Tag Archives: Dreamlike

CAPSULE: KAILI BLUES (2015)

DIRECTED BY: Gan Bi

FEATURING: Yongzhong Chen

PLOT: An elderly doctor returning to his birthplace passes through a strange town.

Still Kaili Blues (2015)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Kaili Blues is an interesting debut from a poet-turned-filmmaker with a lot of talent. It’s strange, but it lulls you rather than wows you; its weirdness is a tad too restrained, too tasteful.

COMMENTS: Kaili Blues is the kind of film of the type frequently said to “announce a major new talent,” which is somewhat different than dubbing it an “astounding debut film” (although some critics used variations of that line, too). I think the first description is more accurate. Kaili Blues is an interesting, well-constructed film, and I’ll be curious to follow what Gan Bi does in the future. However, this is not a knock-your-socks-off masterpiece; it’s missing a little something, a touch of spice.

Describing Kaili Blues‘ style is relatively simple: it’s like with less explicit fantasy and more experimental camerawork. The two directors share the same patient pacing, a love of finding the strange amidst the ordinary, and a mystical Buddhist sensibility. Although not much seems to be happening in the first half of Kaili‘s run, story elements are being dropped in conversation, some of which will bear narrative fruit later, and some of which remain inscrutable no matter how often they are repeated. There is a lot to untangle, not all of which can be captured in a single viewing, and some of which will still be obscure after a second run through. Touches like the odd TV broadcasts and reports on “wild man” sightings, scenes with a disco ball, underwater dreams, functional clocks drawn on the wall, and a three-dimensional train that emerges from a wall behind the characters enliven the ordinary narrative about doctor Chen Shen, his criminal past, his crazy brother (literally named “Crazy Face”), and his neglected nephew. At the halfway point things pick up dramatically when Chen sets out on a journey with several goals in mind. As he passes through a town on the way, Gan Bi deploys the film’s major attraction, an impressive forty-minute tracking shot that follows Chen and several of the villagers, winding its way through the riverside town, taking shortcuts through alleyways, and at one point indulging in the rarely seen 180-degree vertical pan. The hamlet itself is full of ambiguous characters who may be ghosts from the past, or the future, but who seem to be connected to Chen and his quest(s).

Unlike Western films, which regard loss of identity as a form of existential crisis, here it describes Buddhist conceptions of the fluidity of souls and the arbitrariness of individual experience. Both the doctor’s nephew and the dead son of a triad he knew in his youth have an unlikely fascination with watches. We’re not expected to believe those two characters are the same (at least, I don’t think we are). Yet at other times individuals who appear in far-flung places are hinted to be the same person at different times in their lives. A quote from the Diamond Sutra explains: “minds… are not minds, but are (expediently) called minds… neither the past, present nor future mind can be found.” The same experiences recur across people and across time. If Kaili Blues confuses you (and it probably will), Gan Bi might respond that that’s because you’re so used to looking at illusions that reality seems like a dream.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Bi’s singular vision bears comparison to those of other geniuses such as Tarkovsky, Sokurov, David Lynch, Luis Buñuel and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Like those auteurs, he achieves what film is best at but seldom accomplishes — a stirring of a deeper consciousness, a glimpse into a reality transcending the everyday.”–Peter Keough, Boston Globe (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: SOME CALL IT LOVING (1973)

AKA: Sleeping Beauty; Dream Castle

DIRECTOR: James B. Harris

FEATURING: Zalman King, Tisa Farrow, Carol White, Richard Pryor, Veronica Anderson, Logan Ramsey, Pat Priest, Brandy Herrod

PLOT: Based on the John Collier short story “Sleeping Beauty.” A hedonistic millionaire, entranced by a carnival act involving a girl who has been asleep for years, purchases her and brings her home.

Still from Some Call It Loving (1973)WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  Far stranger than the synopsis would suggest, Some Call it Loving is a surreal, dreamlike take on relationship dramas. A precursor to the modern erotic thriller, it would make for an interesting double feature paired with Boxing Helena, or even Singapore Sling.

