Canadian director Guy Maddin is an acquired taste so it is good news that Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary is his most accessible film to date.
The film, however, is not your typical Dracula movie although the plot line is quite faithful to the book by Bram Stroker. The film is instead a silent / avant-garde / ballet version of the stage ballet done by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
We all know the story; Dracula (played by Zhang Wei-Qiang) seduces Lucy (Tara Birtwhistle), Lucy is sacrificed and then Dracula moves onto (and pirouettes around) his next victim (CindyMarie Small) until he is caught by the men who pursue him. The basic plot is in place for the film's 75 minute running time, but the way it is presented is so unique that is manages to re-awaken the Dracula story.
Maddin shot the film in black & white in both Super 8 and 16mm formats. And to make the whole experience that much more unique he used multiple filters, KY jelly on the lens, shot out-of-focus and from off kilter angles. Added to this the film is edited (by deco dawson) at times like a Soviet montage film of the 1920's and there are a good many color tinted shots. And then there is the dancing choreographed by Mark Godden to the first and second symphonies of Gustav Mahler. The overall effect is a uniquely dizzying experience.
It's also a beautiful film to look at with erotic and psychological overtones. Granted it is not beautiful in the way that a commercial piece of cinema is but it is beautiful to behold the whole spectacle that is the combination of Guy Maddin's cinema (minus the jokey stuff) and the Royal Winnepeg Ballet.
The DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and looks very good. The film – as mentioned above – has all kinds of photo tricks and is made to look gothic and old therefore the image – while transferred fine - doesn't look any better than it should. Plus, a lot of it is shot in Super 8, which often has little definition. Although the detail is quite good in the 16mm shots as is the contrast within each shot.
The audio sounds great. The music they use is that of famous composer Gustav Mahler, whose expressionist music fits the subject well.
The extras on the DVD are good. First up is a commentary track by Guy Maddin. Maddin talks a lot and even when he isn't particularly saying anything important he is enjoyable to listen to; his mind wanders freely. There is also a 3:45 minute behind-the-scenes TV special that is good for its short length and a 8 minute video piece on the construction of the sets, which has an audio option of a good interview with Guy Maddin. There is also an extensive photo gallery and an introductory essay by Maddin inside the DVD sleeve.
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary is truly a unique version of Dracula as it combines silent film with an avant-garde aesthetic and ballet dance. This film is a must for fans of Dracula, Guy Maddin, ballet, silent film and the avant-garde. In short, it is just about for everyone. Do not miss this fine film. The DVD is very good across the board. Highly recommended.