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  Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary Blood And Money
Year: 2002
Director: Guy Maddin
Stars: Zhang Wei-Qiang, Tara Birtwhistle, David Moroni, CindyMarie Small, Johnny A. Wright, Stephane Leonard, Matthew Johnson, Keir Knight, Brent Neale, Stephanie Ballard, Sarah Murphy-Dyson, Carrie Broda, Gail Stefanek, Janet Sartore, Jennifer Welsman
Genre: Horror, MusicalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: It is the eighteenth century, and in Victorian England there is a new arrival to the land, though his influence is not seen as beneficial to the nation as what this Count Dracula (Zhang Wei-Qiang) is here to do is spread his curse of vampirism. One of the lunatics in the nearby asylum, Renfield (Brent Neale), somehow in his feverish madness knows exactly what the Count is up to, but for others it will take longer to latch on - in fact, it will take the seduction of eligible local beauty Lucy Westenra (Tara Birtwhistle) for the menfolk to do something.

As vampires made a comeback in popular fiction at the turn of the millennium, often the grandaddy of them all, Dracula, would pop up in the most expected places, and generally not being hugely impressive in the process. However, director Guy Maddin, a notably idiosyncratic talent from Canada, opted to bring the venerable character to the screen in the form of dance, and in the process created one of the most vivid incarnations of the villain seen for many years. He had been asked to capture Mark Godden's Royal Winnipeg Ballet staging of the tale by a Canadian TV company, and the results were impressive enough to be taken to the cinema.

Tonally the production struck a balance between the genuinely strange and the campy, perhaps recognising that was the best way to translate a plot which had become pretty hoary over the decades since the book was such a sensation. If you wanted your Dracula taken seriously, you sort of had that here, yet if you preferred to laugh at author Bram Stoker's prejudices and repressions, then you could take that away from this as well, and in truth the mood seesawed up and down with those two poles adopted as the touchstones of how to update this successfully for the modern audience.

Not only that, but Maddin employed further distance from his material by making this a silent movie, with only the strains of Mahler symphonies and the odd sound effect providing the soundtrack. There were subtitles which appeared in colour over the mostly black and white imagery, mainly in the form of breathlessly over the top dialogue spoken by the characters (though unheard by us), or observations presented in the comically aghast style of what Stoker would have thought about the situation. In truth, it often seemed as if the film could not make up its mind exactly how sincerely either they should take it, or indeed how sincerely the audience would.

At least the plot adhered fairy closely to the book even as it commented upon it, though here the action dives straight into Lucy being vampirised and subsequently vanquished at the hands of Dr Van Helsing (David Moroni) and her suitors - the business with Jonathan Harker is left to a flashback halfway through. Maddin and his company evidently saw the source as the trigger for much fun at the Victorian era's expense, so this Dracula was expressly an immigrant (played by a Chinese dancer), and the themes of money and greed which the bloodsucker metaphorically embodied were well to the fore: many coins spill and notes flutter. The visuals were very much in the Maddin technique, so if you appreciated this before you'd know what to expect, but ballet fans would find much to enjoy, even if the dance becomes more sexual than they may be used to. As a novelty, this Drac was engaging, as a retelling, it was welcome in a market flooded with vampires not as distinctive as this.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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