(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

All about Dracula

I visited the Dracula exhibit at the Romanian Museum of Art, where I learned these pressing issues:
The best Dracula movies of all time
A scientific investigation of vampire phenomena
Are vampires zombies?
Who was Dracula in history?
Why do Romanians think George Washington was  a zombie?

Dracula movies:
1922 Nosferatu (Germany) A silent movie classic, called “the greatest screen adaptation,” that influenced all other Dracula productions. Bram Stoker’s widow sued the producers for copywrite violations, since the only thing they changed from Stoker’s novel was the name of the vampire.  The court ordered all copies destroyed, but some were already in distribution and were saved.
1931  Dracula (US) made Bela Lugosi famous. 
1932 Vampyr: The Dreams of  Allen Gray (France)
1957  The Vampire (USA)
1958 The Horror of Dracula (UK) made Christopher Lee famous in Europe.  He made sequels annually of the Dracula series.
1965 Prince of Darkness: Blood for Dracula (UK)
1967 Dance of the Vampires; or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck (USA)  This is Roman Polanski’s parody.
1968  The Mark of the Wolfman, Hell’s Creatures, The Wolfman of Count Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (Spain).  They were churning them out that year.  Great material for midnight scary movies back in the day before cable.
1970  Scars of Dracula (UK)
1970  Vampiros Lesbos (Germany).  Vampires meet the Sexual Revolution.  The museum commentary said “The emphasis on the erotic relationship with the victim was not present in early folklore.”  [So, Mister SmartyPants, that’s all you can say about lesbian vampires?]
1971  Lust for a Vampire (UK)
1971  Walpurgis Night (Germany)
1972 Dracula AD 1972 (UK)
1974  Blood for Dracula (France)
1975  Lady Dracula (Germany) She targeted female victims, too.  Mister SmartyPants must have had a field day.
1979  Nosferatu: The Vampire (Germany)
1979  Dracula Sucks (USA)
1983 The Hunger (US)  starring David Bowie, Catherine DeNeuve, and Susan Sarandon as vampires.  Gotta get that one!
1988  Nosferatu in Venice

On my personal “must watch” list:
1983 The Hunger (US)  starring David Bowie, Catherine DeNeuve, and Susan Sarandon as vampires.  Gotta get that one!

Vampires in early literature
Homer’s Odyssey
Ovid’s Fastele
Vampire folktales come from the border areas between the Austria-Hungarian and the Ottoman empires.  Generally along a line from Timisoara, Romania to Belgrade.
1733 Vampire articles in Austria, Germany, France, and England about Arnaut Paute, a Serbian alleged to be a vampire
1748  der Vampire, by Ossenfelder
1797  Mireosa din Corint, by Goethe
1813  Ghiaurul, by Lord Byron
1815  Dans Macabre, by Goethe
1859  History of Mythology (German) mentions a vampire named Dracul as the source of the vampire phenomena.
1817 novel (the name escaped me) made the vampire a pale, melancholic Eastern European aristocrat.
1872  Carmilla
1897  Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  First time to link the historical character Vlad Dracul as a vampire.  Wrote the novel without ever visiting Romania; based it on a map and traveler’s tales.

A Scientific Investigation of Vampires
In the 1730s the Hapsburg emperor commissioned a scientific study of the vampire phenomena.  The notebooks from this investigation were on display in the exhibit.  The best medical experts from Vienna dug up Arnout Paute, a Serbian who was alleged to be a vampire.  The Serbian county had reported a number of cattle deaths and unexplained fatalities due to high fever (“High fever? it has to be vampires”).  The good doctors disinterred Mr. Paute’s remains and declared that they were not sufficiently decayed, at which time the villagers burned the corpse at the stake.  They (not sure if it were the doctors or the villagers) dug up other suspected vampires, and, sure enough, some were not decayed to their satisfaction, so they burned them at the stake.  Apparently, this works better than garlic, and it wasn’t until later movie magic that the “stake to the heart” cure was developed.
Nancy’s comment, “Well, at least they were dead when they burned them. In Germany, they were doing that to the living.”

