Friday, April 27, 2012

Return to Collinwood

Since Dark Shadows alumnus Kathryn Leigh Scott formed Pomegranate Press in 1986, it has been known for producing superior quality volumes devoted to Dark Shadows, including My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows, The Dark Shadows Almanac, The Dark Shadows Movie Book, Dark Shadows Resurrected, and more. Their latest release, Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood, by Kathryn Leigh Scott and Jim Pierson, rates among the best of these, featuring a wealth of historical background, personal narratives, and photographs, ranging from the series' origin in 1966 to the Tim Burton theatrical film, due for release next month. Some of the contents are reprints from earlier Pomegranate Press titles, such as My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows, but that doesn't lessen the value of having the older material presented with the new, all under one roof, so to speak.

The book opens with a brief foreword by Jonathan Frid, who passed away only a short couple of weeks ago (see "Our Little Life Is Rounded With a Sleep," April 19). Immediately following is a timeline titled "Five Decades of Dark Shadows," which touches on the highlights of the franchise from its beginning to the present. In "Dark Shadows Reincarnated," Jim Pierson provides a brief overview of the upcoming Tim Burton Dark Shadows, including the characters, cast, and several photographs. Kathryn and Lara Parker follow up with intriguing personal chronicles of their journeys to England to appear in the film in cameo roles, along with fellow Dark Shadows series actors Jonathan Frid and David Selby. From these accounts, one can clearly see that, for Jonathan, this venture is a serious personal struggle, both physically and mentally. It's very sad that he will not have the chance to see the result of his final journey into the shadows, as it were. As for David, Kathryn, and Lara, one definitely gets a sense of their excitement on their journey, and I think they would agree it's a somewhat amusing irony for them to be the "outsiders" on the Dark Shadows set.

"Backstage Memories" offers a veritable catalog of Kathryn's personal reminiscences of her life as a Dark Shadows actress, illustrated with loads of photographs, some well-known stock pics, some from her personal collection. I enjoy the fact that, even though much of the actors' day-to-day experiences on the set are prosaic, her writing retains much of the youthful excitement in which she must have been caught up at the time. Lara provides an appropriate companion piece, "Angelique Looks Back," in which she reveals how deeply she delved into Angelique's character during the show's run and how, over time, through her own novels, she has developed a whole new understanding as well as literary portrayal of the character.

One of my favorite sections of the book, though brief, is "The Mansion on the Hill," which provides a more than tantalizing glimpse of Seaview Terrace, the mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, that stood in for Collinwood — at least for exterior scenes. While I've visited Lyndhurst, the gothic mansion in Tarrytown, New York, which was used as Collinwood in House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows, many times and become quite familiar with its layout, grounds, and history, I've never had the opportunity to visit Seaview. To my chagrin, for several years during the 80s, I regularly attended Necon, in Bristol, RI, which is just a stone's throw from Newport. Had I known at the time I was so near the old "mansion on the hill," I would have buzzed down there in a heartbeat. Alas for me. I'm particularly fond of the photos of the house's interior in this section of the book, since very few interior shots ever found their way into the TV series.

Jim Pierson provides overviews of the 1991 NBC-TV Dark Shadows revival series (which is covered in far more detail in Pomegranate Press's Dark Shadows Resurrected) as well as WB's aborted 2004 attempt at bringing back the series. Despite it's myriad shortfalls, I've always had a great fondness for the 1991 series — it wasn't the original, of course, but it wasn't intended to be — but I've never seen the pilot for the 2004 version, which starred Alec Newman as Barnabas (who has now played Barnabas on Big Finish's audio drama series), Marley Shelton as Victoria Winters, and Ivana Milicevic as Angelique. By all accounts, I really didn't miss much, and the description of the pilot here certainly doesn't peak my interest much. For curiosity's sake, I wouldn't mind watching it, but it's hardly one of those burning desires I absolutely must fulfill before shuffling off this mortal coil.

Rounding out the volume is a wonderfully in-depth account of the making of House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows, both of which I quite adore to this day. To me personally, so much of what makes these movies so memorable, apart from the characters themselves, is the excellent use of Lyndhurst as Collinwood — though, I must admit, as a kid, it was disconcerting to see a "different" place playing home to the Collins family on the big screen. In more recent years, having spent a fair amount of time at the Lyndhurst estate, I've marveled at how expertly Dan Curtis and crew used it (as well as the other locations) to heighten the visual appeal of both films. It's a real treat to have the background story, along with plenty of on-site photographs, included in this book.

As a long-time Dark Shadows fan and occasional contributor to the series as a writer, I love finding gems like Return to Collinwood, which — despite my more-than-passing familiarity with the series, its creators, and its cast members — manages to shine new light on what many might consider well-trodden ground. I also appreciate the excellent production of the book itself: a sturdy softcover with perfectly sized typesetting and excellent photo reproduction. Easily one of my many favorites from Pomegranate.

No comments: