GUY MADDIN’S DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY (2002)

DRACULA PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY (2002, Guy Maddin)

“Dracula” is a very old story. The first (and probably best) cinematic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s tale was F.W Murnau‘s Nosferatu (1922) with Max Schreck. Under Tod Browning‘s direction, Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi personified Hollywood’s vision of the character in Dracula (1931). George Melford made what has become known as the “Spanish” Dracula (1931), which was more fluid than Browning’s version, but saddled with an absurdly inept vampire in Carlos Villarías. Lon Chaney Jr., as Alucard (spell it backward), a Count who needs to watch his carbs, seemed to have effectively staked the character for good in Son Of Dracula (1943). However, John Carradine made Dracula as a supporting character in the mediocre monster mash, House of Frankenstein (1944) and the even worse House of Dracula (1945).

DRACULA PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY (2002, Guy Maddin)

By the mid-1940s, Bram Stoker’s vampire seemed as hokey, outdated, and timid as his penny dreadful precursor “Varney the Vampire.” The genuine horrors of the Second World War, Fascism, and death camps rendered a nightly bloodsucker toothless. Dracula (Lugosi for the second and last time) was resurrected, for laughs, in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), which by then seemed apt. Since then, celluloid incarnations of Dracula resurface with occasional, albeit brief vitality.

DRACULA PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY (2002, Guy Maddin)

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MAYA DEREN’S AT LAND (1944)

Maya Deren At Land

Maya Deren’s At Land (1944) opens with a scene of fearsome waves crashing against a desolate shore. It could almost be described as Debussian, save for the unsettling dead and total silence that continues, unabated, throughout the film.

Maya Deren At Land (mermaid)Maya Deren %22At Land%22 still image

The exotic Deren appears, emerging from a sleep, like a mermaid spit ashore from the crashing waves.

Maya Deren %22At Land%22 1944Maya climbing

Deren begins slowly climbing a massive, twisted, dead tree trunk; the figure of Deren/Eros embarking on her great existential journey.

Maya Deren %22At Land%22

The nymph (her face adorned with child-like innocence) slithers on her stomach across a dining room table, populated with faceless corporates. They do not take notice of her, preoccupied with idle chatter and many cigarettes. Her eyes focus on a solitary figure, playing chess at the table’s end. By the time she reaches that end (there are brief, repeated, struggled, exploratory diversions through a mass of shrubbery) she finds the player has just left and, as she gazes at the board, the rest of the room’s occupants are also leaving.

Maya Deren At Land climbing

Telekinetically, she moves the chess pieces, until the pawn (one of eight) falls through a hole in the table. She attempts to retrieve it and finds herself back on the shore, then on a country road, walking and talking with a young man (represented by five different men).

Maya Deren At Land (emerging)

She cannot keep up with the man and he leaves her behind as he disappears into a cabin, shutting the foreboding door behind him.

Maya rock

Determined not to be abandoned, she crawls under the log cabin but emerges in a contemporary, nearly abandoned home, laden with furniture, covered in white sheets.

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BILL MORRISON’S LIGHT IS CALLING (2004) AND JUST ANCIENT LOOPS (2012)

’s Light Is Calling (2004) opened the prestigious 2013 Orphans Midwest Film Symposium at Indiana University, setting an avant-garde tone for the event.

Morrison’s credentials as a experimental filmmaker are considerable, having received widespread critical recognition for the feature Decasia (2002). Morrison’s collages are composed and juxtaposed to music, often by his frequent collaborator composer, Michael Gordon. This technique, combined with Morrison’s obsessive use of decaying silent film and newsreel footage, makes him one of the most startling, original homegrown artists since New Englander Charles “take your dissonance like a man” Ives. Comparing this twenty first century filmmaker to an early twentieth century composer is not as fanciful as might be first imagined, since inherent musicality abides in both, as does a shared aesthetic of deconstructionist Americana.

Light Is Calling will be shown Thursday night at 830 pm. It is part of an evening of film and music, which will includeJust Ancient Loops (2012) and the world premiere of Morrison’s All Vows (2013). Israeli American cellist and Bang On A Can founding member Maya Beiser will supply live musical accompaniment. (Beiser’s reputation for collaborating with composers such as Louis Andriessen, Steve Reich, and Brian Eno may prove to be refreshing in a city whose symphony rarely defines progressive art-music beyond the nineteenth century).

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BILL MORRISON’S SPARK OF BEING (2010)

Spark of Being can be watched in its entirety for free on IMDB.

