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By the mid-1940s, Bram Stoker’s vampire seemed as hokey, outdated, and timid as his penny dreadful precursor “Varney the Vampire.”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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CHAPLIN’S THE KID (1921)

The Kid (1921) was ‘s first and most autobiographical feature film. Produced for First National, it fulfilled his ambition to move beyond shorts. Critics immediately hailed it as a masterpiece, but its reputation has since suffered due to its many flaws. Of course, no work of art is flawless and the film’s status remains intact. It is, in many ways, a synthesis of Chaplin’s previous work and the work which followed. Chaplin began filming shortly after losing his infant son with first child bride, Mildred Harris. The Kid is, in part, a fantasy about what might have been, which Chaplin wedded to his own bitter childhood memories. The film was also a blueprint for Chaplin’s work process. He took his time filming, much to the chagrin of the studio, who applied considerable pressure on him to speed up the process.

It opens with  as a (single) woman “whose sin was motherhood.” Chaplin, who was himself illegitimate, edits the image of the suffering woman with a shot of Christ carrying the cross. This is visual storytelling, of course, so Chaplin’s not done with the manipulation yet. Our Scarlet Letter-styled heroine sees a couple coming out of a church. The bride, looking shell shocked, is all of about 16 years old. She drops a withered flower, symbolizing her loss of virginity. Her groom emerges, a white-bearded man who is at least 70. The minister and congregation bless the wedding. Edna, empathizing with the bride from afar, is accentuated with a halo round her head as she holds her bastard son. Within a few seconds, Chaplin takes his big swipe at hypocritical American piety, puritanism, and organized religion.

Edna sees an open limousine, darts in through its door (a device he reworked in 1931′s City Lights) and dumps her shame in the back seat, with a letter: “please love and care for this orphan child.”

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ST.LUIS

Moving pictures merely repeat what we have been told for centuries by novels and plays. Thus, a marvelous instrument for the expression of poetry and dreams (the subconscious world) is reduced to the role of simple REPEATER of stories expressed by other art forms”-Luis Buñuel.

Simon of the Desert (1965) was Buñuel’s final Mexican film before moving to France. His Mexican period is often considered a repository of “anti-religious” films, although a more apt description might be “anti-ecclesiastical.” This 45-minute pilgrimage is an incomplete work (due to haphazard funding), but even in its truncated state, it is a shockingly substantial work.

The ascetic fifteenth century Saint Simon Stylites (Claudio Brook) has spent his life atop a pillar in order to get closer to God. A wealthy patron has an even larger pillar built for the holy man and so, after six years, six months, and six days, Simon, reluctantly, comes down from atop his ivory tower, albeit briefly, to “move up” in the world. Detached irony abounds. As in Nazarin, Buñuel presents a religious figure as a fool, but a stubbornly determined fool to be identified with and admired, with detachment.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote an amusing observation about Christ and the Lazarus story. In his take on the narrative, Vonnegut imagined that, Lazarus’ resurrection, it was the recent corpse, not Christ, who became the celebrity with the crowd. Leave it for the masses to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time. But, what Vonnegut was expressing was the inevitable chasm between prophet and audience.

Buñuel also emphasizes contrasts. Simon’s audience does not desire holiness. They crave tinseled parody only because they do not know the difference. A handless man is resorted and immediately begins using his hand to slap an inquisitive child. Bunuel’s integrity and convictions astutely critique, not the faith itself, but the contemporary adherents to the faith, who, with their short attention spans, pedestrian tastes, poverties of intelligence and of aesthetics, are rendered consumers of spectacle as sacrament. Bunuel’s shift from the religious to the bourgeoisie was a natural development, seen flowering here.

The devil is, naturally, a woman, and Silvia Pinal agreeably fleshes her out. She takes turns as a Catholic school girl, an androgynous messiah who performs a Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction for the unfazed celibate, and finally as a mini-skirted Peter Pan, whisking Saint Wendy away from his Tower of Babel to a modern discotheque.

As with all of late Bunuel, he is no mere repeater of old narratives here. As St. Luis (and only a seasoned saint could be this irreverent), he spins a new parable, one that is organically textured and startling in its improvised finale. Bunuel was no hypocrite, and the unexpected loss of cash flow inspired a quixotic bleakness and an unequaled sense of purpose.

IAN PYPER’S ART OF RELENTLESS COMMUNICATION

A majority of the interviews/articles/reviews re: Ian Pyper make a point to state that Mr. Pyper is a tad on the laconic side. I have been in communiqué with the artist on numerous occasions and have never found him wanting for dialogue. No, he doesn’t ramble as much as I do, but then why does he need to? Ian Pyper’s  quite prolific art speaks for him and that art is one of relentless communication.

In this , Ian is a kindred spirit in the realm of outsider art, brut , visionary ,  fringe , primitive, or whatever term one wishes to apply in the those (often) tiresome blanks.  Regardless of what term one applies, Ian Pyper simply has a voice all his own.

Ian and other unconventional artists have been taking the art world by storm over the last few years and there is a reason for that.   The academic art school route has gone stale, becoming decorative and/or hopelessly commercial, appeasing to either dishonest aesthetics or consumerism.  Ian, and like-minded artists have defiantly grinded the  “steamroller blues”, utilizing their unique voices:  gallery themes, and marketing strategies be damned.

Ian Pyper’s work is certainly open to various interpretations. For me, his work bespeaks a visual world that blows in from the winds of the most ancient of ancients, and flows outward to a delightfully strange, ambiguous , music-filled future. Pyper world is one that is kin to the Italian Futurists , the surreal beatniks, post-serial music, and two-fisted, post-modern spirituality. Clearly, this is an intensely personal vision which, wisely, Ian does not spell out for the viewer , but his  world-view optimism seeps through all his idiosyncratic images of aliens, cave creatures, Grand Inquisitors, absurd two-headed saints, crucifixions, icons, God angels,  God’s eye, God’s hand, primitive masks, death heads, pyramids, fish, birds, scorpions, the wild west, tanks, apocalyptic aeroplanes, helicopters, spaceships, scenes of intergalactic wars, totem poles, and the Holy Trinity as you never saw it depicted in church.

I can’t quite put my finger on Ian Pyper , and I prefer it that way. However, I did notice that before I had sat down to write this,  I had just revisited Palazzeschi’s “Man of Smoke”, and Morton Subotnick’s electronic (and fun) bleepy composition,  “Silvery Apples of the Moon.” Initially, it was a subliminal connection, but after revisiting Ian’s work I realized I had just left these similar worlds before crossing into his. It was a good, familiar feeling.