Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary

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Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary Review


Newcomers to the films of Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin have a small hurdle to climb at first: The man's work doesn't always make a whole lot of sense. His approach has more to do with form than narrative function, and part of the pleasure of watching them is seeing how deftly he captures the feel of classic silent film. His six-minute masterpiece from 2000, The Heart of the World, ran Soviet classics like Potemkin and Man With a Movie Camera through a blender and wound up with a magnificent tribute to the speed that montage styling can create; Odilon Redon worked a similar magic with the Melies brothers' style. But hanging with Maddin means hanging with the strange totems that pop up throughout his work: Orthodox crosses, bagpipes, ostriches, hockey sticks, and so on, all for the sake of storytelling that may or may not be about love, lust, God, war, family, and the very nature of film itself.

However strange the results may be, they're a joy to watch, which is why I said that Maddin's obscurantism is a small hurdle. It's still a hurdle, though, which is why his 2002 film Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary may be the best place to get to know the man's work. After all, you already know the story, and goodness knows that Francis Ford Coppola's attempt to make a coherent tale out of it didn't help that particular take on it.

Pages from a Virgin's Diary recasts the Transylvanian story into a black-and-white ballet, with the use of grainy B&W film stock, intertitles, filters, and iris lenses that are Maddin's trademark. The cast comes from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Dracula himself (Wei-Qiang Zhang) is presented as an eroticized creature, angling slowly towards the seduction of Lucy (Tara Birtwhistle) as Harker (Johnny A. Wright) and Dr. Van Helsing (Dave Moroni) plot the vampire's stake-driven murder. The death scene is one of the most richly compelling ones in the Dracula oeuvre, giving us his heart in red, shimmering in the midst of the dark black and white world that surrounds his world.

But the plot itself matters less than the melancholy world that Maddin creates on film. Anchored by a somber Mahler soundtrack, we get Dracula's castle as a haven for sexual transgression, as his pursuit of Lucy and later her friend Nina (CindyMarie Small) takes on a uniquely scary grace. This isn't a ballet of leaping and bounding, but of the subtle slidings of darkly-lit men and women - the kind of Dracula you'd conjure up in a 3 a.m. nightmare after an all-night bender of Murnau and Lang. For Maddin, the main character of a Dracula story isn't Dracula himself but the blood he works in - the way it defines our bodies and how it lives and dies. And if all that seems too esoteric for a horror story, you and Maddin may never get along. But anybody who's willing to bring their own ideas about sex, love, and bloodletting to the film will likely find themselves sucked into Maddin's growing cult.

I want to suck your blood and see you do a pirouette.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 73 mins

In Theaters: Friday 12th December 2003

Budget: $1.6M

Distributed by: Zeitgeist Film

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 8

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Dracula (as Zhang Wei-Qiang), as Lucy Westernra, David Moroni as Dr. Van Helsing, CindyMarie Small as Mina

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