TALKING FILMS

Bram Stoker’s nineteenth-century novel ‘Dracula’ continues to live on in the movies

In the works: two new adaptations of the vampire novel and a prequel novel that will be made into a film.

Bram Stoker’s legendary 1897 creation Dracula is perhaps one of the most filmed fictional characters in history, appearing in no less that 272 movies as of 2012. More than a century after the original novel was written, two adaptations of Stoker’s Gothic horror are currently in the works. Sherlock writers Steven Moffat and Mike Gatiss will work on a BBC adaptation. The Witch director Robert Eggers will also take a crack at the material with a remake of FW Murnau’s German Expressionist masterpiece Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922), an unofficial version of Stoker’s novel.

Stoker’s great grand-nephew, Dacre Stoker, is also co-writing an authorised prequel, in which 21-year-old Bram Stoker meets some of the strange creatures that he later writes about. The movie adaptation rights for the book, which is expected in 2018, have already been sold. It director Andy Muschietti slated to helm the project.

Contemporary audiences might never have gotten to see Murnau’s horror classic if Stoker’s widow, Florence Balcombe, had had her way. Murnau and Nosferatu’s producers decided not to buy the rights of Stoker’s novel, and changed the movie’s setting from Victorian England to 17th century Germany. The original ending was altered too. Vampire hunter Van Helsing was edited out and Count Dracula became Count Orlok. One of the changes contributed to the most well-known cliche of vampire movies: that the undead die when exposed to sunlight (they only weaken in Stoker’s novel).

However, Balcombe sued the producers, who were already bankrupted by Nosferatu’s poorly planned marketing campaign and couldn’t mount a legal defence. A German court ordered all prints of the film to be destroyed. But just like the titular bloodsucker, Murnau’s Nosferatu refused to die, surviving through bootlegs and eventually going to be recognised as a bona fide classic.

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Nosferatu (1922).

Director Robert Eggers was attracted to the film for the haunting performance by Max Shreck as Nosferatu. “I saw a picture of Max Schreck as Count Orlok in a book in my elementary school and I lost my mind,” Eggers said in an interview. German iconoclast Werner Herzog remade Nosferatu in 1979 as Nosferatu The Vampyre, about which he said there was “no better German film” as a way to connect with his grandfather’s generation.

“Because the German film-makers who preceded us were all either exiled or put in concentration camps or sided with the Nazis,” Herzog explained in an interview, “my generation had no fathers and no legitimacy: we were orphans.” The director’s version also had a fantastic performance at the centre by Klaus Kinski as Orlok. The film includes several shot-for-shot recreations of the original, a haunting atmosphere and surreal sequences.

Werner Herzog's Nosferatu.
Werner Herzog's Nosferatu.

Herzog’s version was achieved without the hardships faced by Murnau’s film. By then, the Stoker novel had fallen safely into the public domain.

Lucy is portrayed by French actor Isabelle Adjani. Herzog was able to increase the violence and heighten the novel’s sexual undertones, which Murnau was unable to do because of censor codes. The film’s ethereal atmosphere is further aided by the otherwordly tones of score by Florian Ficke (of the Krautrock band Popol Vuh). All of these elements come together perfectly in the film’s best sequence, in which 11,000 rats were used to simulate the effects of plague and complete destruction.

Herzog later explained the allure of the vampire: “For me, genre means an intensive, almost dreamlike stylization on screen, and I feel the vampire genre is one of the richest and most fertile cinema has to offer. There is fantasy, hallucination, dreams and nightmares, visions, fear, and of course, mythology.”

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Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979.

An urban legend attempted to explain the power of Nosferatu. Was Max Shreck in fact an actual bloodsucker? “Who hides behind the character of Nosferatu?” film critic Ado Kyrou asked in 1953. “Maybe Nosferatu himself?”

This premise was used as the basis of the meta horror comedy Shadow of the Vampire (2000). Murnau (John Malkovich) is depicted as a dictatorial erfectionist who will go to any lengths to get the perfect shot, even offering his leading lady to a real-life vampire so he can get a realistic performance from Willem Dafoe’s Shreck.

There have been several more faithful versions of Stoker’s novel. In 1931, Tod Browning, who would go on to make the cult classic Freaks (1932), made Dracula. Six sequels followed, but none were as iconic as the original which cemented Bela Lugosi’s image as a sympathetic vampire and brought the hidden sexual undertones of the novel to the surface.

Dracula adaptions have always needed a charismatic actor to tie everything together. Dracula (1958), starring Christopher Lee, is no different. Before his acting career flourished, Lee was told that he was too tall to be an actor and too foreign-looking to make it in Hollywood. Both those features were perfect for the vampire from Transylvania. Lee went on to portray the coffin-loving creature from the undead in close to a dozen movies.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula.
Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

Perhaps the oddest incarnation of Stoker’s aristocratic creation came in the blaxploitation classic Blacula (1972). Many things could have gone wrong with a film with such a jokey title. Instead, the vampire myth becomes a smart metaphor for the slave trade. Eighteenth-century African prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) travels to meet Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) to sign a petition against the slave trade and help him bring his country into the modern world. The vampire is, in fact, a closet slave trade supporter, and turns Mamuwalde into a vampire and locks him inside a coffin. In 1972, two antique dealers bring the coffin to Los Angeles, where Mamuwalde chases the reincarnation of his long-lost love while wreaking havoc on the landscape. The film sparked off a chain of blaxploitation versions of Gothic horror classics, such as Black Werewolf (1974), Dr Black, Mr Hyde (1976) and Blackenstein (1973).

Blacula (1972).
Blacula (1972).

The closest adaptation of Stoker’s novel is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version, featuring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves. Coppola used inventive tricks to create the special effects. The sumptuous costumes were by Japanese costume designer Eiko Ishioka, who won an Oscar for her effort.

Because Coppola wanted to do all the special effects, which he said numbered a million, on camera without post-production, he wasn’t taken seriously. He fired his camera department and hired his 24-year-old son Roman Coppola, a magic enthusiast, to perform the complex stagecraft. The duo used techniques that would not be out of place at the time of Nosferatu’s production: using mirrors to create different perspectives, rear projection, and playing the film backwards.

The script by James V Hart preserves the epistolary nature of the original by including multiple narrators and constantly changing the point of view from which the story is told. However, it is not entirely faithful to the original, swapping the novel’s men-on-a-mission arc for a Gothic romance.

The greatest strength of Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula is Gary Oldman’s tragic performance as Count Dracula. Oldman’s vampire transforms from what looks like a 90-year-old woman to a mysterious young man prowling the streets of London for his love Mina (Ryder). The movie proved once again that the beating heart of all Dracula films is the prowess of the man who plays the vampire.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.