Sunday, October 4, 2009


The Dryden is a Rochester theatre connected to the George Eastman House. This institution is devoted to showing older films on the big screen, and they often have retrospectives with various themes. Leading up to Halloween, they are hosting a number of vampire films. These range from silent to contemporary ones, like Let the Right One In. Although many of them are at totally inconvenient times for me, I vowed that I would make it to at least one, which I did. I hope to go to a few more, at least. I'm dying to see Nosferatu, for instance. We'll see if I can accomplish that.

Carl Dreyer's Vampyr is totally beautiful. Parts of it don't make much sense, and at times during my viewing, the (minimal) sound was off from the picture, but neither of these things distracted much from the experience. Although it is a talkie, Vampyr retains the feeling of a silent film. None of the dialogue is necessary; the story is told almost entirely out of the imagery and camera work. Dreyer makes every frame count. Through most of the first half of this hour-long film, David Gray** is literally chasing shadows, and the shadows always precede that which casts them, if we are ever privy to the source at all. Gray wanders through an ethereal dream gauze, encountering countless unsettling images-- a peg-legged man, a man with a scythe. The vampire herself hobbles on a cane, making her movements even odder. Dreyer seems to have a fascination with bodily extensions, or extraneous objects that become part of the figures who carry them.

The camera seems to take on a life of its own, at times. It will follow normally, only to veer off on its own trajectory before snapping back abruptly. In several places it does so, only to catch the characters off guard. In one scene, the camera pans from Gray (who has just come up through a door in the floor) across a trail of cut-up paper, before sliding back around to Gray who is just slipping out the door on the other side of the room. The camera-eye is not omniscient, and neither is it Gray's perspective. It seems to be something else entirely.

My favorite scene is when Leone (Sybille Schmitz) gets bitten by the vampire. Her transformation is signified by a look of psychotic possession. In some moments, her new found blood lust borders on the erotic, which is interesting, since all the vampires in this film are women. The vampire, or the Old Woman from the Cemetery (Henriette Gerard), apparently obtained this condition by being sinful in some way. I could only assume this had to do with extramarital relations or something of that nature. In this universe, the fallen woman takes on a new meaning, and vampirism might be the manifestation of some fear of feminine sexuality.

Then, in the final sequence, the evil doctor accomplice (Jan Hieronimko) experiences death by flour suffocation--a scene which is inter-cut with the escape of David Gray and Gisele, Leone's sister (Rena Mandel). Every time the camera returns to him, he is more covered until only his hands remain, grasping the cage.

Seeing this on a big screen with a relatively small audience of like-minded nerds was a great experience, and one I hope to relive soon. It is great, for once, to see older movies the way they were meant to be seen, and not on my television or computer screen.

** okay, there is some discrepancy here. Some films feature Allan Grey as the protagonist, while mine was David Gray. Also, I think the actor who was credited in the role is not the one who inevitably ended up starring in it, so I will avoid crediting him myself until I figure that one out.

The pictures are from Criterion and

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