COMMENTSThe entire genre of the “erotic thriller”—from such highlights as 9 1/2 Weeks, the steamy cable series “Red Shoe Diaries,” and Eyes Wide Shut all the way down to the low-level late night chum on Cinemax (or Skinemax, as it was nicknamed due to its reliance on such fare)—shares primary DNA with the not-as-well-known early precursor Some Call It Loving. Lead actor Zalman King would make it a cottage industry in the 80s and 90s, co-writing and producing 9 1/2 Weeks and directing Wild Orchid, Two Moon Junction and episodes of “Red Shoe Diaries” (the series he created), among others.

King’s character here, Robert, lives in a mansion with two women, Scarlett (White) and Angelica (Anderson). The three pass the time by indulging in role-playing “games” (seducing a widow, disciplining the maid, dancing nuns) that always lead to sexual situations. The only times Robert ventures into the “real world” is when he gigs as a session player with a jazz group at a bar and has conversations with his friend Jeff (Pryor), a musician who’s fallen into hardcore junkiedom.

During one of these excursions he goes to a carnival and discovers the “Sleeping Beauty,” Jennifer (Farrow), as a sideshow attraction, drugged to remain asleep. Patrons pay for one kiss to wake the Beauty—and more, it’s strongly implied. Robert decides to purchase her to take her back with him. Robert returns with Jennifer, who is accepted into the household; when she awakens, she’s also incorporated into the game-playing. But does this lead to a Happy Ending for all?

Although is provides the seed for later erotic thrillers, Loving can’t actually be classed as one. Instead, it’s a dark, fractured fairy tale in line with its source material (John Collier’s treatment of the “Sleeping Beauty” legend). In the story, the emphasis is on the man who purchases the Beauty. That holds true in Harris’ adaptation as well, but he goes further and deeper than Collier.

At the outset, Robert appears to be a “kept” man. Scarlett seems to be the wealthy benefactor, with Angelica being a recent addition to the family, and it appears that this setup has been in effect for some time. But while some may find this to be a fantasy come true, Robert is dissatisfied. His conversations with Jeff provide him with some distraction, but Jeff’s descent insures that he won’t be around for long.  Robert’s malaise is relieved by Jennifer’s arrival, but only for a short time. At first she enjoys the company and the game-playing, but it ends up in further dissatisfaction.PryorEtiquette Pictures, the uptown division sub-label of Vinegar Syndrome, made Loving their debut release in a Blu-Ray/DVD package in Summer 2015.  Done in a 2K restoration from the original negative, this is the best Loving has looked in any of its prior home video releases. Numerous extras are included, such as a commentary with writer/director Harris, a featurette on the making of the film, one on cinematographer Mario Tosi (Carrie, The Stunt Man), and outtakes featuring actress Millie Perkins, whose role was cut from the finished film.

Writer/director James B. Harris was ‘s producing partner for his early films The Killing, Paths of Glory and Lolita.

LIST CANDIDATE: LOST RIVER (2014)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Saiorse Ronan, Matt Smith, Ben Mendlesohn, , Reda Kateb,

PLOT: An urban fantasy/fairy tale set in an unspecified city in decline (which looks a lot like Detroit) where single mom Billy and her sons Frankie and Bones attempt to keep their home despite all obstacles and enemies: for Billy, a bank manager/underground club impresario, and for Bones, the neighborhood gang kingpin, Bully.

Lost River (2014)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Gosling calls Lost River (originally titled How to Catch a Monster) a dark fairy tale, inspired by both the 80’s fantasy films he watched growing up and by a stay in Detroit while acting in The Ides of March. It’s a very unorthodox melding, like lo-fi magic realism set against a documentary background. Some might feel it exploitative, which could account for the polarized reaction the film received.

COMMENTS I guess it’s a gauge of where we’re at in film culture when something like Lost River can arise from sunken depths to befuddle everyone. People were expecting a disaster of epic proportion, judging from its reception at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the outright hostile reviews during its very brief theatrical run/VOD in the U.S. From that reaction, one would think that Lost River would be better paired with other recent cult “darlings” like The Room or Birdemic.

lost-river-film-ryan-gosling-700x425Happily, Lost River is nowhere near those icons of ineptitude, which makes the reaction to it even more of a curiosity.  Critics seemed to take it personally that a Hollywood Star would actually choose to make his directorial debut an artistic endeavor rather than some flashy franchise production. It is evident that Gosling isn’t at all shy about his influences—he was paying close attention while he was working with and —but I would think that would be something to be encouraged by, rather than excoriated.

