Saturday, February 28, 2009

Vampyr: Der Traum des Allan Gray (Carl Dreyer, 1932)

This film seems to occupy a zone at the borders of a lot of different genres. Of course it is a vampire movie, complete with an ancient creature, Marguerite Chopin, with dark powers, corrupted minions, pale and suffering female victims, and an earnest young man appalled but also fascinated. In this instance the well dressed young man Allan Gray (Julian West)—he’s always wearing a tie—arrives as things are falling apart. Fueled by a sense of dread, as the intertitles inform us, Allan wanders all over the manor on the bright moonlit nights. He sees the shadows of people digging, arguing, and dancing, he sees disturbing glimpses of ominous things, and even the ordinary things about the place take on a tone of ominousness. At one point he becomes insubstantial, his transparent hand opening a door. He sees himself in a coffin with a little window, and then we see as he would see from inside, the peg-legged soldier screwing down the lid, the vampire peering in, a candle burning and melting. There are scenes of chasing, of rowing a boat in the fog, of Allan staring incredulously at the dying father, the anemic daughter, the manifold strangenesses—all this suggests the work of Man Ray and people like that, rather than than a traditional vampire narrative. After reading the book the father has left behind for Allan, the elderly handyman goes off to the churchyard to drive a stake through the monster's heart, and Allan helps. The body in the coffin turns to bones, the peg-legged soldier falls downstairs, the wicked doctor is suffocated with flour in the mill, the anemic woman is revived, and her young, wide-eyed sister and Allan go running through the woods toward the light –the emblematic happy ending. A good deal of the film is beautifully shot, using experimental techniques. Another odd thing is that the film has a sound track, with scary music and sounds, but there’s not a lot of talking and a lot of scenes involve lengthy close-ups of faces changing expression, and so it feels a lot like a silent film. And because so much of the film is mediated through Allan, whose dream it is, there’s not really so much scariness.

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