Are vampires Zombies?
The museum exhibit said that the vampire myth referred to “the living dead” or “the undead” which leave their graves to attack humans and animals.  Humans who were attacked develop a high fever and die within weeks, then turn into vampires themselves to repeat the cycle (Bite, Die, Repeat).  The main characteristic of vampires is their inability or unwillingness to decay after internment.  Other characteristics such as the ability to turn into bats or lizards, their fear of the sunlight, and their stalky, erotic relationship with their victim are inventions of overworked imaginations in the nineteenth century.  Puritans were especially scandalized and attracted to the idea of the “blood kiss,” the act of sucking the blood from a nearly naked young woman.
This leaves the question unanswered, but we all know that the main characteristic of zombies is their decomposition.  A good Zombie has to be missing an eye and some cheek meat.  So, I conclude that they are two different species of the undead.

Who was Dracula in history?
 It appears that Vlad II Dracula was a victim of bad press.  He got caught in the middle between the Crusade (starring the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxemborg, the Pope, and the Duke of Burgundy) and the Ottoman empire (starring Murad II, Mehmet II, and Suleyman the Magnificent).  This was the time that the Ottomans retook  Constantinople (1453) and the Ottomans lay siege to Vienna, not once (1521) but twice (1683).  Legend says that on one of these occasions the Ottoman forces left behind a strange black bean that when boiled with water produced a tasty drink, coffee.  [And the rest is history, Starbucks.]
In 1459-1477, Vlad, King of Wallachia, one of the three Romanian states (Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moravia), tried to play both sides against each other, encouraging Western powers’ resistance against the Ottoman forces, then entering into alliances with the Ottomans. Vlad was called Vlad Tepesh (Vlad the Impaler) by the Ottomans, Vlad Dracula (Vlad the son of the Devil) by the Western powers, and Vlad Voivode (Vlad the King) by Romanians. 
The bad press:  During his lifetime, his portrait started showing up as the bad guy in European religious art (Pilate, Satan, Judas; or so the art historians say).  There were several examples of “crypto-portraits” in the exhibit, and I have to say there was a remarkable resemblance!  The same mixture of Hungarian embroidered robes and an Ottoman turban with a pearl hat band, sharp pointy beard, beady black eyes.  In 1463, again during his lifetime, Hungarian, German, and Papal historians wrote his biography comparing him to the most cruel tyrants of the pagan world, Herod, Nero, Nebuchadnezzar.  His portrait, or at least the copies of copies, hung in the Vatican and in the Emperor’s home in Vienna in the fifteenth century, in a sort of “hall of shame,” with the most despicable figures of history.  Just goes to show you, if you stick it to The Man, The Man will say bad things about you.  Or history is written by the victors.
Russian biographers, on the other hand writing for the Csar, emphasized his belief in justice and morality.  And in fact, his most notable deed was to preserve the Romanian lands by making alliance with the Ottomans. This resulted in his enforcing trade regulations restricting and taxing trade on the eastern borderlands between German and Saxon settlements within his lands and the Austian-Hungarian Empire.  Vlad punished the towns that defied the ban, but with no greater violence than “was common in medieval time,” the exhibit informs us.  No mention, however, was made of why the Ottomans gave him the “Impaler” name (conspiracy theories; Impaler-gate; it’s a whitewash, obstruction of justice. Wait till Fox News gets a hold of this one!)
The boundary between the Ottoman and Austrian-Hungarian Empires lay along the Carpathian Mountains, so it was to the locals’ advantage to nurture folk tales of “vampire diseases” so the great powers would not find any reason to like their forested lands.  In the 18th century, with the rise of Russian power, these tales really took off, as Western Europeans defined themselves as civilized in contrast to the primitive Eastern barbarians and vampires.

Why do Romanians think George Washington was  a zombie?
Well they don’t really, but they do find it curious that the first to unite the Romanian state got such a bad reputation in the fifteenth through twentieth centuries Western culture.  It would be like a Romanian saying George Washington was a zombie. It just goes to show that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

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