Apparently surrealism and dream imagery are only to be attempted when the director is a less well-known name. Either that, or most reviewers felt very uncomfortable with the approach in conjunction with the Detroit setting. There are several scenes with non-actors which briefly push the tone into docudrama, which is completely jarring with the “urban fairy tale” atmosphere Gosling is attempting to create.

lost river artGosling’s direction is very assured, aided by the lensing of Benoit Debie (Enter the Void) and the music of Johnny Jewel, which provide the proper atmosphere. Performances are pretty good all around: Hendricks, DeCaestecker and Ronan are fine, though it’s mainly the supporting characters that make an impression, such as Mendes, Mendlesohn and especially Matt Smith’s villainous turn, which is as far away from his Doctor Who as possible. One caveat: it seems a waste to get Barbara Steele and give her nothing to do. She’s more of a presence than a full character.

Whatever you might think of Lost River, I highly encourage you to search it out and make up your own mind.

Available on Blu-Ray and DVD with no additional features.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Indulgent and movie-like, Lost River is Gosling’s weird, let’s-do-this-thing folly.”–Brad Wheeler, The Globe and Mail (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Roy Andersson

FEATURING: Holger Andersson, Nisse Vestblom

PLOT: As series of absurdist sketches linked by a few recurring characters, including most prominently a pair of joyless novelty salesmen peddling plastic vampire fangs and other trinkets.

Still from A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It might make the List for completeness’ sake, since the two previous entries in Roy Andersson “trilogy about being a human being”—Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living—were both easy Certified Weird choices. I must aver that I do find this the weakest of the three “human being” films, however.

COMMENTS: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a perfect title for a Roy Andersson film, evoking the concepts of detachment, alienness, and existential contemplation that mark the Swede’s strange ruminations on the human condition. In typically skewed Andersson fashion, the pigeon in question inhabits a poem, a poem which a shy elementary school girl does not quite recite in front of an assembly, but which is nonetheless, we are assured, a beautiful poem. Andersson’s sketches are hard to describe to an outsider—they are absurd, yes, and bone dry—but once you see one you immediately recognize the style. You also immediately intuit the elliptical points Andersson makes about human behavior. Life is funny and futile, strange and mundane. Social interactions are a minefield of potential embarrassments, but also full of arbitrary rules that impede our ability to connect with each other. A man drops dead in the lunchline: who will take his beer and shrimp sandwich? He paid before he passed.

Pigeon lacks, I think, the one knockout segment that each of Andersson’s previous features had. The conclusion of Songs from the Second Floor presents a truly terrifying vision of a post-Christian Europe where the dead have been unleashed on the living, while You, the Living contains the young girl’s dream about marrying Mickey Larsson, the most wistful and tender scenario Andersson has ever constructed. Pigeon offers a couple of candidates for a standard-bearing tableau. The first is the sudden appearance of the foppish King Charles XII, who rides into a modern watering hole on horseback, to no one’s especial surprise. While this sequence is pleasantly absurd, the second candidate has more satirical bite. Soldiers load chained Africans into a giant copper cylinder festooned with horns. “I thought of something horrible,” says one of the novelty salesmen, sitting on the edge of his bed in his one room apartment with “Uncle One-Tooth” masks strewn about, in the very next scene. “And I was involved.”

Andersson’s films are a continuum—the same static compositions, the same dour expressions, the same careful conservation of motion and emotion. Odd little awkward playlets played out on endlessly identical sets of gray apartments and glum bars. Due to their vignette structure and constant tone, you could cull the best segments from the three films (perhaps sprinkling in some of Andersson’s shorts) to make a standalone feature that wouldn’t play any differently than the canonical works do. The result would be a masterpiece.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… the best way to enjoy this is not to search for coherence or unity but to just let it wash over you and embrace the weirdness…”–Leslie Felperin, Radio Times (contemporaneous)

217. ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (1960)

“The fact that the film is a failure means nothing. Didn’t God create a failure, too?”–Jonas Mekas on Zazie dans le Metro

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Catherine Demongeot, , Vittorio Caprioli, Carla Marlier, Annie Fratellini, Yvonne Clech, Antoine Roblot, Jacques Dufilho, Hubert Deschamps

PLOT: When 10-year-old Zazie’s mother leaves her in the care of her exotic dancer uncle for the weekend , the only thing the sassy little girl wants to see is the Metro, but it’s closed due to a strike.  So she sneaks out of her uncle’s apartment and encounters a dirty old man, who is also a policeman, among her many adventures. Her weekend ends when the many friends and adversaries she’s accumulated—including a cobbler, an amorous widow, and a polar bear—find themselves involved in a drunken food fight while the worn-out tyke nods off into dreamland.

