Sunday 31 July 2011

1,001 Films: "Vampyr" (1932)

Vampyr is interesting for at least two reasons: as a more rooted form of the German expressionism that had risen out of the darkness of Caligari and Nosferatu a decade before (if anything, it owes more to its American commercial contemporaries, Browning's Dracula and Whale's Frankenstein); and as yet another example of the play between light and shade in its director Carl Dreyer's work, even in such a relatively generic piece as this. Brilliantly photographed by the same Rudolph Maté who went onto such success in American noir, it's perhaps less convincing on a narrative level - its hero (named as David Grey in the intertitles, Allan Grey in the subtitle) appears to fall asleep in a hostel, then "wakes up" to explore a community/dreamscape over which the threat of vampirism lingers - than as a ghostly procession of weird or otherwise striking images. A POV shot from inside a coffin; a Van Helsing figure apparently modelled on Albert Einstein; and a finale that's part-Sunrise (lyrical lovers on the lake), part-Metropolis (the crushing cogs and wheels of a deadly flourmill). I first saw the film on a DVD issued by Salvation Films, almost certainly not the best-looking nor (at 62 minutes) longest print in existence, but even there, among those flickering, sticking, disjointed images, it was clear I was in the presence of something remarkable. 

A restored, 72-minute version of the film is available on DVD from Eureka Entertainment.

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