Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Frank Langella, Sexiest Dracula Ever

I suppose it's a moot point to pick on Twilight--the last movie in the series aired some time ago. But the whole time this phenomenon was in full swing, I was shaking my head, at a loss to understand why so many women--some of them my age--were drooling over that character of Edward Cullen and the actor who played him, Robert Pattinson. 

You see, the vampires that I grew up with were supposed to be scary, not dudes that you would disrobe for in a heartbeat and jump into bed with. Count Orlock from Nosferatu, the first true vampire film that started it all? Downright ghoulishly fugly. Bela Lugosi? The quintessential Dracula of his time, but again, not sexually appealing. Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows? Sorry, no...and hell-to-the-no to Johnny Depp's version. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt never did a thing for me, either. But at least these dudes were grown up men and didn't have skin that sparkled in the sunlight (a character trait of Edward's that I don't get...isn't sunlight lethal to vampires?) And I'm sorry, Twilight fans, but out of all of these guys, Edward Cullen would easily be at the bottom of my list. The reasons why would take up this entire blog post, so let's just leave it at that. 

There was, however, Gary Oldman from the 1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula--and he was attractive during the scenes where he played a younger Count Dracula, dressed in Victorian garb. But then I remembered another Dracula from my childhood...a Dracula movie that I watched on TV and even as a young girl, I could see that there was something different about this count. He was a little less scary than other Draculas...he didn't show his fangs and there was no blood smeared on his face. When he broke into the bedroom of the woman he intended to seduce he looked downright appealing...I could totally understand why she sighed and unbuttoned the top buttons of her nightgown, willingly giving him access to her neck. And the scene I remember most (and that has stayed with me to this day) is the eerie ending--a lone cape flapping away over the ocean, looking just like a bat flapping its wings as I remember my father remarking. 

I'm talking about the 1979 film Dracula, starring Frank Langella. After viewing clips of this movie, which I haven't seen in several years, I can honestly say that as much as I'm not fond of vampires, I would gladly throw back my head and offer my neck to Frank Langella as Dracula. His has to be the sexiest portrayal of the count even to this day. Edward Cullen isn't fit enough to polish this man's coffin, as far as I'm concerned. 

I think it's safe to say that Langella and the moviemakers took Dracula to a whole new level with this movie. There's a really awesome documentary on the making of the film uploaded to YouTube in five parts called The Revamping of Dracula. In it, Langella discusses how he had control over how this Dracula would be portrayed, right down to the height of his collars. He wanted the count to be a departure from Bela Lugosi's cartoonish, heavily accented character; instead, he would play him still as intense, but romantic and sexy as well. Langella was 40 at the time of filming, with trademark 1970s machismo: a tall frame, great hair, and exotic good looks. He was actually starring in a stage version of Dracula when movie makers watched him and knew that he'd be perfect for their film adaptation.

Langella and the filmmakers also saw Dracula as not so much scary, but a tragic gothic hero. Where Bela Lugosi reveled in the darkness and thought his "children of the night" made beautiful music, Langella's Dracula thinks they sound sad and lonely--a metaphor for his own existence. As a result, this Dracula was closer to his portrayal in earlier plays and the book. This was one classy and charming count. 

The late movie critic Roger Ebert said it perfectly: "Most of the previous Draculas we carry in our imaginations share two things: fangs and overacting. They come on so strong that potential victims shouldn't let them within yards of their necks. Frank Langella gives us a character who 'acts' as if he's a count: He has royal manners, he is irresistibly attractive to women, he would have impeccable table manners if only, of course, it were not forbidden for him to eat." 

Even the movie's lobby card alludes to this Dracula's eroticism:
Check out the scene where Dracula climbs down his castle's wall into Lucy's (Kate Nelligan's) bedroom to seduce her--it's both scary AND sexy!

What follows this scene has actually been criticized by many fans--as Dracula and Lucy make love, the sequence is bathed in red laser beam light, psychedelic style, and graphics by Maurice Binder, who did the opening credits for many James Bond films. The director of Dracula was John Badham, who had previously made Saturday Night Fever, and the laser beam trend was finding its way into rock shows and movies. It's out of step with the rest of the film, but it's a sign of its time. 

The movie also costarred two veteran actors, Donald Pleasence and Sir Lawrence Olivier. Olivier was apparently very ill during the making of the film. 

And that purposely ambiguous ending? It's sad to see Dracula get hoisted by a hook into the sunlight and incinerated into ashes...but there's also a sense that somehow he lives on. I'm sure that was the sympathetic ending Langella and the filmmakers were hoping for. 

