Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 5


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 841

In a failed attempt to use the I Ching to travel through time, Petofi finds himself tortured by gypsy singers, a giant, sword wielding hand, the Giant Head of Barnabas Collins, and, upon waking, himself as he attempts self-strangulation. With Julia as hostage, he and Aristede lay a trap for the vampire involving a gun arranged to fire should he attempt a rescue. He does and it does. Barnabas vows revenge.

As storytelling goes, if looping time-travel is ahead of 1897’s time, then the events of 841 may be seen as tailored with exquisite precision. Rather than science fiction, this is Victorian melodrama, played with the kind of sincerity that makes that genre work. Julia? Tied to a chair with a Rube Goldberg’d gun ready to go off and thwart her rescue? Soap operas are the modern evolution of the melodrama, and its refreshingly honest to see one return to its roots. On the front end of the episode, Petofi’s surreal exploration of the I Chingverse, where Petofi is mentally tortured, expanding his character in rounding ways that other DS villains rarely merit. DARK SHADOWS again manages to tell an epic story -- the man faces a gypsy tribunal in another dimension -- without breaking the budget with a clever use of sound, writing, and atmosphere. Just as the show is frequently chided for its conservative budget and asphyxiatingly tight shooting schedule, those same limitations can lead to bold storytelling choices. If the budget were just a little larger, they’d try to shoot the tribunal and probably realize how chintzy it looked. Scrapping it? This way, all they have are sound effects, and they use them with great aplomb, creating atmosphere that allows us to focus on Petofi with the reality of his danger always in our minds. It’s both intimate and epic, and audiences will see the same strategy used masterfully in I, CLAUDIUS.

Thayer David, of course, relishes good storytelling, and his descriptions of Aristede allow him to revel in it. They would be outlandishly purple descriptions if Michael Stroka’s oily deployment of painstakingly smoked and glazed ham didn’t justify it. He is the Z-Man Barzell of 1897 and it freaks me out! Finally, Jonathan Frid steals two great moments with a swagger. His sense of gentle regret toward Beth, when she points out his propensity to force-rather-than-ask, is wholly authentic, as is his vow to avenge Julia, a moment that could have easily descended into camp. By the way, in my recent Fixation on Grayson Hall, I’ve spent a lot of time defending her stylized performance approach. Still, I look for The Moment when things go too far, and I found it. In moments of surprised silence, usually right before a commercial, she kills it until… the eyebrows go up. It’s not Grayson who goes too far. It’s her eyebrows. Watch and learn.

On this day in 1969, Dweezil Zappa came into the world and was promptly advised not to go where the huskies go. Wise wisdom. 

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