It’s my most quoted line from the film Ed Wood, Tim Burton’s tenderhearted tribute to the titular figure, and my personal favorite from his body of work. And much like what happens in said movie*, Lugosi takes a once giant, horrific icon of the silver screen and brings him back down to earth, telling a humble tragedy of a proud, tragic soul. It’s a sympathetic portrait of a figure who could easily be portrayed as pathetic, but writer/artist Koren Shadmi’s respect and admiration of the old thespian is palpable. This book does, indeed, gives two fucks for Bela.
I enjoyed this one a bit more than Shadmi’s Rod Serling biography. My issue with that one being that I felt the framing device was a little weak, whereas in this one, while being superficially similar, felt more authentic: I can believe a man suffering from withdrawals in a drug treatment center would be visited by ghosts of his past, especially someone who has led a life as haunted by specters as Lugosi.
Again, the art is the stand-out here. Reproducing the feel and allure of bygone eras seems to be Shadmi’s strong suit, as his depiction of Old Hollywood — like his portrayal of mid-century show business in Twilight Man — shines even in black and white. Also illustrated are a few of iconic scenes from Lugosi’s films, and they were among my favorite sequences in the book — Lugosi had a famously piercing stare, and Shadmi captures it perfectly.
* There’s some debate as to Wood’s treatment of Lugosi. Some, Lugosi’s son among them, feel like Wood exploited the ailing actor at a time when he could not afford to refuse much work, and used his fading stardom to add a bare hint of prestige to otherwise shoddy productions; others, like Burton, think that Wood giving him work when no one else would gave Lugosi some semblance of dignity before he died. Unlike the Burton film, which paints Wood in a benevolent light, this book takes no particular stance.