From The Artist to Dracula

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Last weekend I saw The Artist for the third time: I still love it!

At the back of my mind there was the vague memory of another film which had impressed me with its use of the stylings of silent cinema. Thanks to a rather circuitous chain of associations that emerged out of various conversations last week (involving Gershwin, An American In Paris, Manhattan, and ballet – don’t ask!) I suddenly hit upon the obvious answer: Guy Maddin’s “Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary”. I vividly remember seeing the film at the Cambridge Film Festival some years ago, and emerging from the cinema with a real sense of excitement at discovering something very special.

Guy Maddin is the kind of director who is described as a maverick. A MUBI article on him gives a good flavour of the kind of films he makes:-

Frequently referred to as “the Canadian David Lynch,” Winnipeg-born filmmaker Guy Maddin’s surreal, dreamlike works are often cited for their striking visuals and obscure sensibilities. His film education came not with any formal training at a trade school, but with endless weekends of watching films with close friends John Paizs and Steve Snyder. [His own films often use] stark black-and-white … taking on the crackling texture of a film released at the turn of the century.

Dracula, Maddin’s fifth feature, is a very strange beast indeed. I particularly like Roger Ebert’s piece on the film, as it comes closest to expressing my own feelings. He says:-

Gay Maddin’s “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary” uses (and improvises on, and kids, and abuses) the style of silent films to record a production of “Dracula” by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The film is poetic and erotic, creepy and melodramatic, overwrought and sometimes mocking, as if F. W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” (1922) had a long-lost musical version.

On paper the concept for the film sounds almost deranged, but it is in fact a revelation.

Guy Maddin … is Canada’s poet laureate of cinematic weirdness. His films often look as if the silent era had continued right on into today’s ironic stylistic drolleries. In “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary,” he begins with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s stage production of “Dracula” and takes it through a series of transformations into something that looks a lot like a silent film but feels like avant-garde theater. The music is by Mahler (the first and second symphonies), the visuals include all the favorite devices of the silent period (wipes, iris shots, soft framing, intertitles, tinting), and the effect is–well, surprisingly effective. The emphasis is on the erotic mystery surrounding Dracula, and the film underlines the curious impression we sometimes have in vampire films that the victims experience orgasm as the fangs sink in.

[The film] is not concerned with the story mechanics of moving from A to B. At times it feels almost like one of those old silent films where scenes have gone missing and there are jumps in the chronology. This is not a problem but an enhancement, creating for us the sensation of glimpsing snatches of a dream. So many films are more or less alike that it’s jolting to see a film that deals with a familiar story, but looks like no other.

So, for something completely different to The Artist, but which is also lovingly connected to the silent cinema era, I can highly recommend Guy Maddin’s idiosyncratic take on the Dracula story.

UPDATE:
How strange, I’ve just found this article where Guy Maddin talks about The Artist:-

I haven’t seen The Artist yet. I’m really curious about it. A certain part of me wants to hate it, because I feel it doubles back to a use of film vocabulary that no one was interested in. And I sort of had it all to myself for a while. Another part of me fears I’ll love it.

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