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My research leave really has officially finished now, and I am back in the full throes of teaching and admin duties. The teaching I don't mind, but the admin - ugh! I haven't missed that. Death by Meetings, basically.

Still, I made sure my last weekend of freedom was a good one. I've been meaning for a long time to visit the Doctor Who and Me exhibition currently running at the National Media Museum in Bradford, which is all about the history of Doctor Who fandom since the programme began, and consists almost entirely of items lent to the museum by fans. So when the lovely diffrentcolours invited me to join a contingent of geeks from Manchester who were coming over to see it for a day-trip, I jumped at the chance - especially since said contingent turned out also to contain the equally-lovely minnesattva and (non-Mancunian) magister.

We had an awesome time, discussing which exact episode a particular Cyberman outfit was modelled on, inventing Cyberman onesies, working out which of us would be safe from Daleks due to their inexplicable inability to perceive the colour red, and generally bouncing enthusiastically off each other's geekiness, which is a highly-recommended way to spend time. My personal favourite items from the exhibition itself were:

Fan quotation, Bradford Doctor Who exhibition
One of many fan quotations printed on the walls, which I'm not entirely sure really makes sense or indeed describes Doctor Who terribly accurately, but sounds cool anyway.

Docteur Qui, Bradford Doctor Who exhibition
Phono Paul's TARDIS, Bradford Doctor Who exhibition
Easily the best piece of fan-art in the show. I've seen pictures of it online before, but it was great to see it in the flesh.
A full-sized TARDIS which belongs to a friend of several people I know, and which was liberated from his shed and erected for the exhibition by a crack team including big_daz and nigelmouse.

It's not a huge exhibition, so within about an hour we had had our fill, and went off in search of food instead - which we found in high-quality but very reasonably-priced form at a place called Glyde House just opposite the museum. Definitely better than the OK but rather over-priced cafe in the museum itself, and an excellent place to shelter from the apocalyptic weather raging outside.

Then we discussed what to do with the afternoon. Most of the Manchester geek contingent had already made plans to catch the 3:30 train back home, but diffrentcolours, minnesattva, magister and I wanted to hang around until more like 5ish, when the also-lovely1 miss_s_b and [twitter.com profile] A_C_McGregor would be joining us after the former had finished work. And I happened to have noticed that the Media Museum was screening the restored version of Hammer's Dracula that very afternoon at 3:10, which pretty much exactly filled that gap. So yeah, I went to see Dracula on the big screen AGAIN. It would've been rude not to, right?


4. Dracula (1958), dir. Terence Fisher

I'm actually in the middle of writing up a huge and obsessively-fannish post all about continuity and canon across the entire Hammer Dracula franchise, which includes lots of stuff about the internal dating, geography and implied off-screen events in this film. In fact, that big continuity post has already given rise to a separate post about the Latin motto visible over Dracula's fireplace on my real-name blog. Then there's also the bit where I saw and reviewed it last November, and before that the previous May, and before that in June 2008. In other words, it might be totally reasonable to assume I'd have run out of things to say about it by now.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No.

It's not really quite so simple as saying that every time I see this film I notice one new thing about it, and put that in my review. As I tried to articulate in my November 2013 review, it's more that watching the film sparks off a whole chain of thought-processes which began the very first time I watched it, and which I have revisited and built upon every single time subsequently. Each time, all of those chains are pushed gently forward as I think my way a little further through the implications of the film's smaller details - but generally there will be one which floats to the surface and leaves the loudest impression.

So this time I'm going to talk about one rather important but I think little-remarked consequence of the way in which Jimmy Sangster (the script-writer) stripped down and condensed Stoker's novel in order to make it work as a 1.5-hour film. It's clear enough that in order to get the action moving quickly, Sangster turned Jonathan Harker from an estate agent into a librarian-cum-vampire-hunter, thus sweeping us through the several chapters which it takes in the novel for Harker even to realise that Dracula isn't a human being, let alone attempt any kind of confrontation with him. Harker the estate agent spends almost two months in Dracula's castle, and even then all he does at the end of it is escape. Harker the vampire-hunter spends two nights there, and by the second he has his stake in hand, ready for some action.

