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Pages From A Virgin's Diary

     North America is choked with competent feature directors, who can point a camera, move actors about, get a picture done on budget. But where oh where are the visionaries? Our Kieslowski, or Tarkovsky? Someone whose
every buoyant, dizzy frame is a winged migration?

     Well, there's Guy Maddin, for one, the wizard-in-residence of Winnepeg, Canada, and each shot in his oeuvre is sculpted, a starry night of wonder. Totally unique, Maddin is a comic visionary, whose work is as loopy as it is luminous. His warped, dream-fever fables-Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Careful, Heart of the World, etc.-are punctured with Grand Guignol jokes and with bemused homages to German Expressionism and cobwebbed 1930s Universal horrors.

     Have you tuned into Maddin? On release, his peculiar movies were barely seen in the USA, banished to midnight screenings. But his cult status keeps spreading; fans are getting with it, discovering his masterly oeuvre via video.
The Brattle Theatre's June 13-15 whole weekend is given over to Maddin's new, mostly brilliant Dracula:

     Pages from a Virgin's Diary. This project began modestly, as a commissioned assignment, to capture on film a dance performance based on the Bram Stoker novel done by the Royal Winnepeg Ballet. But a Dracula story is prime Maddin material. What rises from the grave and to the screen becomes, at least for two thirds of the picture (the last section loses focus and energy), made-in-Maddin heaven.

     There's ample ballet, much of it well-turned, as the Royal Winnepeg choreography is complemented by Maddin's swing-through-the air, supple cinematography. I especially like the fearsome dance, when Lucy (Tara Birtwhistle) roars out of her grave, an undead refusing the stake to her heart; also Lucy's sensual pas de deux with her attentive vampire-master, Dracula (Zhang Wei-Qiang); also the amazing moment when Dr. Van Helsing (David Moroni) unwraps a scarf around Lucy's neck, and she leaps forward, a brazen, bitten victim.

     "Vampyr!" Van Helsing declares, via title card.

     What does a girl want? According to Maddin, it's to go down for the Count, to have Dracula pin your body and sink his notorious canines into your waiting swan-flesh. Maddin's revisionist Stoker is unabashedly pro-Dracula. The Count's a red-eyed, back-door man in high heat, giving the girls what the other guys won't, or can't. Here, lustful Lucy is pursued by three twit suitors, secondary dancers who flit about her but never, never go for the jugular. And poor, love-starved Mina (Cindymarie Small) is given the shivery shoulder by her fiance, Jonathan Harker (Johnny Wright), who definitely wants to save it for after the marriage: presumably, he's the unnamed virgin of the movie's title.

     Maddin's POV starts early, with gothic-lettered tabloid headlines warning of Immigrants! The Other! From Other Lands! From the East! The male dance ensemble are all pale Canadians, except for the princely Chinese portraying Dracula. Is Maddin, a multiculturalist, taking note of an increasing conservativism and isolationism among long-settled Canucks? Zhang Wei-Qiang's Dracula takes on a perverse relevance with the film's release in Spring 2003. He's the Yellow Peril personified, coinciding with the pestilence of SARS brought to the Great White North by Asian carriers.

     Less heavy: the filmmaker's stamp is located in the featuring in many humorous scenes of the 100% non-dancing "Renfield! Eater of Bugs!" He's played with gusto and a hairy face by Maddin movies regular, Brent Neale, so great as the incestuous-minded brother in Careful. Renfield! For anyone who has reached puberty on classic horror movies, the name positively sings! He's the wormy, slobbering, bootlicking sychophant who does the bidding of Dracula, whether from his jail cell or sniffing at the vampire's heels. A Guy Maddin kind of kooky guy!

(May, 2003)


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