Dracula (1931)

29 Oct

You see him everywhere, especially at this time of the year: White face, dark hair, black cape, accent parodied to sell chocolate cereal or teach children to count. He feels like he’s always been with us, an icon, like Santa Claus.

Where does that leave the movie that brought that icon into mainstream consciousness, especially since plenty else that old isn’t still recognizable? Do things which scared and entertained audiences then still work now? I watched it to find out.

The film is, in a word, uneven. The beginning, with its ruined castle complete with bats, possums and armadillos is great as is the shipwreck. I assume Dracula just really loves armadillos. However, the movie loses steam. Dracula does the same method of bed invasion twice of turning into a bat and flying in the window rather than something more creative, like maybe flying in through a pipe, hypnotizing people, or doing something with his off-screen wolf form. Also the ending is

What strikes me the most is, oddly, the one element that’s been referenced the most often, and yet still comes off as different from anything that came before or after, namely Bela Lugosi. While I don’t like to reference the infernal time-wasting wiki TV tropes often, it hits the nail on the head.

“He’s less like a cursed man than some kind of malevolent, primitive, pre-programmed robot that doesn’t fully understand how it should interact with human beings. Quite creepy indeed.”

 

 

 

 

Clarance Brown “Crucible”: The Play Itself

29 Oct

The Crucible wrapped up its performance Oct. 16. This post is a follow up to my last post covering context. Here I talk about the cast and the story.

The cast did an excellent job, especially given they were trying to perform with period accents, neither modern northern nor modern southern. Some sounded slightly different, as with Mary Warren, who came off as more Irish than the others, but all came off showing real emotion rather than just trying to master accents.

John Proctor was troubled yet relatable. His wife was strong too. Giles Corey and Tituba came off as lovably crazy while not clashing with the dark tone.

The set at the Carousel Theatre was also distinctive, surrounding the audience with an autumnal forest.

As far as the script goes, the play’s greatest weakness is tied up with its greatest strengths. While a classic, the script is not perfect because no script is.

Arthur Miller, himself an adulterer, knew how to write married couples with infidelity issues, especially the cheated-on wives. Here as in Death of a Salesman, the wife, in this case Elizabeth Proctor, is sympathetic. The other woman, here Abigail Williams and there  called “the woman” is not a major focus of the scenes on stage, even if in the case of “The Crucible,” it’s what gets the plot going. For an adulterer to write in such a way about adultery, with a focus on the victim, shows a great level of sympathy and thoughtfulness on Miller’s part.

It becomes a weakness, however, because Abigail’s actions are so drastic that they might need more explanation. She apparently wants John Proctor so much she’s willing to kill his wife. What was their relationship really like? We don’t know because within the playshe’s there to set off Proctor’s guilt, and he’s already closed their relationship long ago.

A focus on Abigail, however, might have thrown the play off focus, preventing it from focusing on John and Goody Proctor. It’s an all too common kind of trade-off.

“The Crucible” at The Clarence Brown Review Part 1

22 Oct

I just recently saw The Crucible at Clarence Brown Theatre and loved it. This post is about the play’s context. I’ll skip ahead to actually talking about the performance in the next post. I also promise future theater reviews will be written when people can actually see the play and apologize for publishing both of these reviews after the play concluded its run.

The political movement called McCarthyism or the Second Red Scare wasn’t good, but it wasn’t the worst moment in this country by any means compared to plenty else that has gone wrong. Yet the commie hunters of that era did something that left an impact in a way plenty of other worse atrocities might not have. They went after artists.

anticommunist_literature_1950s

Artists, meanwhile, shot back. The era gave us two plays that dealt with McCarthyism indirectly, by way of earlier events. People still perform both to this day: Inherit the Wind and The Crucible. It’s hard to tell what an author’s intentions are, but that’s the consensus on the inspiration for both plays. The 1950s lacked either the strong creationist or satanic panic movements that would later surface, meaning that fears of witchcraft and fears of evolution were acceptable targets.Both featured romance angles not present in the

They’re wildly different plays, however. Inherit the Wind criticizes its one cynical character. Nearly everyone believes in what they’re doing with a sincerity that even message movies seem afraid of nowadays. Its tacked-on love story is sweet.

