Apr. 21st, 2014 06:19 pm
peterbirks: (Default)
I seemed to have a bit of an upset constitution last night, brought on by eating a couple of slices of honey on toast. "Cripes, I thought, can my body no longer cope with any kind of fast carbohydrate?" A broken night's sleep and occasional vomiting ensued
Anyway, the net result of that was that I lay in bed until 8.45am, despite having gone to bed at 10.30pm the previous night. I woke up with no appetite and with a headache, as well as feeling a bit sick.

That was a good excuse to do fuck all, for the first time this break.

I flopped onto the sofa and I watched "Vampyr", the first talkie directed (and produced) by Carl Th. Dreyer, which arrived from Lovefilm a few days ago.

In fact I watched it twice, once with an excellent commentary from a guy from the BFI. Dreyer's take on the Dracula theme is perhaps one of the oddest films made in the 1930s. One of the real oddities is that the "star" , one Julian West, was actually Nicolas de Gunzburg, whom you can look up on Wikipedia here:

 photo de_Gunzberg.jpg

Not many people can have fewer than 20 mourners at their funeral, of whom two were as significant as Bill Blass and Calvin Klein. But that was how influential de Gunzberg was in terms of style.

"Vampyr - Der Traum des Allan Grey" was Dreyer's first film since Joan of Arc in 1928. That, as not many people remember now, was a financial flop. So he had to go outside the studio system to get the financing for Vampyr. Enter de Gunzberg, who agreed to help finance it if he could take the lead role.

The film is more French than German or Danish. Dreyer was influenced by the Expressionists such as FW Murnau (although he claimed that he did not like Nosferatu) but this film is closer in metier to the works of Cocteau and Bunuel (L'Age d'or and Un Chien Andalou spring immediately to mind). It has also quite clearly influenced Kubrick in the filming of The Shining (a point that I have not seen mentioned anywhere else). That, or Kubrick came to the same conclusions independently on how to "disconcert" the viewer.

 photo giselle.jpg

I refer of course to the "impossible" layout of the hotel, the deliberate breaks in continuity. Dreyer does the same here, although less blatantly. We see the Doctor upstairs, but then we see him climbing the stairs. It's impossible to put together a "map" of the inn in one's head. This was radical stuff for 1930. Dreyer quite deliberately wants to keep the viewer off balance. Unfortunately for Dreyer the audience wasn't as keen on being kept off balance as he was on making them so. The film flopped. Dreyer, as producer, took the inevitable hit -- he also had a nervous breakdown -- and would not direct another film for 12 years.

Which is all very sad, because this really is a great movie, certainly one that deserves to be up there with the Bunuel/Cocteau/Dali classics in terms of public recognition. Dreyer plays with narrative in a way which would seem brave even today. Indeed, and this is one of the many oddities, the only time that the narrative becomes internally consistent in terms of cutaways and scene-splicing is when the lead character is having a dream -- the reverse of what one might expect.

 photo Dreyer.jpg

I've now seen five of Dreyer's 14 or so films. I have no idea how many of the other nine survive. I am sure that the 1943 Day of Wrath still exists, and I hope that at least a couple of his early silent stuff can be found on DVD. Vampyr was not restored until 2008.

 photo Vampyr.jpg

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