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KEN RUSSELLíS DRACULA
By KEN RUSSELL, PAUL SUTTON (Bear Claw Publishing; 2009/13)

A mixed bag, this. Itís the screenplay for a never-made film of DRACULA by the late, notorious Ken Russell, Britainís cinematic sultan of excess and outrage. The script was written in the late 1970s and published in 2009 by Russell biographer Paul Sutton.

     According to a lengthy introduction by Sutton, the film came close to being made by Columbia only to be abandoned when Universal put its Frank Langella headlined version of DRACULA into production. Russellís script, however, allegedly formed the impetus for a DRACULA ballet by Christopher Gable (the star of Russellís 1968 film SONG OF SUMMER) and also Francis Ford Coppolaís 1992 filming of the story, whose screenwriter James V. Hart was directly involved in the inception of Russellís interpretation.

     As an admitted Ken Russell fanatic Iíd like very much to say this screenplay is an unqualified triumph, and to be sure, it does contain some impressive things. Itís also a quintessentially Ken Russell concoction, with Russellís famously extroverted voice evident in the opening pages, in which Jonathan Harker is attacked by a coachman-turned-werewolf. A slow-building exercise in atmospheric subtlety this isnít!

     You likely know the story of DRACULA even if you havenít read Bram Stokerís original text. It involves Harker traveling to the eponymous Count Draculaís Transylvanian castle to conduct a real estate transaction, only to become trapped therein with three vampiric ďsistersĒ while Dracula, a vampire himself, travels to England on a doomed schooner. In England Dracula gloms onto Harkerís fiancťe Mina and her friend Lucy, and also the vampire-worshipping madman Renfield. Lucy begins to suffer from a mysterious ailment, which attracts the attention of Dr. Van Helsing, a vampire hunter, who together with Mina and Harker pursues Dracula back to his lair in Transylvania.

     Russellís version of the story has been moved forward from the 1890s to the 1920s. Lucy has been transformed into an opera diva, and Dracula into a personality-swapping aesthete (not unlike Gary Oldmanís characterization in Coppolaís DRACULA). Russellís sense of cinema is evident throughout, particularly in an early sequence that masterfully intercuts Dracula on his sea voyage to England with Renfield anxiously awaiting his masterís arrival in his padded cell. Russellís revamped ending, meanwhile, is very likely the finest of any version of DRACULA, with the Count meeting his fate in a mythologically-inspired manner so perfect Iím amazed nobody else has utilized it.

     Again, however, the script as a whole is not the masterwork I was anticipating. Itís highly uneven and under-baked, with Dracula and Jonathan Harker having too little screen time and Dr. Seward, who treats Lucy and Renfield, granted far too much. The dialogue, furthermore, is inconsistent: toward the end Van Helsing suddenly takes to speaking in Object-subject-verb word order (or Yoda-speak), and quite a few monologues are left incomplete, concluding with ďetc.Ē Even the copious hallucinatory episodes recognizable to any Russell fan are presented in perfunctory and underdeveloped fashion.

     I imagine these and other scenes would have been more properly fleshed out onscreen, which illuminates this scriptís most glaring flaw: itís status as an incomplete blueprint is all-too evident. Blueprints, of course, are precisely what all screenplays truly are, which explains why theyíre rarely ever fully satisfying in and of themselves. Thatís certainly the case with KEN RUSSELLíS DRACULA, whose final and intended form is only hinted at here. 

     

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