On Friday, November 1st – El Dia Del Los Muertos – “Dracula” visits the United Palace as guitar icon Gary Lucas performs the score he wrote for the Spanish version (with English subtitles) of the 1931 classic. Doors open at 7pm, film starts at 8pm. The accomplished musician took some time out of his hectic schedule to talk to us about the concept.
Q. How did the concept come about to re-conceptuliaze the Spanish version of this classic film?
In 2009, I was performing my original solo guitar score accompanying the 1920 German Expressionist 1920 horror classic “The Golem”, a great silent film that is basically a Jewish Frankenstein story, at the Jecheon Music and Film Festival in South Korea, and caught the attention of a young English documentary film maker, Sebastian Doggart. He loved what I was doing live with film and asked told if I would give him original music for his new documentary about Condoleeza Rice titled “American Faust”, he would recommend me to play at the Havana Film Festival, which sounded good to me!
He had worked extensively in Cuba for years as a journalist, and had many contacts there. The trick was to come up with a Latin-themed project, as it is a Festival of Latin American Cinema. I recalled the 1931 Spanish-language “Dracula”, which was filmed in Hollywood at night on the same sets as the famous Bela Lugosi/Tod Browning “Dracula”–essentially the same film but with a Spanish-speaking cast and a different director, George Melford.
Q. Why do so many cinema aficionados regard the Spanish version as being superior to the original?
Back in the day they were filming alternate versions of classic films in Spanish for the burgeoning Latin market, but as they had no dubbing facilities back then they would re-film the entire movie in Spanish. Like “Dracula”, the film is virtually music-free – the soundtrack just contains dialogue in Spanish and sound effects. The costumes are sexier too than in the original film, the editing more fluid–and the women are hotter! So I hit on the idea of providing a continuous musical accompaniment live, which I composed for solo guitar to blend in with the existing soundtrack.
I worked for months on composing themes, which I alternate with improvisation live on the spot, and premiered my live score in Dec. 2009 at the Havana Film Festival, where it was a big hit.
You can read the reviews on my web page devoted to the project here. I’ve since taken it all over the world, playing in front of an old abandoned castle at the Transylvania Film Festival, at the 2010 New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, and at Queen Elizabeth Hall for the London Jazz Festival, where I received 4 stars for my concert in The Guardian. Last summer I sold-out both the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Silent Movie Theatre in Hollywood with the project.
Q. What was the process for adding essentially a score to a film that had virtually no music?
I basically watched the film over and over again–I was holed up in a hotel room in Paris for most of this process– and composed various themes for various characters and for different sections of the film on my guitar. I worked out a basic scoring plan/road map for the film, which is an hour and 45 min. long. To play the film for start to finish is a real work-out for me, and as I improvise sections of it each time I have never played it the same way twice.
I love to play with this film–it’s like stepping onto a real thrill-ride in an amusement park. I kind of go into a trance and commune with the souls of the dead actors on the screen–and some living actors as well. For instance, the lead character known as Eva is played by the great Lupita Tovar, who is still alive at 102! She later married the producer of the film Paul Kohner, who became a successful Hollywood agent. Her son Pancho Kohner came to my performance with the film in Hollywood last July, and loved it. He told me he had seen the film many times, but was skeptical about my idea of putting a new live score to the film–but that I totally won him over with my music. You can’t ask for higher praise than that!
Q. After the European premiere of the project at the Transylvania International Film Festival, could there be a more perfect venue for your version of Spanish Dracula than the United Palace in Washington Heights on the day after Halloween?
I have performed with the film about a dozen times to date–including the Sevilla Film Festival, in Krakow and Lodz Poland, at the James River Film Festival in Richmond, in Udine Italy and elsewhere (see above). I love performing before live before an audience. There is no greater pleasure than that. It is essentially the same as a regular concert except I am peering into a film screen rather than a darkened theater. THE UNITED PALACE THEATRE being one of the original American Art-Deco “wonder theaters” of the 20’s, is the perfect home for this film!! Especially on Nov, 1st, the Spanish “Day of the Dead”.
Discount tickets are still available at: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe/9826610
Check out the great story about “Dracula” and the Return of Film to the Palace in the 10/30 issue of the Manhattan Times by Sherry Mazzocchi: http://manhattantimesnews.com/back-to-the-future-volver-al-futuro/