Waiting for Argento: Blood, Boobs and DRACULA 3D

“Is it right to be obsessed with looking at terrible things and sharing them with other people?” — Dario Argento, Italian film director, producer and screenwriter

Dario Argento's Dracula 3D
Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D

Quoting Argento, I feel like some whore in a shower stall talking to herself as she cleans off the filth of her last embarrassing encounter. That is to say, I know that if/when Dario Argento’s DRACULA 3D (http://www NULL.dracula3dthemovie NULL.com/) will be released in the US, I will look. In fact, I really want to like what I see. I do. I swear.

But should I be sharing such an awful thing with other people? Especially when this long awaited film — screened and panned at Cannes and currently only being distributed in Europe — still has no U.S. release date!?!?!?

Famous for 1977’s Suspiria, and being cited as an inspiration for the work of directors like John Carpenter, Argento has made over twenty horror movies, each with a schlocky seventies european sensibility. He has amassed quite a fan-base around the world, and is given a degree of respect in Europe; but when his re-interpretation of Dracula in 3D was screened at Cannes last May (http://www NULL.filmschoolrejects NULL.com/reviews/cannes-review-dario-argento-dracula-3d-sgall NULL.php), the audience jeered and many left their seats.

Still, like his central character here — a Dracula that’s cunning and oddly appealing — Argento’s films have a certain charm. They are forever stuck in the hazy twilight of adolescent wonder for all things reputedly hip and cool simply because they are foreign — a benefit of the doubt certainly extended more easily in the days before the web and the globalization of media. But Argento’s appeal is limited, and his consistently bad movies, while often entertaining in their ineptitude, tend to receive more attention before people actually see them. He has our enthusiasm on credit because of an account only long ago in good standing.

Like the count himself, Argento seemed far more interesting the first, second or even the third or fourth time around — when he was novel, exotic, a stranger from a strange land.

Thomas Kretschmann as Dracula

Suspiria is a good example of how one of his films can be more than their silly premises (in this case “ballerina vs. witches”). With beautiful cinematography and an atmosphere of the surreal, Suspiria consistently finds it ways to top positions in lists of great horror films.

Still, 1977 was 35 years ago. And Argento has made no effort to adapt his skills or sensibilities to modern audiences.

I’ll expect terrible CGI and clumsy use of 3D. I’ll forgive  the poor acting (Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing is the only actor with even a slight chance of salvaging what is sure to be terrible dialogue). And I’ll look past what’s sure to be downright bizarre physical effects (a review from Cannes mentioned a a gigantic bug?). And why will I excuse all of this? Because I’m a sucker for bad foreign, bloody period semi-(or even not) faithful adaptations of Dracula (need I say more than Jess Franco’s El Conde Dracula with Christopher Lee?). They all can’t be Hammer’s brilliant Horror of Dracula (http://www NULL.imdb NULL.com/title/tt0051554/) (1958), Coppolla’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (http://www NULL.imdb NULL.com/title/tt0103874/) (1992), or even Lugosi in Todd Browning’s classic Universal fare (http://www NULL.imdb NULL.com/title/tt0021814/) (1931). But they are all worth a watch just once. Just to say I’ve seen every Dracula film (and I’m pretty sure I have).

Still, even I might have to draw the line when it comes to Argento doing Dracula. See for yourself…



Sure, the blood will be fun. And Argento filming his beautiful daughter, Asia, in all manner of stages of undress as Lucy will be oddly alluring and extremely off-putting at the same time, I’m sure.

But does Dracula 3D have enough of what makes a bad movie good to ever get this film to rise above the just plain terrible?

You be the judge. And so will I.

If it’s ever released here in the states, you can bet I’ll follow up. Good or bad, Dracula 3D is bound to be a guilty pleasure worth pursuing.

Chameleons, Comedians, and Caricatures

June 6, 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the release of David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

A landmark album in the history of pop music, Ziggy Stardust is arguably among the best of early seventies glam rock, but its lasting appeal has always been rooted in the iconic character of Ziggy himself — one the earlier and more outlandish alter egos that Rock’s master chameleon has assumed over the years.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

The human form of an extraterrestrial sent to earth in its final five years to deliver a message of hope, Ziggy ascends to great heights of stardom only to crash and burn in what becomes both a celebration and condemnation of  rock n’ roll excess and the elevation of pop idols to godlike stature.

