Weekend links 385

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• It won’t be out until late January—and then in the UK only—but the blu-ray premiere of The Mystery of Picasso (1956) by Henri-Georges Clouzot was announced this week. The initial run of the discs (there’s also a DVD) will include a booklet containing my essay about the film, something I was very pleased and honoured to be asked to write. Clouzot’s remarkable study of Picasso drawing and painting for the camera was made immediately after his masterwork, The Wages of Fear (also newly available on UK blu-ray), and this new edition will include two short extras, one of which, A Visit to Picasso (1949) by Paul Haesaerts, is an excellent precursor/companion to the main feature. More on this subject later.

• At the Internet Archive: an almost complete run of The Twilight Zone Magazine (1981–1989). While masquerading as a TV-series spin-off, TZ under the editorship of TED Klein was an excellent periodical devoted to horror and dark fantasy. In addition to running original fiction by major authors (Stephen King was a regular), the magazine contained features about older writers such as Lovecraft and Machen along with book reviews by Thomas Disch, film reviews by Gahan Wilson, interviews and more.

• “Bram Stoker was gay,” says Tom Cardamone in a review of Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula by David J. Skal. I’ve not read Skal’s book so can’t comment on its claims but his earlier Hollywood Gothic (about Dracula on page and screen) includes some discussion of “sexual ambiguity” in Stoker’s work.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 625 by Elena Colombi, Secret Thirteen Mix 235 by Rhys Fulber, and XLR8R Podcast 514 by Tommaso Cappellato.

Help, Help, The Globolinks! is a previously unreleased electronic soundtrack by Suzanne Ciani, out next week.

La Région Centrale (1971), Michael Snow’s epic of landscape gyrations in two parts, here and here.

Alexander Calder and the Optimism of Modernism: Jed Perl in Conversation with Morgan Meis.

• Illustrations by Lynd Ward for The Haunted Omnibus (1935) edited by Alexander Laing.

Daniel Dylan Wray on the gay-porn music of disco pioneer Patrick Cowley.

• It’s that man again (and his drawings): Ernst Haeckel: the art of evolution.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Steve Erickson presents A Black Psychedelia Primer.

Bootsy Collins‘ favourite albums.

Picasso (1948) by Coleman Hawkins | Pablo Picasso (1976) by The Modern Lovers | Picasso Suite pt. 1 (1993) by David Murray Octet

Albin Grau’s Nosferatu

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For many directors a film like Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) would have been a career peak, but Friedrich Murnau went on to make The Last Laugh (1924), Faust (1926) and Sunrise (1927). All those films improve cinematically on Nosferatu but the vampire film continues to cast the longest shadow: quoted, remade, and with even its production fictionalised in Shadow of the Vampire (2000). The lasting success of Nosferatu wasn’t all Murnau’s doing, however.

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It’s arguable that without the preliminary work of production designer Albin Grau (1884–1971) the film might have been little more than a curious precursor of the Universal Dracula (1931). Grau was responsible for the set design and the extraordinary appearance of Max Schreck’s Count Orlok; Grau also created the film’s memorable poster and advertising imagery in which the vampire’s appearance hints at something even more terrible than the figure that stalks before the camera.

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A great deal of German silent cinema is labelled “Expressionist” even if the films themselves show little in the way of overt Expressionism. Nosferatu isn’t very Expressionist at all but Albin Grau’s sketches and posters certainly tend in that direction, so much so that they make me wonder how different the film might have been if it had been as stylised as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). In addition to his artistic pursuits, Grau was an occultist which explains the attention to detail in the bizarre contract drawn up between Knock and Count Orlok, a document that looks more like a page from a grimoire than anything used by an estate agent. There’s a quote from Grau in his occult capacity in John Symonds’ Aleister Crowley biography, The Great Beast, complaining in 1925 about Crowley’s ascension to the heights of the Ordo Templi Orientis.

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Nosferatu: The Knock-Orlok contract.

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Nosferatu comes out of the occult preoccupations, having been Grau’s project from the beginning when he formed a film company, Prana-Film, with Enrico Dieckmann. The pair announced plans for three films: Dreams of Hell, The Devil of the Swamp, and a drama about a vampire. Only Nosferatu materialised then sank the company almost as soon as it was finished: Prana-Film had spent more on publicity than on the film itself, and went deep into debt. The success of the film might have helped their finances but the death blow was struck by Florence Stoker and the British Society of Authors who won a court case against the company for filming Dracula without permission. The efforts of the Stoker estate to destroy Nosferatu are recounted in detail in David J. Skal’s fascinating Hollywood Gothic (1990). Many of Murnau’s minor films were lost through various misfortunes, and it’s a fluke that a handful of prints of Nosferatu survived. Happily for us, it’s not only vampires that manage to remain undead.

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Count Dracula

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Vampires: if they’ve never been very scarce they didn’t used to be quite so commonplace. The fortunes of Dracula, on the other hand, seem to have diminished in recent years following a centenary peak in 1997. The surprising spike of interest in the 1970s might explain the BBC’s decision to adapt Bram Stoker’s novel for television in 1977. I often used to wonder why the corporation didn’t turn some of its costume-drama prowess to more generic material. Anthony Trollope’s The Pallisers sprawled over 26 50-minute episodes in 1974 but you’d search in vain for an adaptation of HG Wells. The closest was the yearly Ghost Story for Christmas most of which were period pieces.

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Louis Jourdan bares his fangs.

Gerald Savory’s Count Dracula, subtitled “A Gothic Romance”, was broadcast a few days before Christmas, 1977, in a single 150-minute programme. Repeat screenings broke the drama into two episodes so it’s often referred to as a mini-series. I’d read Dracula for the first time earlier that year so it was a thrill to see the story presented in such a faithful manner after all the liberties taken by feature films and derivative dramas. Count Dracula may seem primitive when compared to lavish Hollywood productions but 37 years later it’s still the adaptation that most closely adheres to Stoker’s epistolary novel.

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Louis Jourdan and Bosco Hogan (Jonathan Harker).

Continue reading “Count Dracula”