We’ve been watching the original Dark Shadows on Netflix Instant View.  (No, we’re not hip enough to have known that Depp and Burton are doing a remake.  Found that out later as I looked for links. It was truly just a desire to relive childhood memories.)  As the vampire Barnabas Collins made his entrance into the action over ten or so twenty-minute segments, I became quite preoccupied with his politeness.  Something about the totality of it–its comprehensiveness.  Obviously, he wants to be accepted into the family at Collinswood and not arouse suspicion.  It pays for him to be on his best behavior.  Soon enough he will be making some pretty significant requests of folks, so it’s not to his advantage to upset anyone.  Charm is his skeleton key.  But there’s more to it, I think.  The character Maggie, already under a certain amount of hypnotic influence, notes how his “old world” manners seem linked to a profound sense of loneliness and isolation.  What she doesn’t know this early on, of course, is the true nature of this separateness and the true depth of it.

I am struck by how this simple soap managed to create something dark and palpable through such rudimentary and minimal means.  I found myself nodding along with Barnabas as he spoke in various scenes to various characters he wished to charm and influence.  I, too, was appreciating what was at stake as he reached out from a position of absolute separateness.  I was in the game, and there was not one special effect to lure me along through its magic.  Barnabas is nothing but what he can say, and he gets nothing except through what he can say, so he must say it in a very precise way.  The script at times even has him discriminating properly between the uses of who and whom. What we are witnessing is Vampire Minimalism crafted wholly through language.  Sure, soon enough there will be teeth and biting and fluids, and we know something is afoot behind the veneer, but the essence of the vampire is in the words.  As if seizing upon a spoken politeness that is palpably archaic, or dead, he extends a powerful reach into the world of the living with its unsuspecting casualness and neglect and its trivial cares.  His banishment from us and his appetite for us are expressed in his strange, antique precision.

Reading too much into it due to my own alienation?   target=”_blank”>See for yourself.


9 Thoughts on “Politeness

  1. Of course! I get it now! Marc, you’re a vampire, aren’t you? How could I not have seen this before? When you used Vlad the Impaler as your FB profile pic, that should have been the giveaway. Thanks for the heads up. I’m packing extra garlic for the retreat.

  2. Yes, but living off grub worms and beetles these days.

  3. But as I think about it, doesn’t my identification with Vlad imply that I see myself as the distinct real original upon which all myths and legends have been based? An equally delightful impossibility, is it not?

    But to your intervention. I wish I could say I was blindsided by it, but as you are no doubt aware, I am far too maniacally reflective for that. I have already chewed upon the identificatory implications. I have sent the lump down and brought it back up enough for it to be a cud. An impertinent and solipsistic posting? Too self-involved? I would offer that from fractal to fang, it is all one. Still another Lichtenbergian meditation upon action and inaction, upon mediation and immediacy, upon an ever-elusive originality and my unhealthy feedings off of its various substitutes…

  4. In all honesty, I wrote the post just so I could include the sentence about Barnabas’ use of who and whom.

  5. I’m personally just grateful to be introduced to Dark Shadows. I’d never seen it before. As you probably already know, Tim Burton is working on a film version starring, of course, Johnny Depp (in drag).

  6. I had not given any more than a passing thought to the Dark Shows series until this post a couple weeks ago. Since then I have heard it mentioned at least once every other day. And last night I was in a staged reading of a new play, and my scene partner in all my scenes was Jim Storm.


  7. Disappointed in IMDB. There was no synopsis for Dark Shadows Episode #1.1209, so I could not refresh myself on the nature of Mr. Storm’s character Gerard Styles and how he was introduced into the action.

  8. I for one expect a little more polite, but feral, sexuality from Marc from now on.

  9. I’m glad I have tenure as a founding member. I’m expecting some new membership requirements that would have scared me off.

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