Around Halloween I decided to take a little trip down memory land and watch the Dracula movie from 1979. It was a film I saw on television when I was about 5 years old and I remembered it very distinctly. That movie, and the Edward Gorey animation at the beginning of Mystery on PBS (hosted at the time by Vincent Price!) were some of my earliest influences that led to my interest in gothic subculture years later. And also my interest in tall, dark, handsome, mysterious men. I even married one! So thank you, Dracula, without you I might have been prone to short blondes.
I've also been a little...obsessive...shall we say. The week I watched Dracula my husband was on vacation, and I was just tired. Tired of life and ready for an escape. Well, it worked. VERY WELL. In fact, I would estimate that week that I watched Dracula all the way through at least twice, and the "Children of the Night" balcony sequence, and the "vampire wedding" probably 20 times. I was completely swept away by sets (epic!), the clothing (Edwardian!), the music (John Williams) and most of all...by Frank Langella, who, some 30 years before he was nominated for an Oscar playing the decidedly unsexy Richard Nixon, basically invented the concept of Dracula as a Byronic lover rather than a mere ghoul.
Oh my. Frank Langella. I guess I was just in the right frame of mind to develop a heady crush on a man now over 70 years old (deluded?) but I kind of couldn't stop. Back in the 70s he was exactly the kind of guy I could go ga-ga over. And as ridiculous as it sounds for a woman of 33 to admit to...I went ga-ga. I'm not defending myself. My behavior was ridiculous. I googled and googled till my googler was sore. And I learned a few things. For crush-worthy Frank Langella era, there isn't that much. Which is good.
I hunted down Diary of a Mad housewife, a film never released on DVD, and saw a very young, very gorgeous Frank play a completely horrible human being, a sadistic womanizing writer. I saw him play another womanizer in Mel Brook's The Twelve Chairs, and I am still attempting to locate Those Lips Those Eyes where he plays (you guessed it!) A womanizing, washed up actor! I even went so far as to buy off ebay the tv movie The Mark f Zorro for Disney in 1974, as a gift to my mother, another Langellaphile. At least in Zorro he played a man who wound up with ONE woman (one would hope!) And I watched a good portion of Sphinx, a really stupid Indiana Jones rip-off where this Jersey boy plays an Egyptian tomb robber. A CUTE Egyptian tomb robber though, who looks fetching in a white shift.
When I ran out of young, beautiful Frank movies (there are not that many, although interestingly enough there are a few made-for-tv theater performances available) I turned my attention to older Frank. One in particular captured my interest. It was called "Starting Out in the Evening," the story of an elderly writer, Leonard Schiller, attempting to finish his novel but finding himself distracted by a young grad student who hopes her thesis about him will revive his dormant career.
At the beginning of the movie the grad student is seen leafing through some photographs of the author as a young man, a pleasant treat since I was not expecting to see any young Frank in this film. The girl steals one photo, and you get the sense that she is in love with the man he once was, or who she imagines him to be.
I am not going to spoil this film for you, but I encourage everyone, especially writers, to watch it. It is a credit to Mr. Langella that he has grown in grace as an actor and turns in a beautiful, subdued performance. Mr. Langella's career has always been based on talent, but sometimes he was so physically astounding that it could be easy to ignore. Here, as an elderly man, balding, slightly stooped, there is no distraction from the pathos and conflict, and from the subtle way he exhibits the pain. The performance is restrained, gentle, and eloquent.
I wept when I saw this movie. I wept for my own aging body, for the beauty I once possessed that is slowly disappearing with every pound I gain, beauty I did not realize was there until it started slipping away. For the precious time I have wasted wallowing in...whatever. Loneliness, depression, laziness. Not just in my work as a writer (how foolish it sounds! To call someone like me a writer...like I am playing dress-up. I do not think I have yet arrived.) This film affected me profoundly. The idea that no matter what, we must press on. Even when we are knocked down, by health or circumstance or failure or distraction. Even when it seems silly. When the timing is wrong. When we've always done things a particular way. It's never too late to change. We must, or our souls will die.
I feel a wee bit foolish for the week (or two) that I spent mooning over F.L., but even my goofy crush had it's purpose. It introduced me to this important film, so small that I might never have heard of it otherwise, and by it I felt revived. I have talked myself out of success a thousand times since I was a child, constantly finding new ways to tell myself no. From now on, I will think of Leonard Schiller, and tell myself, yes.
I want to end this with a tip of the hat to Frank Langella, the writer. I found a few of his essays tucked away on his fan site and was simply blown away. Absolutely beautiful, particularly the ones about being a father. His book, Dropped Names, is coming out next year and if his essays are any indication I might have to go ahead and buy it.
And as a special thank you to my husband, who put up with my schoolgirl silliness (and occasionally reaped the rewards,) here's a Kelly Clarkson video.
What? We aren't made of STONE.