The Crucible is a dark story of backstabbing and flawed characters, perfect, in a way, for the present Game of Thrones era full of dark and cynical entertainment, even though all the violence and nudity is offstage. It’s tacked-on love story is one of adultery, guilt and repentance.

The red scare seems to have returned in other forms. People are crossing out the word “Communist” in old outdated speeches and writing “Muslim” or “Radical Islam.” This substitution makes no sense much of the time. Meanwhile, some people on the other side of the fence are still treating “ties to Russia” like it still means the same thing it used to.

The commentary is not just about McCarthyism however. It also tackled other fears of the era, as with its black servant Tituba, accused of corrupting children with “Barbados music”i.e. Rock ‘n Roll which was still considered black music at the time.

The play can’t just be reduced to topical themes, however. After all, the play deliberately calls out the witch trials for their death toll, an aspect not present in the original play. Old vs. young, fear vs. reason, repentance, redemption and standing up to authority in the face of fear will probably always stay relevant.

Next Post: The performance.

 

Highway Sign Hawk

7 Oct

Pelissippi Parkway, which I take each weekday to drop off my girlfriend in Oak Ridge, is no Blue Ridge Parkway. It lacks any parks other than a greenway. Yet even so, it features wonderful wildlife if you know where to look.

A hawk often perches on a nearby road sign, and I saw it this morning. Possibly it was a red tailed hawk, a creature known for its descending sounding call which often subs in Hollywood for other birds.

Why do they like perching above roads? St. Paul’s Audubon Society’s page  states red tailed hawks often hunt for small rodents in the ditches and shoulders along highways. It’s dangerous for them but convenient.

The Pelissippi Parkway also passes near a lake, leading to other chances to see interesting birds. I saw what appeared to be a bald eagle out of the corner of my eye as it perched in a tree. Unfortunately, I had to keep moving with the other traffic.

So, the next time you’re stuck in traffic or walking along a road with fields on either side, try looking up. Just don’t bird and drive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet Another Sunset, Tired of Those?

8 Jul IMG_5547

It’s been too long. New jobs, new commitments, none of which mean anything to the average reader of this blog.

No, the average reader of this blog, if they even cared to read more than one post would be saying “Yeah, that Ben person sure does post way too much about sunsets.”

IMG_5547
It’s not original is it? Sunsets get plenty of love. People go out to beaches or mountains to see them. They throw them in movies for style to add a sense of romantic danger or paradoxically a romantic calm.
And yet how could I not post this?

IMG_5540

The simple motion of the earth around the sun feels like the absurd grinding of fate. More days gone from life. And yet how could I not post this?

IMG_5530.JPG

It’s a parking lot, not even a tourist attraction. A boring office parking lot. And yet, how could I not post this?

IMG_5548

Heaven as firey as Hell. Sky as diverse in color as the world, full of blues grays, yellow, orange, colors that go together, colors that clash. Blood, flame, blackness, lightness, peach banana pudding. It’s easy to forget these were storm clouds which pounded rain and shot lightning just seconds before the photograph.

What does it all mean? Or should it even mean anything?

Truth is not beauty. Truth is not ugliness. Truth is every color thrown at the eye in a blinding glare. When the sun heads down, the truth is more comprehensible. But only slightly.

 

Karns Nature Trail

26 Sep IMG_5544

This Karns Nature Trail, behind the Karns Community Center is short. It starts in the forest and continues near stream and wetlands. It’s not likely to show up in any major guidebook. Still, it’s a good spot for wildflowers at this time of year.

Barred Owl and Bike at Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness

26 Sep View down into Ross Quarry Lime Pit

Here is my recent article “Urban Wilderness draws hikers, runners, cyclists” about my the Knoxville Urban Wilderness, particularly the Ross Quarry area. While the article does contain some great pictures by me, here are a few more. All photos here are by me.

The owl that I mentioned in the News Sentinel piece linked above was a barred owl.

Barred owl seen at Ijams Nature Center.

Barred owl seen at Ijams on Imerys Trail.

When barred owls are young they can climb trees using their talons and beak. They don’t migrate and in general, stay in the same place. For more about them, check out Cornell’s page on them.
Also, here’s a video of a cyclist Alex riding the Flow Trail.