PERFORMING ARTS

Vampires in Silent Cinema

Edinburgh Univ Jan. 2024. 224p. ISBN 9781399525749. $110. FILM
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The cinematic vampire first appeared in an experimental 1905 dance film. Bela Lugosi portrayed a criminal vampire prior to his more celebrated role. Dracula’s first screen adaptation was probably in the 1921 lost film Drakula halála, and not F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu. Rhodes (media, Oklahoma Baptist Univ.; The Birth of the American Horror Film) guides readers through the earliest days of cinema when the term “vampire” was just as likely to evoke a Rudyard Kipling poem or Philip Burne-Jones painting as it was a Bram Stoker novel. Likewise, “vampire” extended the bloodsucking metaphor beyond the undead to vamp-like femme fatales and outlaws who leached off society. The author utilizes his expertise and knowledge to spot errors in widely circulated lists of vampire filmographies, debunk online footage of “lost” Russian Dracula movies, and even find examples of homemade vampire movies from the silent era. Finally, he discusses the well-documented Nosferatu in a new way: excerpting written accounts to recreate how audience members would have experienced its Berlin debut.
VERDICT Though written for academic audiences, this title is engaging. Movie buffs will appreciate the extra effort Rhodes makes to resurrect films lost to time.
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