There was another Dracula movie released the same year that also showed the character in a more positive light--the comedic, campy Love at First Bite, starring George Hamilton as a disco dancing Drac. It's entertaining and funny in its own right, but for pure sex appeal, my vote is still for Frank Langella.

Here's part 1 of the featurette The Revamping of Dracula. You can watch all parts on YouTube. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Old Timey Dentistry

I must confess that dentists and dentistry don't make me squeamish...maybe it's at least partly due to the fact that I have good teeth and visit my dentist every six months for a cleaning and check-up only to hear (knock on wood) "see you in six months." 

But for those of you who hate the dentist, then this post is perfect for this time of year, the Halloween season. It doesn't help that dentists have (quite unfairly, I believe) gotten a bad rap through several years of pop culture history--Little Shop of Horrors and Marathon Man quickly come to mind. One fairly recent depiction of a dentist in film that is positive is Dr. King Schultz in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Even though the movie takes place after Dr. Schultz has given up dentistry in favor of bounty hunting, I couldn't help but feel that the character's gentlemanly and kind demeanor (when he wasn't busting a cap into well-deserving criminals and cruel slave owners, of course) must have meant he was a gentle tooth doctor with a caring bedside manner years before he met up with Django. Even the advertising logo on the side of his dental wagon proclaims him as "amazing and painless" with "work in a careful, up-to-date manner...prices in the reach of all." I'm just saying, if you needed a tooth pulled in the 1800s, Dr. Schultz would be your man. (I also think a movie prequel or even a network series based on the character would be a smash hit for us fans of the movie...again, just saying.)

With Dr. Schultz in mind, let's take a look (if you dare) at a selection of historical dental images and advertising from the 1800s to the 20th century that just may make you a little more grateful for your own dentist's modern equipment the next time you go (I promise that none of them are really gory; maybe just a bit heebie jeebie-ish.) Just relax and open wide...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Whatever Happened to...Raking Leaves Instead of Blowing Them?

I curse Dom Quinto. Who the heck is that, you ask?

He's the dolt who invented the leaf blower. 

I just spent the last hour listening to an obnoxious neighbor power one of these equally obnoxious contraptions. A solid hour! I'd rather have listened to a dentist's drill or the failed auditions from every season of American Idol. I seriously wanted to march over his property line, wrench that thing from his hands and blow it where the sun doesn't shine. 

To be fair, suburban America's obsession with these noise polluters cannot be entirely blamed on Quinto. His original blower wasn't designed for consumer usage or for displacing leaves, but for agricultural chemical spraying in the 1950s (although I suppose we should pummel him for making it easier to spread cancer-causing pesticides on our produce.) Manufacturers soon discovered that consumers were removing the parts from the blower meant to hold and distribute chemicals, instead relying on the high wind speeds they produced to blow leaves and debris from their property. Genius. 

By the 1990s, over 800,000 leaf blowers a year were being sold in the United States. 

And now, they're everywhere. I hate these things with a passion! I can see using one for a few minutes to clear a driveway (like my mother often does) or another quick, minor clean-up job. But the problem is they seem to have replaced raking, which is what my neighbor was using his for this afternoon. When there's a landscaper crew nearby, forget about it. That's all you'll be hearing for the next 2-3 hours, never mind one. Way to go, ruining a beautiful day in the neighborhood. 

Modern society is SO lazy today it's pathetic. Why rake leaves when you can blow them away? Better yet, why mow or maintain your own lawn yourself when you can pay a landscaper crew to do it for you? (I'm not talking about homeowners with large properties and yards, where landscaping is justified, but houses that sit on a half acre of land, if even that.)

I'm not just blowing hot air here (ha.) Leaf blowers are not exactly the best thing for the environment and your well-being. For starters, the gasoline powered blowers emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. More of concern to me is their mind-numbing noise level, whether they run on gas or electricity. They are so loud they can cause hearing damage to the operator and anyone within close range after extended usage without earplugs. Many cities in California have wisely banned or restricted their use. Also, they are not exactly lightweight--I've helped my mother blow leaves off her driveway, and was surprised at how heavy it felt as I strapped it off my shoulder. I much prefer taking a custodial style broom and pushing the leaves off. In my opinion, it doesn't take much more time to get the job done and it's exercise! 

Call me crazy, but I'd rather rake at any time and burn some calories while working my shoulder and back muscles. There's also something kind of therapeutic and soothing about raking leaves on a beautiful autumn day that I suppose is lost on too many people. 

Kudos to California...if only the rest of the country would consider following their lead. Nothing would make me happier than seeing the leaf blower die a quick death. 

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