Lauded Canadian avant-gardist Guy Maddin takes an old dog and teaches it new, stunning tricks, with 2002’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary.
I love Maddin. Unashamedly anachronistic, he’s made a lucrative film career from borrowing the tropes of archaic silent cinema and early expressionistic talkies. But this 2002 theatre-film transcends those old celluloid days and sees maddened Maddin present Bram Stoker’s classic Gothic novel Dracula, via a performance by The Winnipeg Ballet.
It’s certainly not for everyone, but I found this film to be an absolute feast. Maddin brings out the inherent xenophobic plot points of the novel (Dracula is played by an Asian dancer, whilst Van Helsing is a white supremacist), and mixes them with striking expressionistic facial expressions that harken back to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Such grimness is matched with great beauty though. Shot in chiaroscuro black and white on Super-8 stock, hand-drawn colour seeps into shot, with dripping blood red and decadent golden yellows. Although most of the film is told in slow-motion to match Mahler’s 1st symphony, the brilliant balletic choreography makes the entire film move with great poise and spectacle.
Not my favourite Maddin – and it may not be my favourite adaptation of Dracula either – but it’s certainly the most audacious I’ve ever seen. As with all of his films, Maddin has the ability to trepidatiously guide us through the maze that his mind. It may be filled with cobwebs, dark fantasies and personal nostalgia, but it’s fueled on an appreciation for sheer cinematic spectacle.