Dracula - Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002) 75 mins, Tartan DVD
There have been so many versions of Dracula that it's surprising to find a new and rather 'arty' production to be one of the best. I rented it out of curiosity and then bought it in delight. The film is based on a work by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, but don't be put off by the B word - the film is essentially a silent movie with dance and music (apparently it's Mahler - I'm a bit philistine about this classical stuff). There are also some (often very funny) intertitles. (FLESHPOTS!) But we all know the story and the characters, don't we? So we can sit back and enjoy the virtuosity of the performers.
The basic plot is that of the play, rather than the novel. The action begins in Whitby, at Lucy's home and the neighbouring asylum where good ol' Renfield is depleting the invertebrate population. Lucy's suitors are introduced, as is Dracula, played by the Chinese dancer Wei-Qiang Zhang. Yes, there's a parable about immigrants stealing our women (and our money!) but it's all good murky fun. And, just as importantly, Stoker's basic plot is all here, complete with some of the barmier bits - insanely reckless blood transfusion, anyone?
The female characters, Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker, are foregrounded to allow full rein to the principals, Tara Birtwhistle and CindyMarie Small. As the 'naughty' Lucy, Tara Birtwhistle is convincingly whimsical, seductive and - after she is 'turned' - predatory. Cindy Marie Small has the tougher job as goody-goody Mina, but Maddin throws a few kinks into the plot that are mostly for her benefit, or so it seemed to me.
This is a truly Gothic rendition of Dracula, with girls in peril from dark forces and menfolk rallying round to help. In the case of Lucy, the chaps are too late, and the 'Bloofer Lady' has to come to a sticky, stabby, decapitatory end. In the case of Mina, things become a little complicated. But suffice to say that love triumphs and all is well, more or less. Along the way are some wonderful moments, not least when the company get together for set pieces such as Lucy's funeral.
There is a superb supporting cast, notably David Moroni as a very convincing (and possibly transvestite) Van Helsing, and some wonderful sets. The lighting and camera work are inspired. There are also some fine DVD extras, notably director Guy Maddin's short 'The Heart of the World', which delivers a six minute burst of German Expressionist cinema, or something.
Anyway, cop a load of this. Here's the bit where