(Mis)Understanding a Monster: Dracula Retrospective #2, “Dracula” (Tod Browning)

(Mis)Understanding a Monster: Dracula Retrospective #2, “Dracula” (Tod Browning)

Film: Dracula

Dracula/Dracula Analogue Performed by: Bela Lugosi 

Year: 1931

Director: Tod Browning

Country: United States

Character Archetype: Horrific Propriety

 

I gave Nosferatu a lot of praise last time for its huge impact on pop culture and for the wealth of imagery that other things have borrowed from it, but if there’s anything in the Dracula canon that can give it a run for its money in that regard, it’s this film.

 

Tod Browning’s film is less of a concentrated vision than Nosferatu, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and there’s a lot of reasons for why. For one, it’s based less directly on Bram Stoker’s novel and more on a popular play written by Hamilton Deane and revised by John L. Balderston, which shuffles some of the timeline around, cuts out older characters and adds new ones. Some of these changes are pretty minor and inexplicable and didn’t survive the transition to the screen (such as switching Mina and Lucy’s names for no reason, or having Renfield survive), but other changes were significant enough (such as giving Renfield the same job as Harker, making him the first to go to Transylvania to meet the Count) that other versions have adopted them over material from the novel.

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To The Man I Loved

I had a dream I meant something to you;

I know it was a dream because of the cruelty of the awakening,

The betrayal that I felt upon opening my eyes,

The searing knifelike pain of knowing the feeling of your fingers on my spine

Was merely my brain working overtime for something it could not afford.

 

I had a dream that you memorialized me in your art;

I glowed beautifully in your gaze, danced across your visions,

Your hunger for me, nothing but me, the idea and reality of me, kept me alive,

Your belief in talents I didn’t know I possessed gave me strength,

So much I could have backflipped through time and space to please you.

 

I woke to find my body, my real body, my imperfect body as it was;

I could no longer do the things you might have asked of me.

I couldn’t think myself worthy to meet your gaze,

I wanted to fuse all my parts together to make one abstract glob of self;

Something you might look upon in admiration.

 

Your perfect boy.

“Wonder Woman,” Expectations, Critical Discourse, and the Need to Do Better

“Wonder Woman,” Expectations, Critical Discourse, and the Need to Do Better

Recently, I saw Wonder Woman, the new entry in the D.C. Expanded Universe, and a movie that literally everyone has been talking about. I really enjoyed it, especially in comparison to the DCEU’s previous films, so much so that I was worried for a moment that maybe all of my praise was coming exclusively from that. After some careful deliberation, however, I came to the conclusion that I did like Wonder Woman on its own merits. I don’t intend to write about the film itself at length (there’s tons of women out there who are covering the main talking points better than I ever could), so instead I wanted to talk about Wonder Woman in relation to something that scares me: expectations.

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I’m Not There: Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper”

I’m Not There: Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper”

[The following contains spoilers for Personal Shopper.]

 

I had more difficulty writing about Personal Shopper than almost anything else I’ve written about, because of what’s been happening in my life of late. Just last month, a mere week before I saw the movie, my uncle passed away after a long struggle with his health. There’s a hole in my life he left that I don’t think I’ll ever fill; he was a kind and giving man to everyone, a fantastic brother to my mom and my other uncles and was never anything but supportive of me. Sometimes it’s still hard to grasp that he’s gone. I feel like he’s still with me even now. Personal Shopper was exactly the movie I needed to see at that moment, because its statements on grief, technology, and how the two are intertwined profoundly moved me and helped me achieve some kind of closure.

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Nothing There That Wasn’t There Before

Nothing There That Wasn’t There Before

There’s really nothing more that I hate than the phrase “ruined my childhood” or the billions of more vulgar variants on it. I don’t believe that a new thing that capitalizes on something you liked when you were a kid is capable of “ruining” it, because your childhood already happened. Unless the creators of this lame new thing magically time-travelled back to when you were five and tormented your little mind, giving you PTSD related to your once beloved film/book/whatever, you’re just being melodramatic.

 

So no, Disney’s new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon and based on Disney’s own 1991 animated feature (which I love deeply), did not “ruin my childhood.” But it did inspire a deep disappointment in me, a malaise with both the Disney Company and their practice of releasing what are basically photocopies of their former glory but in live action, woah, that I found myself seemingly incapable of articulating without feeling like I’m parroting either myself or one of several tired old chestnuts of film criticism that I’ve attempted to avoid.

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Playing (Script) Doctor: “Dead Silence”

Playing (Script) Doctor: “Dead Silence”

Welcome to Playing (Script) Doctor, a new blog category where I try to revamp past disappointments in the film world to bring out their potential. This is a bit of an experiment; if people like this sort of thing, I’ll open it up for commissions (these take a lot of time to make). While most script doctors are brought in to just punch up existing material, I don’t have the same restrictions, so I’ll try to re-build the foundation of the script in a productive manner as well as changing more minor details, and eventually create an outline for what my finished product would be.

 

Saw was easily the defining horror film of my childhood. Not that I saw it when it came out (I was about eight years old at the time), but I watched its influence spread and its empire of sequels grow larger and larger in real time. I remember being inundated with images of Shawnee Smith with the “reverse bear trap” on her head, of Billy the white-faced red-cheeked puppet, of Cary Elwes in a grimy bathroom considering cutting his foot off. It certainly made an impression on me, even if I’m not a huge fan of it (or its far less well-made sequels), which is more than I can say about a lot of American mid-2000s horror films; it also gave me a lot of respect for director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell and their obvious ambition/talent despite budget constraints.

 

I say this because I want to make it absolutely clear that I take no schadenfreude in the failure of their second film together, Dead Silence. Wan and Whannell were tasked with producing a second film quickly after the already exhausting endeavor of producing Saw, and they tried to make something good out of a bad situation, but a combination of exhaustion and an uncaring studio inevitably made things take a turn for the worse. Whannell was so disillusioned with the experience of working with a major studio that he wrote a blog post describing the myriad ways in which the experience bit the big one, and while it is incredibly angry and bitter, it clearly comes from a very sincere place of betrayal and hurt. They’re not hacks who didn’t know what they were doing, they’re just living proof that creativity can’t be produced at gunpoint.

 

That’s why Dead Silence fascinates me so: it had a lot of potential to be a pretty good horror movie. Maybe not exactly a classic, but definitely an interesting little throwback item for fans of Mario Bava or The Twilight Zone (which Wan and Whannell described as their biggest influences). Instead, the film we got is compromised by both fatigue and personal interference in ways that make the things about the movie that could have been interesting, like a feature-length optical illusion. I chose Dead Silence for this column for exactly that reason, not because it’s exceptionally bad. If I wanted to do that, I’d be talking about some Eli Roth hackjob. So without further ado, let’s get down to brass tacks about how to fix this thing.

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I Dreamed a Trailer

When I have bursts of creativity, often they don’t manifest themselves in the form of outlines or story arcs: I think of enough specifics to sell the film as a movie trailer, and imagine a soundtrack. Like this one, for instance: I have no idea what the rest of the movie would be like or if I’ll ever finish it, but it sure sounds great to me. Let me know what you think.

 

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