to all of Dracula's incarnations, from Victorian sex nightmare and 1920s stage villain to Hollywood movie legend and modern-day cuddle toy. We learn how the poet Lord Byron helped create the nineteenth century's fascination with vampires, and how he himself served as the thinly-disguised original for the romantic antihero of a best-selling thriller. We see how writer Bram Stoker became enmeshed, half-comprehendingly, in the thickening cultural metaphors of vampirism in fin-de-siecle London, perhaps drawing some inspiration from his domineering employer, the charismatic actor-manager Sir Henry Irving. Here too is the story of Florence Stoker, Bram's widow (a legendary beauty to whom the young Oscar Wilde proposed marriage) as she seeks to destroy every print of F.W. Murnau's now-classic film Nosferatu because it violates the Draculacopyright.
Florence Stoker leads us, through a labyrinth of embattled, often absurd negotiations for the stage and screen rights with such figures as the flamboyant publisher-producer-libertine Horace Liveright, to Dracula's first Hollywood appearance in the 1931 film that made Bela Lugosi world-famous while typecasting him in poorly-paid horror-movie roles. We see the making of that unforgettable film by the troubled, alcoholic director Tod Browning and we discover an unexpected treasure, a Spanish-language version of the movie--not only more erotic but more faithful to the spirit of the novel--that was shot on the same sets at night by and entirely different cast and crew. And much more.
Illustrated with rare photos,Hollywood Gothic is a full-blooded midnight snack for every connoisseur of the cultural history of the macabre.
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EXCERPT FROM THE REVISED EDITION
CASTLES, COBWEBS, AND CANDELABRA
In which the reader draws nearer to a modern myth,shuddering in delicious anticipation, and discovers the Count to be a closer relation than previously imagined, not reflected in mirrors, but lurking in them all the same.
The image, of course, is in black and white.
A woman -- blonde, platinum-bobbed, her face framed by a satin pillowcase -- succumbs to sleep, and more. As her eyes close, looking inward upon a dream, a mist swirls outside her open window, and within its gray depths, like an obscene, winged metronome, a huge bat hovers, eyes blazing. The camera's gaze -- our gaze -- returns to the dreaming girl, then slowly pulls back to reveal the black-cloaked figure that has replaced the flapping bat at the window. It moves forward silently, with the cold deliberation of a panther . . . we have been here before, we know what this is . . . the lamp at the bedside throws the features into sharp relief. The talonlike fingers make indentations on the pillow. The dark lips part, revealing a deeper darkness still. The sleeper's neck is white as radium . . .
The scene is instantly recognizable to almost everyone in the early twenty-first century as a pivotal scene from Dracula. We may not be able to identify the exact version of the film, or even the performers involved, but the primal image of the black-caped vampire has become an indelible fixture of the modern imagination. Its recognition factor probably rivals, in its own perverse way, the familiarity of Santa Claus.
Without knowing anything of the myth's origins, most of us can recite without prompting the salient characteristics of the vampire--how it sleeps by day, rising from its coffin-bed at dusk to feed on the blood of the living; its ability to take the form of a bat, a wolf, or mist; how it can be destroyed by a stake driven through its heart, and effectively repelled by garlic, wolfbane, the crucifix, or the power of the Eucharist. We have received this information by a curious cultural transfusion, not by direct experience . . . and yet on some psychological level it must reflect some kind of universal knowledge, however veiled or obscure.
Ever adaptable, Dracula has been a literary Victorian sex nightmare, a stock figure of theatrical melodrama, a movie icon, a trademark, cuddle toy, swizzle stick, and breakfast cereal. Complex, contradictory, and confounding, Dracula tantalizingly begs the question put to the ghost in Hamlet : "Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned."
The appeal of Dracula is decidedly ambiguous. The emphatic white tie and black cape, so striking at first glance, rapidly yield endless shades of gray. Most monsters take and trample. Dracula alone seduces, often courting before he kills. Unlike other monsters, he is not always recognizable as such. Dracula looks too much like one of us. With patent-leather shoes and patent-leather hair, he mocks our concepts of civility and society, uses them as brazen camouflage, the better to stalk us, his readers, his film audiences, his prey.
Dracula didn't begin in Hollywood, but it traveled there with an inexorable momentum. The film medium itself had its origins in the trappings of the occult. The magic lantern salons of Paris in the late 1700s projected batwinged demons on clouds of smoke to terrify and entertain the ancestors of the modern motion picture audience. Even today we still speak of the "magic" of the movies, as if, despite our sophistication about special effects, we cannot dismiss what we see on the screen as just a set of tricks. Maxim Gorky, writing on the introduction of Lumière's Cinematographe in Moscow in 1896, the year before Dracula's publication, was deeply disturbed by what he beheld. To Gorky, cinema itself was a technological vampire that promised a kind of living death. "Your nerves are strained, imagination carries you to some unnaturally monotonous life, a life without color and without sound, but full of movement, the life of ghosts, or of people, damned to the damnation of eternal silence, people who have been deprived of all the colors of life."
Bram Stoker himself seems to have had certain ambitions for Dracula as a theatrical entertainment, though a successful stage adaptation would not be realized until after his death. But Dracula and vampire stories in general have found their greatest expression in the popular media, be they penny-dreadful novels, stage melodramas, or movies. Dracula has been a hallmark of the motion picture from the early days of German expressionism. The character has been depicted in film more times than almost any fictional being (with the single possible exception of Sherlock Holmes) and has now so pervaded the world of communications and advertising that it is no longer necessary to read the novel or even see one of its film adaptations to be thoroughly acquainted with the Count and his exploits.
This is not the first book written on the subject of Dracula, and it will not be the last. But most treatments to date have largely ignored the fascinating history, now nearly a century old, of the men and women whose lives have become entangled in the myth's peculiar power. Dracula has exerted an irresistible, and at times, Faustian attraction upon numerous individuals who used the ever-expanding dream-machinery of publishing, theatre, and film to exploit the story's power and, expand its influence.
Whatever else it might be, Dracula is one of the most obsessional texts of all time, a veritable black hole of the imagination. The story seems to get younger with age, drawing vitality from its longevity, and attracting an ever--widening public. Originally scorned by the critics, the book has nonetheless remained in print for over a hundred years, and in the last decade especially has begun to attract the serious notice of academics as a significant, if problematic, Victorian text.
Since the first publication of Hollywood Gothic fourteen years ago, I have delved deeper into the Dracula in several other books, and I hope this revised edition reflects a widened appreciation. I am especially indebted to the proliferation of books, essays, and academic gatherings that attended the approach of the 1997 Dracula centenary and have only gained momentum since. On certain points I have altered or even reversed some of my conclusions and opinions. But as before, my approach remains eclectic and interdisciplinary; the Dracula legend rudely refuses to observe conventional parameters of discussion.
Dracula lurks everywhere, and the Hollywood of Hollywood Gothic is perhaps less the geographical location than a psychic shadowland we all inhabit, that private theatre to which we return again and again to watch the midnight movies of our minds.
For more than a single lifetime, Dracula has been the perennial, blockbuster attraction.
Copyright (c) 1990, 2004 by David J. Skal. All rights reserved.