Dolarhyde’s great ledger was at least a hundred years old. Bound in black leather with brass corners, it was so heavy a sturdy machine table supported it in the locked closet at the top of the stairs. From the moment he saw it at the bankruptcy sale of an old St. Louis printing company, Dolarhyde knew it should be his.
Prior to Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, my knowledge of Francis Dolarhyde was limited to Tom
Noonan’s performance in Manhunter and Ralph Fiennes’ performance in Red Dragon. (I had never read the book because my beloved Uncle Gary described it as “disturbing.”) While Noonan and Fiennes each did a fine job, I remained unintrigued.
When it was announced that Richard Armitage was joining the cast, I was delighted as he’s a personal fave of mine, but I had no opinion about his playing Dolarhyde. I was simply pleased that Armitage was joining the Fullerverse.
With Armitage’s silent introduction of his Dolarhyde in “The Great Red Dragon,” I realized that the character was so much more than I had assumed or expected. He was at once child-like and terrifying, physically imposing and spiritually cowering. From “The Great Red Dragon” to “The Wrath of the Lamb,” Armitage’s performance was nuanced, intelligent, compelling and tender. And it clearly touched only the tip of an iceberg of which perhaps only Armitage understood the depth and breadth. This Dolarhyde stuck with me. This Dolarhyde crept in, crouched low and whispered horrifying nothings in my ear.
When I was invited to visit the Hannibal auction at Prop Store in Los Angeles, I knew I wanted to spend time with The Ledger. Significant time. I hadn’t expected to be given such extraordinary access to the auction lots. I realized that in order to really appreciate the opportunity, I would have to take copious photos of The Ledger and work to transcribe it in my own time. I left the auction house with 84 photos. Most are mediocre at best, but all serve my purpose.
In addition to several other lots, I won an envelope of ephemera intended for The Ledger. It was no particular surprise that the ephemera, though never seen onscreen, constituted another piece of the Dolarhyde puzzle.
It has become an obsession, this quest to uncover and understand the meaning(s) of The Ledger and, by extension, to understand this incarnation of Dolarhyde. Is the meaning intentional? Does it matter? I’ve spent a lot of time reading theories about authorial intent, but I always return to the belief that I adopted while studying literature at university: intent may inform meaning, but meaning must stand outside intent. It simply must – in order for art to outlive the artist and its immediate presentation. There is simply no other way for art to have meaning – however subjective – to all who experience it. Many will disagree. I will stand my ground.
Anyway… This has become a much larger project than I had originally intended. Maybe no one will ever read this or explore the project. That’s okay. My mind-Francis demands that I help to make sense of him. And it is my pleasure to acquiesce.
1 May 2016