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6. Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey (1932), dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer

Vampira
I saw this last Sunday evening with ms_siobhan and a bonus unexpected maviscruet. It was put on in a venue I haven't been to before - the Left Bank on Cardigan Road, Leeds, which is a formerly-disused church, now taken over as a community arts venue and in the process of being restored. So far, the roof has been repaired and the place cleaned up, but the budget hasn't yet stretched as far as installing any heating. So the place was completely freezing!

But that was OK. We'd been warned as much on the tickets, so turned up bundled in nice thick coats and hats, purchased hot steaming cups of coffee from the bar in one corner, and sat huddled over our drinks and watching our breath turn to mist. Somehow, given the type of film we were watching, it was all part of the experience and part of the fun. Meanwhile, the seating had been arranged at round cabaret-style tables with tea-lights in stained-glass holders flickering on each one, and once the lights were turned down we were surrounded by ghostly Gothic arches stretching out emptily around us - and somehow the slight desire to shiver, combined with all of that, really added to the atmosphere.

The film itself was played in a silent format, although actually Wikipedia tells me that it originally also had some spoken dialogue, almost bridging the gulf between silent films and talkies. That would explain something which we found confusing on the night, which was why in some places there were modern on-screen English subtitles, but no sign of any intertitles or other means to help the original audience understand what was being said. It wasn't that intertitles had been removed (the best explanation we could come up with at the time), but that there had actually been audible dialogue there in the original film - which makes sense, really, given the release date.

In place of the original soundtrack, though, we were instead treated to a performance of an original live musical soundtrack composed for the film especially by Steven Severin, the original bassist from Siouxsie and the Banshees. His soundtrack was performed via an electronic toolkit - laptop, mixer, etc. - but included things like strings, bells and banjoes as well as synthesised sounds, as and when appropriate to the events unfolding on screen. Obviously, as a soundtrack its function was to support and enhance the film, rather than distract attention away from it, but I thought it did that very well, adding yet more appropriately-atmospheric spookiness on top of the experience of watching a vampire film in a dark, cavernous, wintry-cold church.

As for the film itself, I had seen about the first ten minutes of it once before, but not the whole thing - a shameful oversight, given how much I love and actively seek out vampire films wherever possible. So it was great to just have the chance to remedy that at long last. I could see lots of small, iconic touches in it which crop up in many a later vampire film, too - like the young man arriving at the door of the inn, finding it locked, and being greeted instead by a woman peering out of an upstairs dormer window (e.g. Scars of Dracula (1970)), or the older, wiser man dying, and passing on the task of protecting his young female charge from vampires to an inexperienced paramour (e.g. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)). It's nice to have a better sense now of where some of those first originated.

The story itself is surreal, including things like an extended dream-sequence, and indeed many other events which are generally dream-like in quality. In fact, it seems to bridge different worlds in a number of ways - the worlds of waking and dreaming, of silent and talking pictures (as I've said above), of the modern, urbane world represented by its dapper young hero and the simple rural village where he finds himself, and of the German-speaking and French-speaking communities who apparently inhabit the village where it is set side by side, so that written signs appear in both languages, and the characters have names from both cultures. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and indeed comes across more as a series of vignettes than a coherent story as such. But that, I would say, is its charm.

Talking of charm, ms_siobhan and I couldn't help but emerge afterwards swooning and sighing over the film's tall, dark, handsome and extremely smartly be-suited male star, Nicolas de Gunzburg (credited as Julian West). Sadly, this was the only film he ever made, so we are denied the chance of further dreamy gazing at his three-piece suit and slicked-back hair, but he certainly provides value for money in his sole cinematic outing. The young lady whom he (somewhat haphazardly) saves was amazingly balletic too, both in her costume and in her movements - a quality which I also remember noticing in near-contemporary silent film Metropolis. Again according to Wikipedia, the cast mainly consisted of non-professional actors (apparently including Einstein and the First Doctor!), but given that the atmosphere of the film called for quite mannered performances anyway, this wasn't something which particularly stood out to me while watching it.

All in all, a beautifully atmospheric film, seen in circumstances which really set it off to its best effect. Very glad to be able to tick off yet another entry in the 'Vampires' chapter of my favourite horror film encyclopedia. :-)

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
kantti
Mar. 9th, 2012 06:36 am (UTC)
Gosh, that sounds like a lovely evening!
ms_siobhan
Mar. 9th, 2012 08:51 am (UTC)
I found the last few 'teeth and lips' in my coat pocket yesterday morning = win :-)

Plus my dvd of Vampyr has arrived - complete with original soundtrack and commemorative booklet.
danieldwilliam
Mar. 9th, 2012 09:10 am (UTC)
I don't think I've said before how much I enjoy your reviews of things.

I'm not a great lover of vampire films but it's lovely to read someone write about something *they* really enjoy and know about and something that I'm unsighted on.
maviscruet
Mar. 9th, 2012 05:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the explanation about the subtitles - I was puzzeled....

This is sad - but y favourie momment was when there was a close up a hat and the words 'what is this?' appeared on the screen to dramatic music. I mouthed 'its a hat' - and looked left to see one of my friends doing exactly the same thing.

Nice to catch up - but lord was it cold. I swear I was warmer at the bus stop......
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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