Dracula in Dance Ends Guy Maddin Film Orgy

Well maybe not quite an orgy, but this afternoon the Indiana University Cinema ended a run of a lot of Canadian surrealist director Guy Maddin’s films (included:  TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL, ARCHANGEL, MY WINNIPEG, BRAND UPON THE BRAIN, THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD . . . plus Buñeul’s [with Salvador Dali] L’AGE D’OR as an example of the kinds of movies that influenced him), including talks by Maddin himself on Thursday and Friday, with one of the more unusual interpretations of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, DRACULA:  PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY.  To quote from the program book:  “Canadian cult auteur Guy Maddin has concocted his most ravishingly stylized cinematic creation to date.  Beautifully transposing the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s interpretation . . . from stage to screen, Maddin has forged a sumptuous, erotically charged feast of dance, drama and silent film tec220px-Draculaballethniques.  The black-and-white, blood-red-punctured DRACULA:  PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY is a Gothic grand guignol of the notorious Count and his bodice-ripped victims, fringed with the expressionistic strains of Gustav Mahler. . . .”

As with many of his films, Maddin borrows techniques from the silents, including the use of title cards which, with a familiarity with the novel DRACULA, should allow the storyline to be followed with relatively little difficulty.  Also it is filmed in black and white, often with a purposefully shadowy quality reminiscent of early movies, although with tinting and spot color also used in places to draw attention — and, yes, that color often is red — or simply as accents.  Also, the film can be thought of as falling in two parts, the first in England with the seduction of Lucy, as performed by Tara Birtwhistle, and introduction of Dr. Van Helsing to explain to the others, and us, the true nature of the disease that affects her.  And then the second, here straying in some parts from Stoker’s original toward the end, where Dracula himself, performed by Zhang Wei-Qiang, comes to the fore, beginning with Mina’s joining her fiancé Jonathan Harker where he’s recuperating in an East European convent-hospital following his escape from Dracula’s castle, then taking us to the pursuit of Dracula and the vampire’s ultimate destruction.

In introducing the film, the docent explained that Maddin had been discouraged by the poor reception of his 1997 TWILIGHT OF THE ICE NYMPHS and, while his short, THE HEART OF THE WORLD, was much better reviewed a few years later, DRACULA in 2002 marked in a sense his feature film comeback.  Also noted was Maddin’s feeling about the original novel as “all rooted in male jealousy,” leading perhaps to an emphasis from the beginning of DRACULA as an invasion novel (akin, in that sense, to H. G. Wells’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, published the year after Stoker’s book in 1898), voicing a Victorian English fear of contamination through immigration — and in particular from the east.  Especially in this second part, too, the use of shadows and settings and darkness adds to a German expressionist feeling, with Mahler’s music and fantastic dancing (the music excerpted from his 1st and 2nd Symphonies) leading dramatically up to the climax.   Or, to quote the IU Cinema’s program book again, itself adding its own quotation:  “THE NEW YORKER declared that ‘Victorian sexuality and melodrama are brought together in a shadowy world of expressionistic images and an athletic, almost rabid, choreography.’”

So, is this a film I would recommend for any lover of Bram Stoker’s novel, DRACULA, or even just of vampires in general — regardless of whether one is a fan of dance or music?  Resoundingly, yes.

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