Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dracula: The Student Film

I recently rewatched Tod Browning's Dracula, and was displeased to find that it really isn't all that. It's slow. It's silly. It's not really scary, even, I'm guessing, by 1930's standards. I know there are stories of women fainting in the aisles, but I have to assume that such stories are apocryphal. Compare this 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel to F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). The latter holds up infinitely better, is far more vibrant a film, and is as scary as ever. Bela Lugosi's Dracula is elegant, iconic, and sexy in a Eurotrashy way, but Max Schreck's Count Orlok (Dracula) is purely horrifying.
I digress. Back to Bela...
I shall forever love Tod Browning for the film he made after this one: Freaks. And I will give credit where it's due; Browning creates some wonderful images -- classic, even. Much of this certainly must be due to the work of cinematographer Karl Freund, a German who shot Leni Reifenstahl's Tiefland, Murnau's The Last Laugh, and a little Fritz Lang flick called Metropolis -- ever heard of it? Perplexingly, he ended his career shooting episodes of I Love Lucy. That's right: the man who captured Metropolis also shot I Love Lucy. That's one of my favorite tidbits of film history.
Freund later directed the original version of The Mummy (also a disappointment), and is widely known to have co-directed Dracula. So why, in the hands of this master, did I see the following frame when I watched Dracula?What the hell is that slab of paper? Obviously, it's serving to shape the light, right? But it serves no narrative function, I assure you, and I didn't see it in subsequent shots. I've never seen such an obvious blunder in a studio film. Freund let me down. Tod Browing let me down. Bela Lugosi... is dead.

No comments: