JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (Director: Guy Maddin) - January 24, 2003
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Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary

5 5
75 min.

Reviewed at the 2003 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Mahler, money and mayhem

Guy Maddin’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary takes us magically through gothic places that Bram Stoker failed to report in a production that is as sexually charged as it is beautifully designed.

Utilizing the music of Mahler’s First and Decond Symphonies in non-linear fashion adds a layer of uncertainty and suspense that, like Christopher Nolan’s Memento, suits this fantastical telling perfectly: A kind of Death in Transylvania.

Cinematically, all of the stops have been pulled: grainy-framed, back-and-white, sometimes sepia images fill the screen with style; blood-red highlights and slow-motion sequences produce a tableau on which the members of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet bring to life the storylines of failed lust and follow-the-cash—all of this delivered in classic silent-movie methodology—complete with wry captions.

From cinematographer Paul Suderman’s opening shot, we become voyeurs—peering through a supernatural window as the movement unfolds before us. The metaphor of fallen women and polluted blood abounds—Maddin misses no opportunity to exploit the notion of pure-male blood being “pumped” directly into Lucy’s “untouched” body or, on the other hand, denying Jonathan the fellatio he so desperately needs. All of this is interpreted and accompanied by dancers whose legendary technique serves the plot rather than the “show.”

Zhang Wei-Qiang in the title role is monstrously divine. No sexier vampire has come to the screen—it’s clear that the sub-text of size and prowess combine to seal his fate just as much as his moonlight-munching feeds. And, like Tybalt’s death in Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (cross-reference below), there is a tantalizing nipple shot seconds before his impotent competitors impale this Prince of Darkness, only to leave his body and its thrusting, midriff spear in a “victory-after-defeat” image on view. All they could score was the cash to satisfy their true lust.

There are many moments that repay subsequent viewing: the Dance of the Garlic-plum Fairies, Lucy’s decapitation à la Salomé (with a Foley rendering that demands an iron stomach), the terrific use of the star filter on the unison turns of the search party’s flashlight, and the rich symbolism of Mother-under-glass will linger in memory for a long time.

Maddin’s exceptional achievement should inspire others to take risks and challenge their audiences—if only more would have the courage to let art rather than the balance-sheet lead their work. JWR

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Director - Guy Maddin
Producer - Vonnie von Helmolt
Screenwriter - Guy Maddin
Music - Gustav Mahler
Cinematographer - Paul Suderman
Production Designer - Deanne Rahde
Editor - Deco Dawson
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Palm Springs International Film Festival
Cross-reference(s): Please click on the image link(s) below
for related work:

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