It is not so much that avant-garde Canadian director Guy Maddin’s “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary” fails to resemble any other vampire movie as it is that this film successfully combines various aspects of other vampire films in the same vein while placing them within a unique interpretation of ballet.
The narrative of the film flows remarkably well, despite the fact that it lacks spoken dialogue and limits the frequency of intertitles.
This movie has the same performers that appeared in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet version of Bram Stoker’s novel. This release has a similar structure – at least in the primary focus on Lucy – as does that of the 1931 version of “Dracula,” starring the renowned horror icon Bela Lugosi.
Dracula, notably played by Chinese dancer Wei-Qiang Zhang, arrives in England while various suitors vie for the attention of Lucy Westerna, played by dancer Tara Birtwhistle. In line with the novel, Dracula turns Lucy into a vampire – a child abductor and murderess known as the “Bloofer Lady” – leaving the suitors along with Van Helsing – Dave Moroni – to save her soul through the destruction of her body.
Following Lucy’s death, the film takes the viewer rapidly through Jonathan Harker’s meeting in Castle Dracula and eventual sexual imprisonment in a montage that – although a lengthy section of the novel – only lasts a minute.
Don’t, however, let the fact that the film features dance turn you away – this is not merely filmed ballet.
“Dracula” makes excellent use of the limitations of the medium of film, such as the powerful use of black and white with the occasional tinted frame or the rare colored object.
Blood stands out as a vivid red in the film, just as the golden coins that fall out of Dracula’s cut sleeve highlight the symbolically charged object.
Similarly, the film skillfully reduces the amount of sounds, instead choosing to rely on intertitles to display what little dialogue is necessary. This element only serves to enhance the sounds that appear in the film, such as yeehaws and yelling that help characterize Texan Quincy Morris as he stands in front of an American flag toward the beginning of the film.
Mimicking contemporary screenings of early films, “Dracula” makes frequent use of jump cuts, which adds to the surrealist presentation of the narrative. A constant fog perpetually follows the characters, giving every scene a distinct dream atmosphere, furthering the artistry of the film.
Borrowing a few tricks from F.W. Murnau’s 1922 “Nosferatu,” Maddin’s “Dracula” features some striking scenes with deep, rich shadows, which add a highly enjoyable expressionistic quality to the film, as well.
The intermixing between both the surreal and the expressionistic in conjunction with the juxtaposition of older and new elements makes this film utterly fascinating to watch – well worth the various acclamations it has already received.Seemingly floating in various scenes and gracefully moving throughout every frame, this Dracula is rivaled in elegance only by that of the sophisticated Count Dracula in the 1958 Hammer Film production of “Horror of Dracula.”
Regrettably, the film is relatively short – only about 75 minutes long. While the dancing can be spectacular at times, there are the rare dance scenes that could have been cut a bit shorter. However, this is only a minor imperfection in an otherwise spectacular film.
Take a break from the trick-or-treating on Halloween and stop by the Dryden Theatre to take in an elegant counterpoint to “Freddy versus Jason” and the laughable remake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
“Dracula: Pages of a Virgin’s Diary” plays at 8 p.m. amd 10 p.m. on Halloween.
Schnee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.