Dracula: In Defense of an Early Sound Classic

If you have purchased the Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection DVD of Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931), you may notice that there are two versions of the film available: one is the original release, which has no score and uses the theme from Swan Lake in the opening credits, and the second is the same film but with a score by Philip Glass, composed in 1999 for the release of the DVD. The former is the true way to watch Dracula, while the latter is a bizarre (and in my opinion, failed) experiment at changing the soundtrack of a talkie.

Take, for example, the scene in which Renfield meets Dracula. What has always worked in the film’s favor is the unsettling lack of music – it adds to the creepy, vast emptiness of the castle and it emphasizes the importance of Dracula’s opening line: “I am… Dracula.” Now watch the same part of the film with Glass’s score (for the purposes of this scene, I’m only talking about the scene up until the 9:43 mark, though you can keep going or watch it all from the beginning) … how obtrusive! It sounds a lot like a silent film score, but because Dracula is not a silent film, the music just sounds totally out of place. Renfield going into the castle isn’t the same when there’s music telling you how to feel instead of letting the atmosphere create its own eeriness.

It’s too bad that the Philip Glass version might be the way that moviegoers experience the magic of Dracula, with its spooky use of synchronized sound, for the first time. And it’s a real shame for those who don’t associate Dracula with the haunting beauty of Swan Lake, which is a totally appropriate theme.

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