Still from Zazie dans le Metro (1970)

BACKGROUND:

  • Zazie dans le Metro is based on the hit 1959 comic novel of the same title by Raymond Queneau (a repentant former member of the Surrealist circle). The book relied heavily on wordplay and was widely thought to be unadaptable to film.
  • Although the film generated a small cult in France, Zazie was Louis Malle’s first flop after beginning his career with two hits (Elevator to the Gallows and The Lovers).
  • Some parents were angry at Malle’s film, believing that the sexuality made it inappropriate for children. Zazie originally received an “X” rating (16 and over) from the British Board of Film Classification.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Surely, it must be Zazie’s impish, gap-toothed smile, which she breaks into whenever she imagines growing up to be a schoolteacher who torments her students by making them eat chalk.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Eiffel Tower polar bear; wet dog in a parrot cage; high-heeled six shoe-ter

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As Zazie’s transvestite uncle says, “Paris is a dream, Zazie is a reverie, and all this is a reverie within a dream!” If a mad scientist found a way to cross-breed and , Zazie dans le Metro is the movie the mutant hybrid would direct.


The Criterion Collection’s “3 Reasons” video for Zazie dans le Metro

COMMENTS: There’s nothing in Louis Malle’s oeuvre that’s remotely like Zazie dans le Metro. There’s nothing else in the rest of the Continue reading 217. ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (1960)

209. BLACK MOON (1975)

“I see it as a strange voyage to the limits of the medium, or maybe my own limits.”–Louis Malle on Black Moon

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Cathryn Harrison, Therese Giehse, , Alexandra Stewart

PLOT: A young woman is driving a car during a shooting war between the sexes. Escaping from a checkpoint where male soldiers are executing females, she finds refuge at an old farmhouse inhabited by a batty old woman, a mute brother and sister, a band of nude animal-herding children, and a unicorn. Initially rejected by the chateau’s residents, she gradually finds herself becoming part of this strange alternate society.

Still from Black Moon (1975)
BACKGROUND:

  • Although Louis Malle had dabbled in light surrealism before with the whimsical Zazie dans le Metro (1960), there was nothing in the respected director’s then-recent oeuvre (mostly documentaries and historical pieces like 1974’s Vichy drama Lacombe, Lucien) to prepare his audience for the bizarreness of Black Moon. Sven Nykvist won a Caesar for his cinematography, but the film was mainly a commercial and critical failure, and quickly lapsed from circulation.
  • Black Moon was a transitional work in Malle’s move from France to the USA. He shot the film in France, at his own estate near Cahors, but in the English language, with a British, American and Canadian actor in the cast. After this movie, the director went to America where he scored a series of critical successes with Pretty Baby, Atlantic City and My Dinner with Andre.
  • Joyce Buñuel, Malle’s co-writer, was ‘s daughter-in-law.
  • Therese Giehse, who plays the bedridden woman, died before the movie was released, and Black Moon is dedicated to her. Malle credited her with partly inspiring the idea for Black Moon by suggesting he make a movie without dialogue (although the eventual script did have dialogue, it is sparse and often nonsensical).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Appropriately for a dream-movie, the indelible image is an imaginary one; it’s the transgressive event you see transpiring in your mind’s eye the minute after the film officially ends on a provocative freeze-frame.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Gender genocide; portly unicorn; resurrection by breast milk.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Black Moon concerns a young girl’s flight from an absurd world—where camo-clad men line up female prisoners of war and execute them, while the gas mask-wearing ladies returning the favor to their male captives—into a totally insane one. The movie is an unexpected assay of the irrational from nouvelle vague auteur Louis Malle, and although it’s congenitally uneven, it makes you wonder how wonderful it would have been if every master director had indulged himself by unleashing one unabashedly surreal film on the world.


Original trailer for Black Moon

COMMENTS: A frayed fairy tale set in no time or place in particular, Continue reading 209. BLACK MOON (1975)

LIST CANDIDATE: COME AND SEE (1985)

Idi i Smotri

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Elem Klimov

FEATURING: Aleksey Kravechenko, Olga Mironova, Liubomiras Lauciavicius, Jüri Lumiste

PLOT: A teenage boy loses his innocence when he joins partisans fighting against the Nazis in 1943 Belarus.

