Friday, April 20, 2012

Burton Conjures 'Dark Shadows' From Grave in Campy Remake, Original Star Jonathan Frid Sees More Dignity in Death

RIP Jonathan Frid (1924 - 2012)
SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- The passing of Canadian actor Jonathan Frid last Friday -- Friday the 13th, appropriately enough -- came as sad news to millions of "Dark Shadows" fans, some of whom undoubtedly hoped Frid, like his character Barnabas Collins, would return from the grave to creep out a new generation of heirs. Frid's portrayal of Collins was somewhat of a revolution. He defined the idea of the lost, lonely and reluctant vampire -- a mortal cursed to a life of painful eternities, unsavory needs and a fair amount of self-loathing. Frid's Barnabas was the venerable bloodsucker; he was not evil, he was a tortured soul and a victim of fate, not desire. He did not have enormous fangs or glitter in daylight. Even more appealing to audiences, he was beaten down by a secret. But if the trailers for the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version of "Dark Shadows" offer any clues, Barnabas Collins' secret was that he was flamboyantly gay. Frid clearly missed the mark by attempting to project a serious, conflicted Victorian anti-hero instead of a foppishly effeminate drama queen made over by Tammy Faye Bakker. Burton and Depp have finally corrected that long-running oversight.

Through Depp's mastery of playing the same androgynous character over and over again with greater amounts of clown makeup, we will finally see the Collins family's greatest disgrace in all his unbridled, cringe-worthy Pride Parade glory. If Ichabod Crane was conceived as "Ronald Reagan, Girl Detective," and if Captain Jack Sparrow was "Charles Bukowski as Keith Richards, Fire Island Go-Go Dancer," then we can now expect a Barnabas Collins more akin to "Joan Collins, the Man-eating, Scissor-handed, Mad Hatter Bitch of the Carrington Dynasty."

Perhaps Barnabas' chain-girdled coffin had always been a metaphor for a closet where the "love that dare not speak its name" sought refuge, but it took the bravery of Burton and Depp to break those chains and leave their comfortable paradigm of gothic camp to deal with the controversial topic of deviant homosexuality in the family -- through the lens of a queer, undead dandy with an oral fixation.

Frid, a Shakespearean actor, had played Barnabas Collins straight -- so to speak. Observing an audience laughing at "Dark Shadows," which they presumed to be written as over-the-top humor, hurt him deeply. He said he would rather die than be remembered as a comical buffoon in a badly produced display of ostentatious camp. Thanks to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, Frid's last wish was honored. He was 87.

(c) 2012. See disclaimers.

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