Spark of Being (2010) is an example of an artist resisting an aesthetic anchor. ‘s films are often categorized as non-narrative and experimental, so the idea of this artist tackling such a perennial chestnut such as “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus” leads us to wonder exactly how he is going to deconstruct such a familiar narrative. Throwing out all preconceived assumptions, Morrison pays homage to Mary Shelly and makes her Gothic creation fresh again with a startlingly literal interpretation. Indeed, Spark of Being may be one of the most faithful cinematic adaptations of the book to date.

Using found footage, Morrison teams with jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas and his electric sextet, Keystone, to illustrate Shelly’s tale. Douglas is an eclectic trumpeter who once worked as a sideman with the John Zorn ensemble Masada. With an original score that is simultaneously mercurial and animated, it is hard to imagine a more perfect composer forSpark of Being. 

Still from Spark of Being (2010)A frequent (and sometimes justifiable) criticism in films this textured is that the style becomes so all-important the end result is a viewer deprived of a heart to identify with. In short, often, a human element is missing. Morrison has referred to this film itself as “the Creature,” and given the agonized condition of footage chosen, Morrison’s creature may be the most pathos-laden performance of the character since . One can only imagine the painstaking process it took in assembling Morrison’s creation into a cogent psyche, imbued with personality as predominant “presence.” A popular comparison might be the collaboration between  and Claude Rains in producing a personality-driven Invisible Man (1933), but Morrison’s approach is more innovative, while still being true to the author’s tenets. Douglas’ music provides an informative touch of flesh stretched over the cranium supplied by archival footage from Ernest Shackleton’s film of an Antarctic expedition. As in the novel, the film opens here in the segment titled “The Captain’s Story.” The viewer steps with the Captain in his interaction with creator and created and the unfolding tragic drama. Continue reading “BILL MORRISON’S SPARK OF BEING (2010)”

BILL MORRISON’S DECASIA (2002)

Bill Morrison composed Decasia (2002) as a decomposing homage to Fantasia (1940). Far from being a pedestrian imitation (i.e. Fantasia 2000), Morrison’s film is an astonishingly unique cinematic experience: a diaphanous visual collage juxtaposed to the music of composer Michael Gordon.

There is a breed of  minimalistic new age composers espousing a play-it-safe spirituality. Gordon is not among them. He is a one of a handful of authentic, spiritually challenging voices in 21st century artmusic. Gordon’s rich use of dissonance and atonal language puts him shoulder to shoulder with the likes of such 20th century artists as Luigi Nono and John Coltrane. Gordon’s “Decasia,” composed for the Basel Sinfonietta, is called a “symphony,” and is a response of sorts for those who (often correctly) believe that the symphony, as an art form, was extended to its death in the works of Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler. Some would argue that Gordon’s opus, a continuous movement utilizing synthesizer and electric guitar together with full orchestra, does not fit the symphonic criteria. But then, neither did Roy Harris’ iconic work. Like Coltrane’s “Ascension,” Decasia is a demanding journey.  Gordon previously came to prominence with his intimately provocative psychological opera “Alarm Will Sound.” Based on Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo regarding the ear lobe cutting incident, it is desolate and suffocatingly beautiful. “Decasia” is a further development of that aesthetic, moving beyond words to the tragedy of silence, making Morrison a quintessential collaborator. Continue reading “BILL MORRISON’S DECASIA (2002)”

Luigi Nono: La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura

While Gidon Kremer’s premier version (below) is more compact, extrovert and focused, the Arditti/Richard version is more open spaced and clear as a bell. This version from Melise Mellinger (violin) and Salvatore Sciarrino (sound projection) is more exploratory. Sciarrino refers to “La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura” as Nono’s diary, containing glimpses of the work’s creation; Sounds of the composer and Kremer talking, juxtaposed against moving furniture, electro-acoustic trains, etc. Sciarrino describes the tape as the music’s soul with the music itself being “discovered” alongside the pre-recorded sounds. Likewise, the performance seems to find itself along the way, taking the listener … Continue reading Luigi Nono: La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura

LUIGI NONO: PROMETEO, TRAGEDIA DELL’ ASCOLTO

Conductor Peter Hirsch, who worked with the composer and Claudio Abbado on the premiere,has thoroughly done his homework in this clear as a bell performance. Not only is the performance itself lucid and attune to the all those essential,subliminal,nuanced details, but the recorded sound is crystalline,ideal. Also,the packaging is handsomely mounted with complete listening score, commentaries,history etc,making this the quintessential recording and preferable to the out of print EMI version . This is by no means a casual listen or something one comes to terms with in a single hearing, but like “La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura”,with repeated exposure,the complexities,immense … Continue reading LUIGI NONO: PROMETEO, TRAGEDIA DELL’ ASCOLTO