The nature of the character has been well documented by Bowie in interviews given over the years (most notably, in conversation with William S. Burroughs as moderated by writer Craig Copetas in an article in the February 28th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone (http://www NULL.whale NULL.to/c/beat NULL.html)). Likewise, Bowie has been very forthcoming as to the real-life models that inspired the character.

Part Iggy Pop, part Marc Bolan, a bit of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy (http://www NULL.stardustcowboy NULL.com/) (if in name only) with shades of Syd Barrett, Ziggy’s musical and cultural influences can oddly, forty years on in the context of pop music history, seem somewhat obvious. Yet among the many inspirations for Bowie’s rock star alien prophet is a little known British born Elvis Presley wannabe named Vince Taylor.

Vince Taylor

Superstar to some (Joe Strummer of the Clash, who covered one of Taylor’s few original compositions Brand New Cadillac (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=ZpiBYytFR8g), once called him “the beginning of British rock’n’roll,” adding that “before him, there was nothing”), Vince Taylor was an odd European mutation of the American rockers he emulated. From the late nineteen-fifties through to the British Invasion of 1964 ushered in by the Beatles, Taylor’s eccentric but earnest imitations of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis and others earned him notoriety in the UK and on the continent, especially in France. But his reputation for unpredictable mood swings and overindulgence in drugs and alcohol — coupled with an almost fetishistic ever-present uniform of head-to-toe black leather complimented by a large Joan of Arc medallion — made Taylor an outsider. Almost alien.

By the mid sixties, Taylor was regularly dropping acid, and the LSD was affecting his mind. On one occasion, he told an audience he was the Apostle Matthew. At another show, he claimed to be the son of God. Bowie met Taylor in 1966, at Vince’s lowest point.

“Just the weirdest kind of creature… in his own mind he did become the Messiah… He used to hang out on Tottenham Court Road and I got to know him then. And he had these strange plans, showing where there was money buried, that he was going to get together… he was going to create this new Atlantis at one time… and he always stayed in my mind as an example of what can happen in rock n roll. I’m not sure if I held him up as an idol or as something not to become. Bit of both probably. There was something very tempting about him going completely off the edge. Especially at my age, then, it seemed very appealing… Oh, I’d love to end up like that, totally nuts. Ha ha! And so he re-emerged in this Ziggy Stardust character.” — Bowie on Taylor sometime in 1990 (quotes widely circulated but source unknown)

It is generally now believed by critics, biographers and fans alike that this fascination with, yet fear of mental illness is at the core of Bowie’s eventual discomfort with the character of Ziggy. A little over a year after the album’s release, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars would play their final concert at the Hammersmith Odeon (captured in Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/Ziggy-Stardust-The-Motion-Picture/dp/B00008YLUX)) and Bowie abandoned his alter ego, never to become him again.

After a couple of attempts at comebacks in Europe through the late nineteen seventies, Vince Taylor lived in Switzerland and worked as an airplane mechanic. He died of cancer in 1991 at the age of 52.


Postscript:

On recent tours, Morrissey uses footage of Taylor performing “Whole Lot of Twistin’ Going On” (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=GneoizCBddY) as part of his pre-show audience warm up.

The title of my post is taken from a lyric in David Bowie’s “The Bewlay Brothers (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=f9TZNIvgCSQ)” from Hunky Dory (1971), the album preceding Ziggy Stardust (the entire line is “Chameleon, Comedian, Corinthian and Caricature”). It was written, in part, for his brother Terry who suffered from and ultimately succumbed to schizophrenia. Mental illness ran in David’s family, and he forever wondered if he, too, would one day go mad.

For more on David Bowie’s fear of mental illness and relationship with his schizophrenic brother, read Mikal Gilmore’s excellent article “How David Bowie Changed the World” in the January 18, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone (click here for an excerpt (http://www NULL.rollingstone NULL.com/music/news/cover-story-excerpt-david-bowie-20120118)).