So far, so expedient. We're seeing the work there of a man with a good eye for pacing, drama and (most importantly) budgetary constraints. But I think there is another knock-on consequence of this change, which Sangster probably wasn't particularly thinking about, and which it's taken me a long time to really spot, and yet one which makes a very big difference to the dynamics of the story. The difference is this -the humans strike first.

That is, before the film even begins, Harker and Van Helsing have decided that Dracula is evil and must be destroyed, to the extent that they have cooked up an elaborate plan to get into his castle, and Harker has gone in there to assassinate him. We don't learn all this backstory about Harker's arrival in the castle until quite some way into the narrative of course, and by the time we do fully come to understand it, we have seen Dracula throwing a (literal) hissy fit on discovering his vampire bride biting Harker, killing Harker himself, and beginning an epic revenge campaign against Harker's family. So on a first viewing, it seems perfectly reasonable to accept Harker and Van Helsing's judgement, since we've already seen Dracula in his full colours by the time we learn what they have done. And indeed, of course, most of us have read the novel and / or seen other screen Draculas anyway, so we don't think to question Harker and Van Helsing's right to attack him.

But on subsequent viewings, when you watch Harker arriving at the castle in the full knowledge that he has come to kill Dracula, things start looking at little different - especially if you make the effort to think away other tellings of the Dracula story, and to concentrate on the story in front of you in its own right. As I say, I'm not sure how carefully Sangster can have thought this through, but the fact is that we don't see anything at all on screen to justify turning up at somebody's house with the express intention of killing them before Harker's plans to do so are already well advanced. Sure, the vampire bride tells Harker quite early on that he "can have no idea what an evil man he is, or what terrible things he does", but that is telling, not showing - and besides it's also perfectly clear that she will say anything she thinks she needs to in order to entice Harker close enough to allow her to sink her teeth into him.

Meanwhile (and this certainly was deliberate on Sangster's part, to set up a contrast with what comes later), Dracula has up to this point been nothing other than the most impeccable host, welcoming Harker into his home with, as far as I can tell the entirely honest intention of wanting to get his library sorted out, and at least attempting (by locking Harker in his room) to stop his vampire bride from getting at him. Even when we do see him for the first time in full-on rage mode, it's for the perfectly good reason that he has just caught his vampire bride illicitly feeding on his house guest; and likewise when he kills Harker himself, he does it because Harker has just rather rudely killed his female companion. But what reason do Harker and Van Helsing have for trying to kill Dracula in the first place? We simply never know.

I'm not trying to claim a radical new reading here. It's widely understood that part of the reason Hammer's telling of the Dracula story is so compelling is that in invests Dracula with a lot of sympathy - and this is certainly how Christopher Lee set out to play him. My point is simply that Sangster's reinvention of Jonathan Harker from an innocent estate agent to a vampire-hunter already bent on Dracula's destruction before the story even begins plays a major role in contributing to that which I don't think I've ever seen anyone else commenting on - and especially so since Sangster doesn't trouble to explain how Harker (and / or Van Helsing) arrived at that decision. There's a gap there which leaves ample space for Dracula to seem quite the injured party once you realise what Harker is really up to - arguably a gap which rather undermines the story's intended good vs. evil dynamic, but equally one which opens to the door to a lot of very enjoyable alternative readings.


Anyway, 1.5 hours spent watching Dracula are never wasted, and by the time they were finished, miss_s_b and [twitter.com profile] A_C_McGregor were waiting for us outside the cinema. So we all headed off for booze followed by curry, with a lot of laughing, more geekery and some bonus libdemmery along the way.

The following day, after sleeping off the excesses of the previous evening, I headed over to ms_siobhan and planet_andy's house. After presenting ms_siobhan with two new additions to her collection of Frightful Fridge Magnets, bought on my recent trip to Rome, we looked through the pictures she had taken the previous weekend at Wendyhouse, which are jolly impressive, and will be appearing on a website near you before very long. Then we settled down for another dose of vintage filmy goodness.


5. The Invisible Man (1933), dir. James Whale

This was a new one on me, but one of the classics of fantastic cinema which I've always meant to see. Obviously, it rests heavily on the success or failure of its special effects, but even to my jaded 21st-century eyes they were incredibly impressive. We watched a documentary about the film afterwards which had been included as a DVD extra, and which explained how the invisibility effect had been achieved by wrapping those parts of Claude Rains which you weren't supposed to be able to see in black velvet, and then basically using double exposures. Once this was explained, I realised that in some of the clips they were playing to demonstrate the point, you can occasionally see very faint ghost-like images of e.g. his legs or whatever at certain points, but I didn't notice that while watching the film itself. He just looked completely invisible.

