Monday 20 November 2017

Supernatural score gives Dracula new lease of life

New music for the 1931 horror film will reclaim Bram Stoker as one of Ireland's favourite sons

'Children of the night, what music they make...' Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the 1931 film
'Children of the night, what music they make...' Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the 1931 film

Henry McDonald

A new haunting sound of Dracula will echo across Ireland's capital this upcoming Halloween weekend.

In the city where the vampire's creator was born, two Irish composers are to record live a brand new musical score for the first ever Hollywood movie based on Bram Stoker's Gothic horror story.

As a homage to Stoker's Dublin lineage, a fresh soundtrack is being recorded during a live screening of the 1931 film Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, for an audience at the National Concert Hall on October 29. Matthew Nolan and Sean Mac Erlaine said their 60-minute composition for Dracula is part of efforts to reclaim Stoker as one of Dublin's, and Ireland's, most famous sons.

The pair said they were in part inspired to create a fresh musical score for the film because 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

"I kept thinking that this was the appropriate year," said Nolan. "Many critics and academics see in Stoker's novel an anti-colonial message; of the old world of the Count being invaded and disturbed by someone from the British empire."

Stoker grew up hearing stories about the living dead who stalked the roads, streets and fields of Ireland during the Great Famine of the 1840s, and a cholera outbreak his mother told him about in the 1830s.

"There were the Celtic myths and legends with supernatural creatures in them that he was also reared on, so it was apposite to compose and record the new score this year to bring back the Irish connection to the Dracula story," he said.

The original Dracula was the first film to get a seal of approval from Bram Stoker's widow Florence Balcombe, who sold the movie rights to United Artists. Previously, the Stoker estate had successfully sued German expressionist director FW Murnau over his vampire film Nosferatu because he had not sought permission from the author's family.

Mac Erlaine and Nolan's new soundtrack is the first since Philip Glass wrote a score 17 years ago for the film in which Lugosi, a Hungarian actor who found Hollywood fame in his role as the Count, struggles at times with his script. Nolan spent several months earlier this year negotiating with United Artists, which owns the film rights, to allow him to compose a new score.

"The most difficult thing was finding the right people in LA to talk to - but once we got to them, they were very supportive of our idea to record the score in Bram Stoker's city - the same city where I grew up in. This is the fifth year of the festival and it's our way I suppose of helping it keep reclaiming Bram Stoker for Dublin."

Mac Erlaine also said it was a "great honour and wholly resonant" that they were recording the new score in Dublin.

Of the soundtrack, Mac Erlaine said: "I guess we are playing with the tone and the atmosphere of the film. We are doing our best not to be too pushy with the music, not to tell the viewer what to feel in the way a lot of Hollywood movies manipulate the audience. There is a sonic bed of music in which vocals and guitars can run over. It will be subtle, not obvious."

The pair will be accompanied in the live recording by Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset who has worked with the likes of David Sylvian, singer-songwriter of Eighties experimental pop group Japan. Singer Sharon Phelan will provide vocals on the score with her voice being manipulated with electronics during the film.

Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker said it was "wonderful and very appropriate" that two Dubliners were creating a new score for the first Dracula movie. He said the Stoker family were equally pleased that the score was being recorded live during the annual Bram Stoker festival.

Speaking from his home in the US, Dacre Stoker, who has written a Dracula sequel and screenplay of his own based on his famous ancestor's journals, said: "My family and I are thrilled that the Bram Stoker festival has become such a big success. It is very gratifying to see that Bram is receiving the recognition he deserves, in Dublin, as the author of one of the world's most influential novels".

Bram Stoker was born in the north Dublin suburb of Clontarf in 1847. He was later educated at Trinity College and went on to work as a civil servant at the then seat of British rule in Ireland, Dublin Castle.

Mac Erlaine and Nolan collaborated last year creating a new score for an avant-garde movie about George Best. Nolan discovered and re-released the long-forgotten 1971 film, Football As Never Before.

It was directed by German director Hellmuth Costard, who used eight 16mm cameras to track the Northern Ireland and Manchester United legend's every move during a game against Coventry City at Old Trafford the year before.

The Bram Stoker Festival runs from October 28-31, Tickets for the NCH performance available from the box office

Sunday Independent

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