Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary (2002)
Dracula: Zhang Wei-Qiang
This Guy Maddin film, originally intended for Canadian TV but given a theatrical release thanks to its rapturous critical reception, is simultaneously by far the most audacious and nearly the most textually faithful adaptation of Stoker’s novel. Foregrounding the novel’s subtexts of immigration panic, absentee landlordship, and “the Eastern Question” along with its more often cited wellsprings of female sexuality unleashed, it also takes the opportunity to incorporate little-used novelistic elements such as Mrs. Westenra’s role in her daughter’s death, Quincey Morris, and Dracula “bleeding money” when stabbed. Oh, and it’s a silent, expressionist ballet with a Mahler soundtrack (First and Second symphonies) and lightning-fast neo-Eisensteinian editing (by deco dawson, also credited as “associate director”). But then I said “Guy Maddin film” up front.
If you haven’t seen any Maddin films, this may not be the place to start. (Try Careful, or The Saddest Music in the World, first.) But there’s something to be said for just diving right in, the way Maddin does with this project. Given Mark Godden’s pre-existing adaptation of Dracula for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Maddin made the decision to make a “silent film that just happens to have dancing” rather than a dance movie, and to re-adapt the source material to suit his own idiosyncratic filming and visual styles. Maddin sends his cameras into the midst of the ballet, blending the dancers’ language of gesture and motion with silent film’s language of blocking and emotion into a roller-coaster of expressionism-squared. Zhang’s Dracula is emotion incarnate, mirroring the newfound lusts of his victims and then overmastering and devouring them. Color tints or washes, stark intertitles (often taken directly from the novel’s text), and sudden changes in lighting and resolution create discrete cinematic moments that nonetheless flash by like images in a zoopraxiscope. Maddin claimed to have only read the first half of the novel, and to not even like ballet, and yet he creates a dreamlike tour de force worthy of consideration alongside Murnau or Herzog while exceeding them textually and perhaps even poetically.
The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Filled with polluted blood (and with your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order red-tinted hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!