The South Bank Show: Dracula

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While illustrating Dracula earlier this year I was listening to Wojciech Kilar’s soundtrack to Francis Coppola’s Dracula to sustain the vampiric mood. I also watched Coppola’s film again, it’s an adaptation I enjoy a great deal despite its flaws. (This post detailed some of the plus points.) The South Bank Show‘s programme devoted to Dracula on page and screen was broadcast in early 1993, timed for the opening of Coppola’s film in the UK. I watched this when it was first shown, and remembered it being a good one but neglected to go searching for it back in January. I also remembered it being more about Coppola’s film than it is, although there’s still enough to make it a substantial promo piece.

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The territory here may be familiar but the evolution of Stoker’s novel is contextualised by some expert commentators—Leonard Wolf, Elaine Showalter (with a copy of Bram Dijkstra’s Idols of Perversity at her side) and Christopher Frayling—while discussion of the film adaptations includes Christopher Lee, Francis Coppola, James V. Hart (the screenwriter of Coppola’s film), Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder and others. Among the film clips there are several scenes from Count Dracula, Gerald Savory’s 1977 adaptation for the BBC. This is surprising since The South Bank Show was screened by the BBC’s rival, ITV. But Savory’s Count Dracula is still the most faithful screen adaptation that I’ve seen (and possibly the most faithful to date) so it’s a worthwhile choice, and one whose naturalism makes a sober contrast to Coppola’s Sturm und Drang.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Illustrating Dracula
Illustrating Frankenstein
Dracula and I by Christopher Lee
The Dracula Annual
Nightmare: The Birth of Horror
Albin Grau’s Nosferatu
Count Dracula
Symbolist cinema

Powell & Pressburger: A Pretty British Affair

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“It’s the only thing that fulfils its promise…magic,” says Martin Scorsese, referring to a shot of an arrow thudding into its target at the beginning of a feature film. A pierced target accompanied by the words “A Production of The Archers” heralded the films made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger from 1943 to 1957, films that included The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), Gone to Earth (1950) and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). A Very British Affair (1981) is a 50-minute documentary made for the BBC’s Arena strand by Charles Cabot and Gavin Millar that charts the progress of Powell and Pressburger’s partnership. There’s also some discussion of Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), the film that sank his career in Britain but which is now regarded as a masterpiece of self-reflexive cinema.

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This is the best documentary about The Archers, not only for the interviews with the two men but also for the extraneous business with Michael Powell in Los Angeles and New York. In both cities the director is seen with two younger filmmakers who helped resurrect his reputation in the 1980s: Francis Coppola (seen wandering around the sets used in One from the Heart) and Martin Scorsese. The latter is interviewed during the filming of The King of Comedy, and we get to see a brief between-takes moment with Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro. Powell was a kind of backroom advisor to Scorsese at this time, offering suggestions during the production of Raging Bull and After Hours. On the west coast he was working on projects that would have been films for Coppola’s American Zoetrope but—as we now know—nothing materialised.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Rite of Spring and The Red Shoes
Michael Powell’s Bluebeard revisited
The Tale of Giulietta

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”

Weekend links: Apocalypse not now

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The Kurtz compound prior to destruction. An Apocalypse Now storyboard, one of a number which will be included among the extras on the Blu-Ray release of Francis Coppola’s film when it appears in the UK next month. The film is given a new cinema release on May 27th.

Radio broadcaster Harold Camping, a man denounced by fellow Christians as a false prophet, achieved one thing at least this week by making himself and his followers a global laughing-stock after the Rapture failed to materialise. I would have put money on him blaming those terrible gays somewhere along the way, such complaints being so common among a certain brand of American fundamentalist that you could write their sermons for them. Sure enough, here’s the old fool blathering about “lespianism” and describing the beautiful city of San Francisco as a cesspool. Shall we chalk this up as another victory for the gays, Harold? Related: No dogs go to heaven.

The internet has always been a home for ridicule but occasions like this bring out the wags in droves. The Oatmeal showed us how God is managing the Rapture using a Windows Install Wizard, and also pointed to a selection of sarcastic tweets. Meanwhile, this page has a comprehensive catalogue of previous apocalypse dates; the biggy is next year, of course.

Burroughs himself was no stranger to prosecution. In 1962 he was indicted on grounds of obscenity. Naked Lunch was not available in the US until 1962 and in the UK until 1964. The writer Norman Mailer and the poet Allen Ginsberg had to defend the book in court before the ruling could be reversed. In Turkey, it is now our turn to stand up for the novel.

Turkish writer Elif Shafak criticising the paternalism of the Turkish state in trying to protect its people from troubling novels. Related: William Burroughs publisher faces obscenity charges in Turkey.

An A–Z of the Fantastic City by Hal Duncan. “This guidebook leads readers and explorers through twenty-six cities of yore (Yore, while included, is one of the shorter entries).” Illustrated by Eric Schaller.

• The creepiest Alice in Wonderland of all, Jan Svankmajer’s semi-animated Alice (1988), receives a very welcome re-issue on DVD this month. With Brothers Quay extras and other good things.

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Robert E Howard’s sinister magus from the Conan stories, Thoth-Amon, as depicted by Barry Windsor-Smith. From a portfolio of five Robert E Howard characters, 1975.

What is computer music (or does it matter)? Related: A History of Electronic/Electroacoustic Music (1937–2001), 511 (!) downloadable pieces.

Unearthly Powers: Surrealism and SF: Rick Poynor explores the Tanguy-like strangeness of Richard Powers.

Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s search for a kool place.

The Library of Congress National Jukebox.

Vladimir Nabokov’s butterflies.

Amy Ross’s Wunderkammer.

Rapture (1981) by Blondie | Apocalypse (1990) by William Burroughs | Rapture (2000) by Antony and the Johnsons.

The writhing on the wall

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Dracula (1992).

This is the closest you’ll get to a guest post here even though it’s been done remotely and I’ve changed things around a little. Following my mention yesterday of the Cocteau-derived lantern-arms in Francis Coppola’s Dracula, Jescie sent me an abandoned blog post which collected similar examples of the arms-through-the-walls motif. I’ve done this kind of thing here in the past so it’s good {feuilleton} material. Almost all these examples are fantasy- and horror-related which isn’t too surprising, and I’m sure there’ll be other examples in films I haven’t seen. If anyone has any suggestions just remember that hands grasping through doors and windows don’t count with this, it’s through the wall or not at all.

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La Belle et la Bête (1946).

Jean Cocteau sets things off in 1946, a perfect piece of fairytale Surrealism and one of the many memorable aspects of this film.

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La Belle et la Bête (1946).

Continue reading “The writhing on the wall”