The story itself is generally enjoyable, but I felt it had one quite serious flaw, which was that the Invisible Man himself is basically an asshole, and although we find out as the story unfolds that this is a side-effect of one of the ingredients in his invisibility serum, for me this discovery came way too late to develop any retrospective sympathy for him. I haven't read the original novel by H.G. Wells, but we learnt enough from the DVD documentary to know that the roots of the problem lie there - both stories begin when he is already invisible, and already suffering from the delusional effects of his serum, whereas I think the whole story would have felt much more emotionally engaging if we had got to know him as a normal, decent human being before all this happened. The film version I think tries to mitigate this problem by giving the Invisible Man a fiancée, whom we can see feeling worried about why he has suddenly disappeared, and towards whom he clearly retains some genuine affection even under the effects of the drug. But for me it wasn't quite enough.

Still, there were some fun action sequences as the Invisible Man works his mischief, as well as some good montages as the police gradually figure out how to capture him (they try nets for a while, but eventually get the better of him when it starts to snow and they can see his footprints). The film also has a brilliant cast of character actors spread across its secondary roles. We enjoyed spotting Henry Travers, otherwise famous as Clarence Odbody, Angel, Second Class in It's a Wonderful Life as the Invisible Man's sensible senior scientific colleague and his fiancée's father, as well as Dwight Frye, aka Renfield from Dracula 1931 as a cub reporter. Mind you, even some of the secondary characters slipped into irritating stereotypes sometimes. We kind of liked Una O'Connor in the role of the landlady at the obscure country inn where the Invisible Man goes to hide out until he can find a way to become visible again, but we fervently wished that the part hadn't been scripted to involve quite as much hysterical screaming as it actually did.

Anyway, definitely worth seeing, and now that we have discovered the sequel stars none other than the marvellous Vincent Price, we might well be tracking that down very soon...


1. Basically, all of my friends are lovely, but I see no harm in saying this explicitly whenever I happen to mention them directly in a post, rather than leaving it unstated.

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Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
softfruit
Jan. 30th, 2014 10:12 pm (UTC)
Shiny looking exhibition! I shall have to find some time to trek across the Pennines.

"Daleks [...] inexplicable inability to perceived the colour red"

At last, a world that Star Trek redshirts can beam down onto safely!
strange_complex
Jan. 30th, 2014 10:19 pm (UTC)
Haha! Well, that is, their chests would be safe. I guess to Daleks they would look like a load of disembodied heads floating about the place, with disconnected legs running underneath. Mind you, even for Daleks that might be so freaky that they'd just scarper in terror anyway.
softfruit
Jan. 30th, 2014 10:30 pm (UTC)
FLOATING HUMAN HEADS! E-VACUATE! E-VACUATE!
minnesattva
Jan. 31st, 2014 08:22 am (UTC)
It is good. I think it's only on for a few weeks more, though, possibly, so it might be worth looking that up to factor into your plans.
diffrentcolours
Jan. 31st, 2014 11:30 am (UTC)
It was great to see you! We're going to York Railway Museum next month, probably on 15th Feb, and I'm hoping to bring Sarah along.
strange_complex
Jan. 31st, 2014 11:36 am (UTC)
You too! I'm afraid the weekend of Feb 15th-16th will see me back at the Media Museum for this course on Hammer horror films (aka seeing Dracula on the big screen YET AGAIN), so I will probably have to pass on the Railway Museum. But I will totes be in York for conference!
minnesattva
Jan. 31st, 2014 11:39 am (UTC)
I have voted against 15th Feb for the reason Penny has. :)
diffrentcolours
Jan. 31st, 2014 11:40 am (UTC)
Drat, it's basically the only weekend in Feb that I can make.
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Jan. 31st, 2014 08:26 pm (UTC)
I approve of this message.
livejournal
Jan. 31st, 2014 07:59 pm (UTC)
And that was nothing to the complicated life story we were able to create for Arthur Dent!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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