In today’s Hollywood, where a blockbuster movie can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce, it would be unthinkable to shoot one a second time with an entirely different cast.
But in 1931, things were different. One of the biggest hits in theaters that year was the horror classic “Dracula,” which made Bela Lugosi one of the most famous men in the history of movies. What many probably don’t know is that as soon as shooting ended each day and Lugosi and his supporting cast went home, the cameras kept rolling into the night.
As was the custom in the early days of “talkies,” many producers shot a second version of their films in a different language with a different cast. For “Dracula,” Carl Laemmle opted for a second version in Spanish. In it, Carlos Villarías stars as Count Dracula and Lupita Tovar assumed the role of Mina, played by Helen Chandler in the English-language version.
So why are we telling you all this? Tonight offers a rare opportunity to see a piece of cinematic history. The Durango Independent Film Festival will show the Spanish version of “Dracula” at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. DIFF Executive director Joanie Fraughton said the Spanish version has become popular with film buffs in recent years. She and other festival organizers think the Durango audience will love it. The fundraiser replaces the festival’s annual “Walk of Fame.”
“The consensus now seems to be that the Spanish version is actually better than the original,” Fraughton said.
That opinion makes sense, given the circumstances in 1931. The daytime shoots served as dress rehearsals for the Spanish shoots, and the camera crews were able to correct lighting and blocking issues that arose during the day for the nighttime version. The Spanish version is also generally considered a racier version; Tovar, who is now 102, has always said as much.
“I remember when I saw the English version later, I thought ‘our costumes were sexier,’” she said in a 2008 interview on NPR. “We wanted our version to be the best, and according to the critics, I think it was.”
The biggest difference in the two versions is length. The Spanish version runs about a half hour longer, mostly because of the histrionic differences between Lugosi and Villarias, and because of stylistic differences between the English version director Tod Browning and his Spanish version counterpart, George Melford.
Melford let the camera linger on Villarias and Pablo Alvarez Rubio, who played Renfield, for uncomfortably long stretches of silence as both men tended to overemote their facial expressions. The result is almost campy – lots of wide eyes and mouths agape.
The music at tonight’s show will be accompanied live by guitarist Gary Lucas, who wrote an original score for the Spanish “Dracula.”
He first played along with the film to rave reviews in 2009 at the Havana Film Festival, but the most memorable was at the Transylvania Film Festival – at the source, so to speak.
“They set me up in front of an old abandoned castle, and I’m pretty sure some actual bats were dive-bombing us,” Lucas said.
Lucas is a film buff and has written and played similar scores for classic horror films including “The Golem,” “The Unholy Three” and “J’Accuse.” Neither of the original versions of “Dracula” was scored save for a few musical cues and a short interlude of Wagner music, so Lucas had a clean slate from which to work.
“The trick is to keep music happening while juggling two guitars,” said Lucas, who plays electric and acoustic instruments for the movie. “I have specific themes that I assign, but there’s a lot of improv, and I invent a lot of music spontaneously. I approach it like an old-time silent movie.”
Fraughton plans to invite him back next year to perform with another classic film.
To pad the coffers a bit more, tonight’s fundraiser also will feature a small but intriguing silent auction of custom-made lamps by local artists Cindy Coleman, Miki Harder, Aubrey Merolanne Donahue, Maureen May, Amy Vaclav-Felker and Brandon Donahue.
Courtesy of Gary Lucas
Courtesy of Amy Vaclav-Felker