Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary
Directed by Guy Maddin. Starring Zhang Wei-Qiang, Tara Birtwhistle, David Moroni, CindyMarie Small, Johnny Wright. (2003, NR, 75 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 29, 2003
Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin has a lot in common with fellow countryman David Cronenberg. Both filmmakers employ a certain, unmistakable style and tone in their films and have created bodies of work that are, for want of a better term, pure and generally unsullied by market (or studio) demands. Cronenberg’s nightmarish visions of flesh gone awry and the constantly mutable state of the psyche have long generated a fan base among what used to be called cyberpunks (and previous to that, splatterpunks) – films like Videodrome, Crash, and Naked Lunch were gooey, wet depictions of societies and individuals in constant threat of vertiginous freefall. Maddin, on the other hand, whose 1988 film Tales From the Gimli Hospital set the tone for everything since, has eschewed the special effects and soulless horror of Cronenberg entirely, and instead retrieved, or more likely rediscovered the power of the images and sound of the days of silent cinema. Again and again in strikingly original works saddled with such overbearing titles as Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and Fleshpots of Antiquity, Maddin has refuted the Hollywood notions that a film must have spoken dialogue to succeed or must be in color or must have some sort of interior logic that makes sense to audiences weaned on Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay productions. Maddin’s films appear as time capsules from another age, excavated (doubtless by the yellowish light of a full moon) by cinematic archeologists and constructed of flickering images, unnatural color palettes, and degraded, scratchy film stocks. His actors tend to emote in the broad style of pre-Mack Sennett antiquities – they sport more white pancake on their faces and black kohl around their eyes than the ghouls in Night of the Living Dead, and they look downright erotic doing it. As a stylist, Maddin is second to none, and though his films, by their very nature, reach a limited audience, once seen they are rarely forgotten. How many recent Hollywood films can you say that about? Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary is Maddin’s take on the old fangstuffer’s waltz and has all the director’s usual tropes, including heaving bosoms and ramrod-straight menfolk, but this isn’t, in actuality, a Maddin film per se: It’s a Maddinized version of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s version of the Dracula story. Yes, that’s right: dancing Draculas! Don’t laugh, though; if anyone could pull it off Guy Maddin could, and he has, in spades. Employing a whirling camera and a striking, subtle use of spot color (as in the red, red blood that trickles down Lucy Westenra’s (Birtwhistle) white, white throat when the ominously swaying Count nips her in the, ah, bud) to enhance what is essentially a 90-minute ballet performance, Maddin manages to bring new life to an undead genre. Sparing use of intertitles tell the familiar tale, albeit this time with a paranoid, nationalist edge. As the film opens, one character, fearing the impending arrival of something dreadful, cries out, "Immigrants!" It’s Dracula through the eyes of the Neocons, or something close. While the film is, at its heart, a boisterously atmospheric record of the ballet (using a pair of Mahler symphonies as its backing music), it’s far and away the most original symphony of terror since F.W. Murnau raised hackles and Schrecks with his 1922 Nosferatu.