Still from Come and See
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Although in a number of ways Come and See is a conventional war movie, its unremitting bleakness, violent interruptions, and dream-like passages make it transcend the mold.

COMMENTS: The difficulty in writing about this movie is apparent from the title. The sights and sounds of Come and See carry the movie, and much of the narrative is embedded in the grimy and beautiful imagery. Although the string of events is fairly straightforward, our sense of time is thrown to the wind. Everything happens over the course of a few days, but the young protagonist, at the same time, ages decades from his experiences. I have not seen a  more harrowing war movie, nor would I really care to.

Come and See tells the story of a young man who is eager to join the local partisans who are charged with causing havoc with the occupying German forces. The opening shot is of the back of an older man’s head as he looks over a sandy field. “Hey, are you crazy?” he asks an unseen character, “What do you think you’re doing? Playing a game?” Soon after issuing some nebulous warnings, we find the man’s son, Florya, with a friend. They are looking for a rifle, as that is the requirement to join the partisans. They scour filled-in trenches, hoping to find a ticket into the group. An odd shot shows young Florya seemingly making love to the ground, his arms buried deep. He makes a climatic grunt and rises, holding in his hands a muck coated SVT-40 rifle. In this quasi-sexual act, he takes his first step in becoming a man.

Much to his mother’s distress, the partisans take him in. Thus begins a recurring series of close-up faces. Time and again, Klimov relies on the actors’ faces to convey the mood of the scene; sometimes full of wonder, sometimes eager, often tragic. He juxtaposes the mother’s anguished face at the news of her son’s enlistment with the happy grin of the boy who finally feels he has grown up. He meets with the partisans and seems to be accepted, even posing in a large group photo of the squad, taken by an enthusiastic Soviet sporting a jokey Hitler-mustache.

Shortly thereafter, when he is left behind by the militia, he cannot control his tears, until he finds Glasha, a girl around his age. Together they have an innocent encounter, set in a lush wet forest. This invocation of Eden is quickly cut off by a warplane. Bombs soon drop, along with paratroopers. Eden is destroyed—to be found again in a dreamlike sequence that starts off the next morning.

After that point, Come and See allows the viewer no hope of beauty. Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: COME AND SEE (1985)

LIST CANDIDATE: LA BELLE CAPTIVE (1983)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Daniel Mesguich, Gabrielle Lazure, Cyrielle Clair, François Chaumette,

PLOT: A man who works for a mysterious organization meets an alluring woman who may be a vampire, or a ghost, or a dream.

Still from La Belle Captive (1983)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: La Belle Captive is about as weird as they come. We already have two Alain Robbe-Grillet movies on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made, however; Eden and After (which is, believe it or not, even weirder than this one) and L’Immortelle (not as weird, but hypnotically unforgettable), and more are under consideration. Robbe-Grillet is a great, and greatly under-appreciated, Surrealist filmmaker, but we do wonder whether we want to push other movies out of the way to make room for yet another from a director who is already well-represented.

COMMENTS: La Belle Captive is titled after a painting by Belgian Surrealist Rene Margritte. Although there are strange figures on the canvas, a stone and a French horn on fire, the key part of the image is an easel that’s set up in front of a beach landscape. From viewing the painting you cannot be sure if it’s an expertly painted scene that matches the background perfectly, or if it’s an empty frame that acts like a window. The key is that the painting points out its own artifice, a frame inside a frame, with reality clearly lying elsewhere. (Variations on Margritte’s canvas recur throughout the film, including an actual painting which is titled “La Belle Captive, apres Rene Margritte”). Robbe-Grillet frames his story as a dream, but is it really a dream within a dream, or are we merely expected to appreciate what he has captured, and not bother with sorting the reality from the beauty of its expression? Surely the latter is the intent, though no doubt many will find pleasure in “making sense” of the contorted storyline.

