Wednesday, April 13, 2022

It Was Great When it All Began ...


2021 was an extraordinary year for Dark Shadows. Yes, it was also a sad year. We lost some marvelous actors, and the losses have cast the future of Dark Shadows festival into doubt with this author… certainly on the scale we saw in 2016. At the same time, there was a wealth of independent Dark Shadows podcasting and authorship. The Rondo nominations are a testament to our passionate industry. Although the rights holders seemingly kept it quiet in 2021, we did not. And that has spilled into 2022. Why the revival? Is it even a revival? Perhaps it’s more of a testament to the momentum that’s been building for a decade. 

2011-2021 is a ten year span of technological innovation that has put extraordinary tools in the hands of workin’ Joes like us to create quality products that rival the professional offerings we wish we’d had. Podcasting and desktop publishing are the two most notable examples. But there’s more than technology afoot. I’m beginning to suspect that mine is not an isolated case. 

What case? In 2011, Dark Shadows fans got the best news possible: a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie that would certainly catapult us from accusations of camp to accolades of genius. Then, 2012 happened to us. April, 2012, to be exact. While the film attracted many brainy and iconoclastic new fans, it charmed few longtime supporters. For all of the angst that caused, I think it was more of a catalyst than curse. I know that I felt like I needed to do something for the franchise to give back a little. At the time, my best idea was a stunt somewhere at the crossroads of Morgan Spurlock, Andy Kaufman and Evel Knievel… I sacrificed 45 days to watch the entire series, 10.5 hours a day, five to six days a week. A decade later, I had one collection of essays out and another on the way. Three fine podcasts serve the internet. And the books just keep coming. 

If 2011-2021 was a decade of an uncomfortable detente between the original fans of the series and the Burtonians, the tenth anniversary of the Burton film (and Mr. Frid’s death) is what may be the final word on the subject from the first generation of fans, Jim Beard’s collection of various memoirs, Running Home to Shadows. It’s a title that needs little elaboration. Ask almost anyone who was born somewhen at the intersection of Eisenhower and Kennedy and you’ll hear the familiar nostalgia-cry of “I ran home from school every day to watch Dark Shadows….”

This narrative dominated the experience of growing up with Dark Shadows, and it finally has a definitive voice to give it shape in this book. For those of us born after that period, there’s been a subtle caste-system in DS fandom… maybe out of necessity. Our work (at least prior to the Sci Fi Channel and the internet) has not been one of discovery but archaeology. The suspense was non-existent. Correction, the suspense was in whether or not we would actually see the series. Did the final episodes exist? How could we see them? Would MPI really finish? Once DVD and streaming settled that argument, the more honest question became, “Who would actually finish watching it all, now that it’s available?”

It is to the show’s credit that so many did and still do… despite lacking a unifying ritual. But that ritual -- running home from school to see and share the new episodes -- created a bonding momentum that got us here today. No other program has that cultural legend behind it… or the decades of mainstream horror that have resulted. As such, Beard delivers a vital history and voices that have yet to go silent.

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