Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (Canada; 73 min.)


directed by: Guy Maddin
starring: Wei-Qiang Zhang; Tara Birtwhistle; Dave Moroni
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary
 
Esmé says: "This was a really weird, pretty movie. I didn't realize it was a ballet about Dracula, but I liked it; it was almost experimental because it used the features of old, silent, black and white movies, but you could hear noises even when the dialogue was printed on the screen. And occasionally, instead of black and white, there would be a green filter or a red filter. Interesting, dramatic, flowy." 3 cats
 
Laura says: "It's a wonder that unique auteur Maddin took so long to delve into the horror realm that was a showcase for the German Expressionism of the silent era. DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN'S DIARY is no ersatz Murnau film, however, but an experimental combination of dance, theater and film.

"Bram Stoker's tale is given a refreshing new arrangement, beginning with Lucy Westenra's (Tara Birtwhistle) flirtatious flutterings among three suitors (cinematographer Paul Suderman's camera from Lucy's point of view perched on a swing shoots forward and draws back from the three men as she makes her choice). Lucy's lusty nature (Birtwhistle recalls Sadie Frost's spin on the character) is made evident by her disappointment at not being allowed three lovers and captures the attention of Dracula (Zhang Wei-Qiang) who is soon at work to make Lucy his bride. Maddin brings out the eroticism of the tale by focusing on Lucy's writhing hands, tied to the bedpost by the scarf which shrouds her neck, as she lets the vampyr feed.

"Doctor Van Helsing (Olivier lookalike David Moroni) is skeptical of Lucy's illness and takes the titular diary over her maid's protestations. Confirming his suspicions, the Doctor takes action against the vampire, including a total transfusion of blood for Lucy from her suitors. (Lucy's fiance earnestly declares 'No man knows until he's done it what it feels like to have his blood drawn away into the woman he loves.' Indeed.) A title that sounds like a modern advertisement shouts 'Death! It is only the beginning' after gargoyles dance about Lucy's sleeping form like succubi and she's laid to an unpeaceful rest.

"The film's most luminous sequence features a dance between Birtwhistle and Wei-Qiang amidst snowflakes and ground fog in a cemetery. The painterly lighting of this scene separates the set into three distinct depths and makes poetic shadows play across the dancers' faces. After Lucy is dispatched by Van Helsing and her former lovers, the action switches to Jonathan Harker's (Johnny Wright) story, traditionally the beginning of the Dracula tale. This is told in economic flashback before the film focuses on Mina (CindyMarie Small), Jonathan's doe-eyed fiancee who's voracious sexual appetites repel Jonathan but attract the vampyr. The film's final act, where Dracula is hunted down, fails to engage on the same visual level as the rest of the film, but Maddin leaves us with the striking image of the vampyr staked in mid air, recalling the myth's genesis in Vlad the Impaler.

"Maddin covers the action from within using multiple techniques while covering the same action. Hand iris shots, vaseline-edged lenses, double and triple exposures, animation (an arrow traces the route of 'immigrants' from the East, blood flows across the filmed image), tinting and title overlays ('Fleshpots!' announces the entrance of Drac's brides) pull us into flickering silents even as footsteps, trains and shovel blades chopping off heads are heard. The ballet is given its due, but this never feels like a recording of a dance piece. The film and dance are scored with Gustav Mahler's Symphony #1 and 2.

"Guy Maddin's DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN'S DIARY is a nightmare concocted of dreamy imagery.>" 3 1/2 cats

 
Michael says: "Guy Maddin is a talented and creative filmmaker. For his latest U.S. release, he has taken Mark Godden's interpretation of Bram Stoker's Dracula for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and turned it into an beautifully eerie film with moments of surprising humor. Like his much acclaimed, award-winning short film, 'The Heart of the World,' Maddin's DRACULA is a silent film with a look much like the films from the early part of the last century. Backed by grand classical music, the well-known story unfolds in stunning black and white, with varied color tints, in a dreamlike fashion, Maddin's camera looping and dancing among the characters, who are also dancing a ballet.

There are some breathtaking scenes in DRACULA: PAGES OF A VIRGIN'S DIARY, most notably a haunting dance between the title character and Lucy, his first onscreen victim, in a graveyard in the gently falling snow. For me, the film really caught fire in the latter half, when Dracula turns his attention on Lucy's best friend Mina, and her fiancee Jonathan Harker. The lengthy final scene in Dracula's castle is stunning in its choreography, cinematography, and drama.

If you're unfamiliar with Guy Maddin's work, I highly recommend him, and I haven't even seen his best-loved films. There is a dreamlike quality to his work, and I hope more people get an opportunity to see DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN'S DIARY, as it is truly a unique and beautiful film." 4 cats