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 second
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