By inflicting his new full-length musical score upon Tod Browning’s archetypal throat-clutcher — the first and best of all the “Dracula” talkies — composer Philip Glass has found a way to convert fine old goulash into warmed-over noodle soup. “Noodle-noodle-noodle” go the strings of the innovative Kronos Quartet (with newcomer cellist Jennifer Culp), with the composer at the piano, visible behind the screen and, thus, as intrusive visually as audibly — as the familiar Glass fare of arpeggios and gurgles wind their way up and down the scale.
To what end, pray? True, Browning’s 1931 shocker managed its blood-curdling biz with no music except the mellifluous Transylvanian purrings of Bela Lugosi in the leading role. Now, blanketed in the unmodulated churnings of yet another slice of the time-tested Glass meatloaf, this latter-day “upgrade” only proves the rightness of Browning’s decision.
At least the DVD release, slated for December, gives listeners the option of turning off the Glass music. The crowd at Royce Hall on Sunday, caught up in the appropriateness of the Halloween celebration (and dressed for the occasion) wasn’t so lucky.
Browning’s “Dracula” abides; its vintage lines are embedded in the annals of movieland camp and drew their deserved applause this time around. The presence of live performers, five ghostly presences clearly visible behind the screen, contributed accidentally, perhaps, but unmistakably to the ludicrousness of the proceedings, as the screen personages occasionally seemed to walk through the performers’ bodies, and the musicians themselves were perfectly framed now and then by the onscreen structures.
Glass has ventured several times in recent years into this curious world of inventing new foreground music for vintage films, all the way up to a full opera performed live in front of Cocteau’s marvelous “Beauty and the Beast.”
His scores for new films, including the Oscar-nominated score for Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun,” show his talents in more congenial surroundings. “Dracula” is more a case of not knowing how to leave well enough alone.