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Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning Hardcover – September 1, 1995
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Although Tod Browning directed the 1931 classic Dracula and some of Lon Chaney's best movies, he is better known today for Freaks, which effectively sank his film career. Judging from the evidence in Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning: Hollywood's Master of the Macabre, this probably wouldn't have mattered to him. Authors David J. Skal (Screams of Reason and The Monster Show) and Elias Savada faced a difficult task in recounting the life of a man who "reveled in disturbing and provoking the public ... from a position of obsessive privacy," apparently caring nothing for posterity or even his reputation during his lifetime. Because Browning chose to reveal so little of his private self, any biography of him must by default focus on his career--which is itself strange and unsettling.
As a filmmaker, Browning established a reputation as a teller of pessimistic, even perverse tales, often featuring physically deformed characters (Chaney's specialty), which doubtless reflected his youthful experiences performing in carnival sideshows. Following the enormous success of Dracula, he assembled a cast of real sideshow performers to make Freaks, which appalled nearly everyone and was quickly removed from circulation. He soon found himself being quietly pushed out of filmmaking, and spent his final years leading a reclusive, slightly paranoid existence.
Readers of Dark Carnival should not expect to come away with a very clear picture of the intentionally shadowy Browning. Skal and Savada do an admirable job of showing us both the demanding "sadist" and the "great humanist" described by his colleagues, but for the most part, Browning's own thoughts and feelings must remain mysterious--which is just what he wanted. Dark Carnival includes photo sections, a genealogy, and filmographies that incorporate contemporary reviews. --Mary V. Burke
His career virtually began with that of motion pictures (he was an actor for D. W. Griffith), but filmmaker Tod Browning is remembered today for two early sound masterworks of horror: Dracula (1931), starring Bela Lugosi, and Freaks (1932), the bizarre, disquieting story of a traveling sideshow, cast with real-life human oddities. The outraged public reaction to the latter, which was quickly pulled from circulation, effectively derailed Browning's career. After a few final films, he withdrew to an eccentric retirement in Malibu until his death in 1962. Although his work was rediscovered by movie aficionados--Freaks became an arthouse staple in the antiestablishment 1960s--the director himself has remained largely anonymous. Skal and Savada rectify that situation with a detailed, painstakingly researched biography that draws on unpublished interviews with Browning's coworkers and friends as well as the new contributions of surviving family members. They call Browning's reclusive career and its dissolution "one of Hollywood's most mysterious vanishing acts." Their illuminating work should help win him his just place in the annals of cinema. Gordon Flagg
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Top Customer Reviews
This book does an amazing job at detailing Browning's work and especially his struggles in both his personal and professional life. Many times I was reminded of another director who may not have had as much talent or budgets for his film but certainly had the passion, Mr. Ed Wood. In fact some of problems Browning faced with studios regarding pre-production and production of his films, Wood would go on to face as well. Lugosi worked with Browning multiple times and then eventually Wood.
I salute Skal and Savada for their research and work on this book. It is so well organized and makes the read so enjoyable. And what an amazing job on Browning's filmography as an actor and director. Thank you for this book.
Tod Browning would have been proud!
Browning's peak was in the silent era, when he produced such classics as "the Unholy Three" (1925), "London After Midnight" (1927), and "The Unknown" (1927), but he is best known for the classic "Dracula" (1931) and for "Freaks" (1932). Browning was the first and truest of the American directors to adopt the German expressionist techniques and themes, and he embraced them to such an extent that he outdid the originals.
His films, especially the ones with Lon Chaney, can be hard to watch, since they involve mutilated and deformed people, with themes involving revenge, sexual exploitation, murder, and mayhem. He often set his films in carnival shows (where he had once worked) and often employed carnival acts as part of the plot.
"Dark Carnival" is an impressive attempt to capture the man and his films, an attempt made difficult by the fact that Browning, always publicity shy, was a recluse for the final 20 years of his life. But David Skal and Elias Savada leave no stone unturned in their search for the story of this man's life.
Fans of the silent film era will be particularly interested in this film, as will anyone interested in the economics of film making and the behind the scenes maneuvering. For fans of Browning films, it is essential reading.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Born and raised near Louisville, Kentucky (as was his early cinematic mentor, D. W.Read more