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Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary
(PG-13)
Zeitgeist Films
Official Site
Director: Guy Maddin
Producer: Vonnie von Helmolt
Written by: Mark Godden, Guy Maddin
Cast: Wei-Qiang Zhang, Tara Birtwhistle, Dave Moroni, CindyMarie Small, Johnny A. Wright, Stephane Leonard

Rating: out of 5


Guy Maddin’s been pumping out his distinctive brand of idiomatic lunacy since the mid-’80s. Unlike the fools who run broadcast TV and music videos, he knows that it takes more than pulling out black-and-white video and a few carelessly pasted, patently digital scratches to make a silent movie, which is what he does, more or less. He is very, very good at his chosen idiom: undercranking for luminosity and a slightly slower than usual speed of motion, utilizing various tints, and generally being damned convincing. Nor is he in it for mere technical kicks: Behind his antiquated facades and over-the-top actors lies an endless amount of perverse sexuality which needs the liberation of the kind of hysteria only silent film can provide fearlessly. Yet, for all this, Maddin’s work is rarely any fun, and Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary proves almost no exception. The title would seem to be a cue for a sense of self-conscious humor and irony, yet Maddin seems to be almost daring us to take things seriously.

The film is an adaptation of a ballet about Dracula, but Maddin largely doesn’t care about the choreography, cutting things up at will and filming people from the waist up (at the film’s premiere, an angry balletomane assailed Maddin, who replied that he didn’t know anything about ballet and that, “We probably could have used someone like you on the set. Well, someone almost like you.”). The choreography largely comes into play mainly as an extension of the over-the-top quality of silent-film acting. Maddin’s technique, per usual, is pretty mind-blowing, strategically deploying the occasional sound effect, luridly yellow subtitles, and various tints (blue for night, etc.).

Frilly distractions aside, Maddin’s interested in the vampire as a metaphor for unbridled female lust as a threat to your average late 19th-century male. Maddin takes this seriously, which is good, but elsewhere his straight-faced approach makes less novel things less fun than they ought to be. A subtitle like “A brave man’s blood is the best thing for a woman in trouble” falls into a sort of defiant vacuum, surrounded by straight-faced men with stakes and lugubrious pacing. And yet inspired flashes keep subverting everything, suggesting a much weirder and funnier movie lurking within. A brief respite from the generally straight-faced approach comes in the re-telling of perhaps the most familiar part of the story, when Jonathan Harker visits Dracula’s castle and is assaulted by “FLESHPOTS!” and other luridly subtitled temptations. Here, the editing is sped up, and one briefly recalls the fun to be had with Maddin’s much acclaimed 2000 short Heart Of The World. Briefly. But Maddin plays it straight when it comes to the terrors of the night, and while I’m deeply impressed, I’m also kind of bored. Perhaps the ballet’s relatively staid surface held back Maddin, who admittedly made the movie for the money. But whatever it is, despite the film’s adventurous exploration of fascinating gender issues and gusto embrace of ’20s technique, it all feels like so much pastiche and relatively little enthusiasm.

—Vadim Rizov

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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