Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Spooktacular # 4: Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary

This is a wonderful version of the classic Dracula tale, and may be second only to Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu in my mind. This is another film by Guy Maddin, maverick Canadian director whose every film looks completely different from anything else that has ever been filmed. Here he makes a silent film adaptation of the ballet based on Dracula, and uses all of the tricks he’s learned from a youth spent studying silent movies and trying to figure out new ways to wield the camera based off of them.

Part of his efforts to play with the visual feel of the film involves him calling attention to some of the subtext of the original novel. Bram Stoker got a good deal of mileage out of racial tensions of the time towards eastern Europeans, and so here Maddin updates things a bit by making Dracula an Asian, played by Zhang Wei-Qiang. He further includes an opening of a map of Europe with a black ink-like substance oozing in from the east towards our precious England, with appropriately inter-titles like “FOREIGNERS! FROM THE EAST!!!” Dracula’s wealth, which also got a good deal of mention in the novel, gets the royal treatment here. While the film is mostly in black and white, there are a few splashes of color scattered throughout, particularly when Dracula himself is involved. One of the most notable visuals towards the end is that of a big pile of green money he has villainously hoarded at his castle, stolen from English coffers! The fiend!

It really is a beautiful film.

It’s amazing to watch this and see what a perfect fit silent movies and ballets are with each other. The lavish dances are something to see (particularly Dracula’s dance with Lucy after she arises from the grave), and seem to go fairly naturally with the normal exaggerated acting style common to the silent era. Not only does it fit perfectly with the rest of the film, it matches Maddin’s general over-the-top look and tongue in cheek nature, combining to create just a delight of a film. If it’s not Maddin’s best film, it’s only because The Saddest Music in the World set the bar pretty ridiculously high. You should definitely check this one out.

Rating: *** ½

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