Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Original Twilight

Outliving Dracula

I recently read In a Glass Darkly by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a 19th century Irish author. It is a collection of gothic tales of the macabre, most famous perhaps for the story 'Carmilla', the celebrated lesbian vampire story. By an astonishing coincidence, the recent Jameson Dublin International Film Festival showed not one but two films relating to this work. I saw them both and will now discuss them.

The first of these is a documentary called Outliving Dracula, in which the influence of 'Carmilla' in film is traced. It is an interesting enough topic (as it means you get to show clips from such classic films as Blood and Roses and The Vampire Lovers), and the documentary is interesting at least some of the time. Overall, though, Outliving Dracula was not brilliant. It seemed a bit padded out with shots of gothic scenery accompanied by the music of the Trio Bulgarka. The documentary also devoted far too long to interviews with visual artists whose work was interesting in and of itself but not particularly relevant to the subject at hand.

Outliving Dracula did feature some striking shots from Carl Dreyer's 1932 film Wampyr. And this was the film I saw next. This one bills itself as being freely adapted from Sheridan Le Fanu's In A Glass Darkly. The link is more one of mood, as the film does not slavishly follow the plot of any of the stories in that collection, though it does nod to several. The print we saw was in German, without subtitles, which made it a bit hard to follow for those less skilled in the Germanic arts than me. However, there is not really that much dialogue and the narrative is surreal and irrational anyway, so I suspect that anyone with no German would not be at too much of a disadvantage.

What actually happens in the film? All kinds of things. What is on the screen at any given moment makes a certain sense, but how scenes relate to each other is not obvious. It struck me as being like nothing so much as a David Lynch film, in particular one of the more disjointed ones like Inland Empire.

Whatever else about it, Wampyr is visually stunning, looking like a late example of German expressionist cinema (for all that it was made by a Dane). It features some astonishing scenes – the main character being placed in a coffin and the lid screwed on after he is gripped by a terrible paralysis; the look of lascivious malice that sweeps over the face of the girl who has been bitten by the vampire; the shadow walking separately from its owner; the man with the scythe. And so on. See it if you get the chance.

An inuit panda production

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