Live Music for the Undead
Poor hapless Renfield, wonderfully played by poor hapless Dwight Frye, climbs into the carriage that picks him up at the Borgo Pass. The ride is rough, so the real estate agent leans out of the window to complain to the driver. Then he freezes. Are his eyes deceiving him -- or is that a flapping bat over the horses, driving them on toward Castle Dracula?
This is one of several scenes in the 1931 Universal version of Dracula that, wonderful though they are, still lack one element that they seem to cry out for: music. In common with many early talkies, Dracula was originally released without a musical score. If you've seen it, you may have noticed that in the many long sequences in which the actors aren't speaking, there's no sound except for the oppressive hiss of the empty soundtrack. As a result, it seems more truly a silent movie to modern audiences than Birth of a Nation or The Great Train Robbery.
Enter, to correct this problem, Philip Glass. The minimalist composer had written many film scores before, particularly for directors such as Errol Morris and Godfrey Reggio, but here he added music to a recognized, highly influential classic. Moreover, his score can be played live, as accompaniment to a screening of the film. Just such a performance, by the Kronos Quartet with Glass conducting, is slated for 8 p.m. Saturday, October 21, at Gammage Auditorium.
There may be a few purists who regard this as on a par with colorization. But I, who regard colorizing an old movie as desecration worthy of trial before a Grand Inquisitor, have seen the results -- an edition of Dracula with this score is available on Universal Home Video -- and I'm telling you, it's really cool. Renfield's winged driver is now accompanied by an appropriate scherzo. Later, when Renfield gives himself a minor cut and his host Dracula's bloodlust is awakened, the great Lugosi's expression is punctuated by a shriek from the Kronos strings. And a low, gutsy melody is heard while Edward Van Sloan's Van Helsing struggles to resist Dracula's mind control. There are times, perhaps, when Glass could have held back and let the silence do the work, but overall, his Dracula score feels less like latter-day meddling and more like the completion of a heretofore unfinished work. Hearing it live should be all the more fun.
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