Friday, December 8, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 8


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 384

Everyone at Collinwood attempts to talk Barnabas out of the duel with his uncle, but he refuses to back down. Knowing that death is certain, Angelique equips Barnabas with a special charm to wear. In the duel, Barnabas kills his uncle, and Josette swears enmity to her former lover.

I never liked the 1795 sequence. There, I said it. I always remembered it to be stilted, slow, and falling short -- emotionally -- of the subject matter it was designed to cover. Notice how few of those episodes I cover? Yeah, well, that explains it.

But DARK SHADOWS does one thing better than anything else: smash assumptions. For many writers, crafting dialogue with a 1790’s flavor would be a burden that would take them away from relevance. For Sam Hall? It releases him to depict sharp, eloquent men and women facing difficult truths with their educated and aware eyes open and informed. Charlton Heston once said that once you understood what Shakespeare was saying, there was no other way to say it. Rather than muddy things up, the right language clarifies, no matter how many contractions are denied. Yes, some actors struggle with it a bit. Not everyone can be Gwyneth Paltrow and believably play characters far smarter than they are. But then you have Jonathan Frid and David Ford, and you see actors at ultimate ease with the show at last. Just as Heston was born to wear a toga, Frid was born for breeches and neckcloths. In that era and garb, Barnabas at last has a simple, direct honesty. Rather than gain affectations, it’s as if he loses them and finally gets to tell the truth as he tells the story. There is such a clarity and elegance in his performance here. It’s both beautiful and sad, because we finally see one of Canada’s finest actors at full gallop. Had he not chosen early retirement? Had he been paired with a powerful agent? To me, Jonathan Frid would have landed parts that would have demonstrated a cross-section of William Holden, Albert Finney, and Hal Holbrook. Like Grayson Hall, there is a vaguely silly quality that he accidentally displays when snarling and shouting and fretting over gremlins and ghoulies. You try it and see how well YOU do. But here, working in seamless tandem with the marvelous Lara Parker, you see such easy confidence. Frid finally gets to do what eludes so many actors; he speaks simple, hard truths that are changing that character’s life against all better judgment. This duel is a terrible idea. But I really accept that he believes he has no choice. That’s far tougher to authentically sell than the hunger to drink blood. To see his sad, strangely self-assured acknowledgement that, yes, he’s going to duel and no, he’s never been in one, and no, Angelique, he’s never even seen one, but there you have it. Because-this-is-the-life-we-life-and-what-other-option-have-I?

In this one episode, I understand Barnabas on a deeper level than I have before. He makes really terrible decisions utterly rationally, and I guess in his case, I might do the same thing. This is revealed in both his scene with Parker and his scene with George. He owns up to his self-pity with open eyes, admitting to his delusion that he is capable of dealing with any problem. Lara Parker’s Angelique experiences a strange horror, too. It’s a sorcerer’s apprentice moment. He’d rather fight for a woman who will never have him than be with anyone else. Who’s fault is that? Oh, and it will probably kill him. Great. Angelique has such humanity, here. It was just a scheme gone awry at the end of the day. Has she triggered a death wish in lieu of the love she believed she was conjuring? And does this suggest that her seeming hate for others was really self-hatred?

Back to Frid, is his heartbreak over losing Josette or over losing Jeremiah? Love comes and goes, but friendship, I argue, can be much deeper. When Barnabas concludes that his uncle hated him all along, I think we see the central loss, betrayal, and heartbreak that not only leads to his greatest mistake, but powers the engine of pain that pushes him through all of his subsequent relationships. Is his fealty to Julia and Quentin an attempt at penance? Or is it a simple statement that he will never put someone else through the kind of betrayal that he experienced? If Angelique had known any of this, I think she would have had Josette run off with the stable boy. She does love the guy, after all.

It’s Anthony George’s last episode. I’ve read that George was uncomfortable with the parts he played on DARK SHADOWS, and pushing Burke to become a normative presence is a bit time-to-make-the-donuts for an actor. I can sense a shade of relief and freedom in his turn here. He’s moving on.

On this day in 1967, Otis Redding records "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," thus providing the soundtrack for endlessly cloying commercials aimed at pinot grigio swilling yuppies, convincing them it’s about not having a care in the world. Have these people listened to the lyrics? That’s all I’m asking.

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