Blood-sucking in the open air

I'm a fan of vintage films and I'm a fan of Philip Glass. I'm also a fan of seeing films outside. Imagine how excited I was when I heard the 1931 Universal Studios classic 'Dracula', with Bela Lugosi in the eponymous and genre defining role, was going to be shown in Santa Barbara. Ok. I won't stretch your imagination; I was *very* excited.

I rather naively thought that Haley  would be similarly excited because she has spent large amounts of the last 2 years talking about nothing but vampires and their quarry; whether Sooki Stackhouse from True Blood, or Edward Cullen from Twilight, I've had to hear all about their imaginary lives. I thought going to see not only Dracula, but the Dracula would meet with nothing short of roars of applause and comments about what an understanding husband I was. Haley dropped a bombshell when we are sitting on the grassing waiting for our friends Andy and Sandi to turn up: She's not that interested in this film. Whatever.

Throughout July and August, Santa Barbara County has allowed UCSB arts and lectures team to use the sunken garden behind the historic courthouse to show the classic Universal Studios horror films. Dracula was the first in the series.

I admit that although this is the defining moment in cinema, I haven't seen it before. Being British I have, of course, see the Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman versions. Several times I have considered watching it but rather like a first date, I wanted my first experience of it to be perfect. I made the mistake of watching Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis' on late night TV some years ago. It was a poor edit, and it had a crazy rockband soundtrack which was completely inappropriate (Freddie Mercury, I hope you were ashamed of yourself). I feared that Dracula would leave me feeling similarly dejected, so I held off until the time was right.

Last night, the time was right. 10 or so years ago, I discovered that Philip Glass had written a soundtrack to this film. I am a big fan of his, all the way from electronic splendour of Glassworks to the more developed (and slightly camp) grace of Galileo Galilei. Many consider his music to be formulaic and just plain repetitive. I couldn't disagree more. There are examples of mass-produced music in his repertoire (particularly in his contemporary scores) but comparing these with his work for Dracula, La Belle et la Bete (the Jean Cocteau film, Glass recast as an opera), The Book of Longing (a setting of the poems by Leonard Cohen), shows that he is versatile contemporary composer.

I suspect the original edit of Dracula was intended to be performed without atmospheric musical accompaniment - such frivolous things being left to the likes of The Jazz Singer. I can only say that I am glad I waited. The whole experience was truly thrilling. When the titles began and the lugubrious bows of the Kronos Quartet rang out across the grass, I could feel a big smile appear on my face, the hairs on my arms stand on end, and the evaporation of tension I held. Apart from the hairs standing up, most of these are not usual when you see a horror film.

Having seen Fritz Lang's Nosferatu and the other versions of Dracula, I was totally blown away by Bela Lugosi. So much of the character of the Count is inherited from that single performance.


The story is a variant on Bram Stoker's book, but its not a painful transliteration, but you don't really get the idea Dracula was madly in love with Mina, which for me was one of his redeeming qualities. I am an old romantic after all.

We pitched some blankets on the grass, had a beautiful picnic, charming company, the evening was pleasantly warm to begin with, and the cinematic experience was 'totally awesome'. The evening would have been perfect had some utter gobshites in front of us not jeered and talked on their phones all the way through. Still, not everyone has a brain.

The Glass soundtrack fits perfectly, it is the only version of the Lugosi Dracula I would recommend seeing. Haley said afterwards that it ranked among the top 20 experiences ever, so thumbs up all around!