Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary
review by Gregory Avery, 30 May 2003

I'm not sure if Dracula works as a ballet, but why not? The character and Bram Stoker's story have gone through every type of incarnation, from the stilled elegance of Bela Lugosi to the brute fury of Christopher Lee, from being turned into an art object for the Broadway stage by Edward Gorey to the gross-out job that John Badham made of it in 1979 and the wildly overheated, over-stylized, over-subtextualized version Francis Ford Coppola jotted off in 1992. There has been at least one musical version, plenty of burlesques (Groovy Ghoulies, anyone?), and one complete reimagining (F.W. Murnau's film, itself remade in 1979 by Werner Herzog).

Here, Guy Maddin takes advantage of the non-verbal quality of ballet to create his own silent-movie adaptation, replete with title cards, special color tinting of otherwise black-and-white photography, and some of the Russian Impressionism (Eisenstein's "montage of shocks") that he used to great effect in his furious 8-minute 2001 film The Heart of the World. I'm not familiar with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet production that Maddin's adapting to the screen, therefore I assume that they're responsible for one of the film's remarkable additions to the story, making Dracula a visitor to Victorian England from the Far East, rather than Eastern Europe, and casting Asian dancer Zhang Wei-Qiang as the Count: he's handsome, commanding, poised, exotic (in the best sense), and you could see why some women would find him to be a bit more inviting than the rather dullish Anglo-Saxon suitors vying for attention. (Wang's Dracula wears Western-style clothes, although Maddin and his associates special tint the inside of his cape a bright, bright red.)

Choreographer Mark Godden (who has set the ballet to music from Gustav Mahler's First and Second symphonies) spends more time concentrating on the character of the unfortunate Lucy Westenra (very well played by Tara Birtwhistle) -- whose name, here, has been further Anglicized into "Westernra" -- than with virtuous Mina (CindyMarie Small), fiance of the hapless estate agent Jonathon Harker (Johnny Wright) and whose own story, which took up much of the beginning of Stoker's novel, is condensed down to a hurried flashback of imagery. It's probably just as well, since Lucy always seemed to be more interesting than Mina, anyway, and you always had to make that jump from Harker's encounter with the Count to the rest of the story back in Britain (which felt like you were seeing one story stop and another start from where the other halted). This brings up another aspect of the story which is emphasized in the new film, that of men exercising their prerogative over women. Other stories, and some of the Hammer films from the Fifties and Sixties, have suggested that some of the characters who become undead may very well like it that way better than when they were otherwise. Maddin's film combines this with an emphasis on the xenophobic reaction that Van Helsing and others have towards Dracula -- "OTHERS! FROM OTHER LANDS.... From the East!," as some of the title cards scream -- and they seem to take particular pleasure in vanquishing Dracula after he has gone on from conquering Lucy to trying to do the same to Mina -- they'd rather have dominion over their own women, thank you. Mina is saved, again, in the end, but it is a melancholy victory and one that comes at a price. If you have any interest in Dracula, Dracula, or Guy Maddin's way of taking old film styles and using them in new, inventive ways, than take a look at this film.

Directed by:
Guy Maddin

Starring:
Stars Zhang Wei-Qiang
Tara Birtwhistle
David Moroni
CindyMarie Small 
Johnny Wright

Written by:
Mark Godden

Rated:
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated.

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