Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning

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9780385474061: Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning

One of the most original and unsettling filmmakers of all time -- the
creator of the horror classics Dracula and Freaks, among others-- Tod Browning is also one of the most enigmatic directors who ever worked in Hollywood.  A complicated, troubled, and fiercely private man, he confounded would-be biographers hoping to penetrate his secret, obsessive world -- both during his lifetime and afterward.

Now, film historians David J. Skal and Elias Savada, using newly discovered
family documents and revealing published interviews with friends and
colleagues, join forces for the first full-length biography of the man who
earned a reputation as "the Edgar Allan Poe of the cinema."  The authors
chronicle Browning's turn-of-the-century flight from an eccentric Louisville family into the world of carnival sideshows (where he began his career literally buried alive) and vaudeville, his disastrous first marriage, his rapid climb to riches in the burgeoning silent film industry, and the
alcoholism that would plague him throughout his life.  Browning's legendary
collaborations with Lon Chaney, Sr., and Bela "Dracula" Lugosi are explored in depth, along with the studio politics that ended his career after the bizarre
circus drama Freaks -- a cult classic today -- proved to be one of the
biggest box-office disasters of the early thirties.

Illustrated throughout with rare photographs, Dark Carnival is both an
artful, often shocking portrait of a singular film pioneer and an illuminating
study of the evolution of horror, essential to an understanding of our
continuing fascination with the macabre.

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Review:

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

From the Publisher:


One of the most original and unsettling filmmakers of all time -- Tod Browning is also one of the most enigmatic directors who ever worked inHollywood. A complicated, troubled, and fiercely private man, he confoundedwould-be biographers hoping to penetrate his secret, obsessive world -- bothduring his lifetime and afterward.

Now, film historians David J. Skal and Elias Savada, using newly discoveredfamily documents and revealing published interviews with friends andcolleagues, join forces for the first full-length biography of the man whoearned a reputation as "the Edgar Allan Poe of the cinema." The authorschronicle Browning's turn-of-the-century flight from an eccentric Louisvillefamily into the world of carnival sideshows (where he began his careerliterally buried alive) and vaudeville, his disastrous first marriage, hisrapid climb to riches in the burgeoning silent film industry, and thealcoholism that would plague him throughout his life. Browning's legendarycollaborations with Lon Chaney, Sr., and Bela "Dracula" Lugosi are explored indepth, along with the studio politics that ended his career after the bizarrecircus drama Freaks -- a cult classic today -- proved to be one of thebiggest box-office disasters of the early thirties.

Illustrated throughout with rare photographs, Dark Carnival is both anartful, often shocking portrait of a singular film pioneer and an illuminatingstudy of the evolution of horror, essential to an understanding of ourcontinuing fascination with the macabre.
Copyright 1995 by David J. Skal and Elias Savada

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