Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Prepare for Dracula Untold with some of the best of Dracula already told.

Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary (2002)
When Guy Maddin brought Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary to the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2003, an angry balletomane raised his hand during the Q&A session and rudely asked Maddin why he’d made far and away the most inept dance movie this gentleman had ever seen. Maddin, who’s pretty unflappable, took the attack in stride: “To be honest, I don’t know much about ballet—I don’t even really like ballet—and we probably could have used someone… almost like you on the set as a technical advisor.”

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The glory of Pages From A Virgin’s Diary—arguably the finest adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel ever filmed—is precisely that Maddin doesn’t care much about ballet, or even necessarily about Dracula. He cares about cinema. The syntax of the silent era, in particular, seems to be encoded somewhere in his DNA. Commissioned to adapt a Royal Winnipeg Ballet production for Canadian television, Maddin paid less attention to the fancy footwork or the plot than to creating a suitably vampiric mood, which basically just meant doing what he always does. All the familiar figures are here—Jonathan Harker (Johnny Wright), Lucy (Tara Birtwhistle), Van Helsing (David Moroni), and the Count himself (Zhang Wei-Qiang)—but they’ve been thoroughly Maddinized, and that makes a far bigger impression than any arabesque or plié.

Employing heavily tinted black-and-white film stock (with appropriate splashes of garish red), frequent irises, charged superimpositions, wry intertitles, and the editorial hand of a trembling maniac, Maddin made not so much an adaptation of the ballet as just a silent Dracula in which the most charged emotions are conveyed via dancing (and Gustav Mahler). It’s an ideal match of auteur and material—a gorgeously expressionistic fantasia that will appeal even to viewers with zero interest in ballet, so long as they appreciate loving, exacting approximations of what the movies looked like before the advent of sound. In almost every respect, Pages From A Virgin’s Diary looks as it could have been made in 1923 and unearthed recently in someone’s attic, like the silent Sherlock Holmes film that was discovered last week. Compared to the famous but super-creaky 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi, it’s like a shot of adrenaline.

Availability: Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store/library, and to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant Video.

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