Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: Vampyr

Have you ever seen a movie that defied your best attempts at unlocking it, to the point where you can't even summarize the plot? I'm talking about a movie so unconventionally executed that you can't even tell whether or not there's even a story going on? That's what just happened to me.

I think this is the second time I've had that experience. The first time was David Lynch's Lost Highway, and even then I didn't have trouble with the movie until it was well underway. Vampyr, a nearly-silent film from 1932 is much more difficult to figure out, and it's mercifully much shorter. I don't think it's a puzzle, but the narrative is presented in a way that makes it nearly undecipherable. I probably wouldn't admit that, but the Internet says that everybody else feels that way, too.

Vampyr has been on my to-see list for quite awhile. I don't remember who suggested it, but it was while I was on a big silent movie kick, and I started seeing references to a little-known German/French vampire film along the same lines as -- but superior to -- Nosferatu. So I added it to my Amazon wishlist. That, apparently, was in May of 2004. I forgot about it then until a couple of years ago when it came to Netflix's streaming service. I added it to our queue, and forgot about it again. Until tonight.

So, in order to summarize, I'm going to have to take Wikpedia's word about what's going on. A gaunt and boring-looking tourist arrives in the village of Courtempierre, and strange things begin happening immediately. Nobody seems to trust him, and he begins seeing weird shadows, so he follows them and witnesses the shooting of an Old Guy. The Old Guy has left a sealed envelope emblazoned with the words "To be opened after my death," so the kid opens it and reads the Old Guy's treatise on vampyrs.

It becomes clear to our main character (whose name is Allen Grey, by the way) that one of the local girls is dying at the hands of a vampire, and he takes it upon himself to stop it. Then a whole bunch of stuff happens, but it ends happily.

Worst summary ever. And do you know why? It's because the movie is an incoherent mass of images. I guess there's a story here, but everybody says it's based (at least in part) on the original Irish lesbian vampire novel, Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu. I've read Carmilla, and I don't see much of it here.

I don't see much of anything, really. It's creepy and cryptic, but the narrative never quite takes shape, and everybody seems to think that it was an experimental, stylistic approach to storytelling. Fine, fair enough. It doesn't work, but hey, that's the point of experiments. There are a lot of nice visuals, though, and some impressive-but-simple effects. And that's really probably why this movie is still watched on occasion; they do some really interesting stuff with double exposures and puppetry. But in the end it's not in the service of anything.

It sounds like this one had an interesting production. Talking pictures were still pretty new, and this one was a first for director Carl Theodor Dryer. As a result, there's a little dialogue, but it's in German and French, so subtitles appear whenever anyone speaks (which is not often). There are also quite a few title cards which give us long paragraphs of what's going on in the story (such as it is).

The art snob in me wants to pretend that I liked it. I didn't. Neither did the critics when it came out, though it's strangeness and obscurity have prompted more modern critics to over-inflate its importance. It's occasionally visually interesting. Mostly, though it's confusing to a degree that makes me not care about it. People will tell you to see it instead of Nosferatu and Dracula, but I recommend sticking to films that make sense.

You know where Vampyr would be appropriate? In the background at a Halloween party, where it can provide a little ambiance, but not enough distraction to detract from the proceedings.

As I said, you can stream it from Netflix, and I also see that it's available to watch on YouTube. Yay.
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