Protagonist Walter works for a mysterious organization, taking his orders from Sara, a cycle-riding leather goddess. At a nightclub Walter sees a fetching blonde; he dances with her, but she will not tell him her name or phone number, and disappears when his back is turned. Later that night Walter receives a commission from Sara to deliver a letter to a senator, but as he is driving to his rendezvous he sees a woman lying crumpled, handcuffed and bloody in the road. Who should it be but, naturally, the enchantress who left him at the nightclub? She is conscious but unable to speak, and he helps her into her car and drives to a nearby chateau seeking help. The gentlemen there are at some kind of party and, to his horror, seem to believe he has come offering the half-comatose girl as a sexual plaything. They give the girl a drink, which appears to be blood in a martini glass. Finally, a man comes downstairs announcing he is a doctor and that he will treat the girl; he takes Walter and the woman to a room and, instead of examining her, locks them both inside. The captive frees herself from her handcuffs and makes love to Walter, ending their coupling by biting him on the neck. In the morning Walter wakes up to an empty house, and spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out what has happened to him. Was the woman the ghost of a local suicide who haunts these roads searching for men to corrupt? Was she actually the young fiancee of the man to whom he was supposed to deliver the letter, and is Walter being set up? And what of the bald, weasel-faced detective (the distinctive Daniel Emilfork, whom many will remember as the dream-stealing mad scientist from The City of Lost Children) who keeps running into Walter, slyly insinuating that he is responsible for girl’s disappearance? Rest assured that no firm answers to these mysteries will be forthcoming by the end of the film.

The theme of the mysterious woman who appears in numerous guises but is never obtained or even fully comprehended by her male admirer is one of Robbe-Grillet’s favorites. His male protagonists are often solid, even dangerous men who find themselves humbled, grasping at a slippery feminine that always squirms out of their grasp. The utter unknowability of the beloved engenders obsession in his characters. In La Belle Captive, Robbe-Grillet explicitly aligns himself with the Surrealists (in case there was ever any doubt) by referencing the works of Margritte. Beauty, love and art cannot be possessed; the joy is in the hunt, and the best we can ever do is to freeze captivating moments of our experience, like a frame set in front of the churning sea.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A ripe, hallucinogenic field theory…”–Fernando Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

197. VAMPYR (1932)

Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey; Castle of Doom (alternate English version)

“I just wanted to make a film different from all other films. I wanted, if you will, to break new ground for the cinema. That is all. And do you think this intention has succeeded? Yes, I have broken new ground.”–Carl Theodore Dreyer on Vampyr

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Julian West, Jan Hieronimko, Rena Mandel, Sybille Schmitz

PLOT: Allen Gray, a student of the occult, wanders to the small hamlet of Courtempierre. There, he witnesses ghostly visions and meets an old man who is soon killed by an assassin’s bullet. The man’s sickly daughter lies in bed, her blood drained by a vampire, and Gray takes it upon himself to find the source of the contagion.

Still from Vampyr (1932)
BACKGROUND:

  • The story was inspired by tales from Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 Gothic short story collection “In a Glass Darkly,” the most important of which is “Carmilla” (a vampire tale with lesbian undertones).
  • Vampyr was produced in three versions: one with the cast speaking English, one in French, and one in German. Complete prints of the English and French versions no longer exist, although parts were used in restoring the German version. Some say the English version was never completed. Filming the same script in multiple languages was a trend at the time—see also the Spanish-language version of Dracula—although this practice was soon abandoned as too costly.
  • Star “Julian West” is actually Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, who funded the production in exchange for the leading role. Gunzburg used a pseudonym to avoid the embarrassment that would result from having an actor in his Russian expatriate noble family.
  • Vampyr was shot through a layer of gauze positioned in front of the camera to create the soft, dreamlike visuals.
  • The film was booed at its premiere in Berlin, and in Vienna crowds rioted, demanding their money back. Vampyr lost money and at the time was seen as an embarrassment in its distinguished director’s career, although now it is regarded with near universal acclaim.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The translucent astral body of our protagonist, peering down at his doppelganger as it lies in a coffin.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A nearly irrational, mood-based horror gem with imagery that verges on the surreal, Vampyr is a grim and restless death parable made in the brief age when the melodramatic structures of silent films were slowly being fleshed out with the new colors and textures afforded by sound. This experiment in terror by a master filmmaker, made in a unique period that cannot be recreated, is an artifact of its time that paradoxically seems all the more universal because of the age-bound specificity of its style.


Clip from Vampyr (1932)

COMMENTS: “It was an eerie moonlit night. Lights and shadows, Continue reading 197. VAMPYR (1932)