Vampyr (1932, Carl Th. Dreyer)

I’m gonna get this out of the way:
“It’s like Kafka meets Lovecraft in Ingmar Bergman’s Nosferatu!”
Criterion can feel free to quote me on the upcoming blu-ray edition of Vampyr.

Not an official 1930’s Month selection since I watched it by myself while Katy was enjoying reality TV in the other room. I don’t have a hella lot to say about this movie other than it is a masterpiece of mood and weirdness, a slow, trippy phantom dream of a vampire flick. Love how three of my favorite movies are by Dreyer and those three are almost nothing alike.

Allan Gray, dreamer and occultist, drifts into town, gets a room, starts seeing weird things right away. Old guy comes in, gives Allan book on vampires, says “she must not die” then goes home and dies himself. “She” is probably one of his two daughters, Leone, who gets bitten. With help of the frozen-faced other daughter, blank-faced Allan goes off into the world of shadows… but unlike most movie heroes, he never actually does anything. The thankless house servant discovers that the lead vampire is a woman named Marguerite Chopin so he opens her tomb and stakes her, releasing the spirit of the dead father whose ghostly head scares the doctor’s henchman into falling down the stairs, while Allan himself is busy having out-of-body experiences while his body is carted off in a coffin. The death of the vampires fixes everything, Leone wakes up happy and Allan and Gisele stroll together into the sunlight as the doctor drowns in flour, trapped in the mill by the house servant. If that doesn’t all make sense, well, I don’t think a straightforward storyline was the point of this film.

an evil doctor drowning in flour:
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Assorted gems from the Tony Rayns commentary:

What Vampyr has in common with Penelope: distributor shelved it for a year before release (Tony didn’t phrase it that way).

Main dude who played Allan Gray was no actor, but a fashion journalist, a rich baron who financed the movie. “I think Dreyer makes astute use of his blankness in this role.”

Allan Gray as a blank-faced corpse:
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Allan Gray as a blank-faced ghost:
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On the film’s style: “it’s full of disjunctions; it’s full of unorthodox editing, unorthodox framing and unorthodox cutting. None of it fits together in the way that one has come to expect classical storytelling in film to do… constant dislocations.” Has a lot to do with subjectivity, opening titles introduce Allan Grey as an occultist, a dreamer. Film came hard on the heels (eww) of L’Age d’Or and Blood of a Poet – indie weirdo films were briefly in fashion in Paris at the time.

At the nineteen minute mark – “etc., rendering indistinct and uncertain the offscreen spaces of the film,” he’s still going on about how weird a film it is. Like I know.

Lead vampire Marguerite Chopin talking with the Doctor (who may also be a vampire) around 19:30 is the first scene not directly witnessed by Allan Gray, but by an animated skull on the dresser. Hmmm. Allan himself is out with “the grave undigger and the world of shadows,” awesome.

Like The Passion of Joan of Arc, made up of many short shots, also many close-ups, but Joan was extremely planned, each detail carefully chosen, Vampyr by contrast is a very cluttered film, but every detail counts. Reading that again, I’m not sure that I see the difference he’s talking about.

Sybilla Schmitz (below) who plays daughter Leone (one of the only pro actors here) had a small part in Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl – her real-life story of morphine addiction was the prototype for Fassbinder’s story Veronika Voss.
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Three choice quotes:

– “It’s almost like a Mike Leigh film in a sense in that people are passing cups of tea.”
– “It’s a kind of anti-Griffithian cross-cutting – but let’s not get too film-theoretical about this.”
– “He’s informing himself how to slay vampires. This, needless to say, is more than seven tenths of a century before Joss Whedon and Buffy. The modus operandi for slaying a vampire hasn’t changed all that much.”

Commentary mentions why Vampyr was a long-coming follow-up to Joan of Arc (legal/financial battles), but why was it over a decade before Dreyer’s next proper film, the hugely excellent Day of Wrath? Oh, IMDB says everyone hated Vampyr so he went back to being a journalist after that. Also there’s whole documentaries on the DVD so I should not blame the commentary for lack of stuff.

His spirit released, the old man’s head seeks vengeance:
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Cast/crew photo. I think that’s Dreyer on the left with his hand up. Dig how Allan Grey stays in character, haha
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Didn’t know that Pál “Lonesome” Fejös did a remake of Fantômas – it came out the same year as this and featured the actor who played the murdered master of the house in Vampyr (Maurice Schutz, below, also of Passion of Joan of Arc).
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From the Casper Tybjerg doc/essay:

He pronounces it sorta like “Vam-pure”. I’d been wondering.

Dreyer: “I just wanted to make a film different from all other films”

All films shot on actual locations. Movie was shooting as early as April 1930.

Art director Hermann Warm also worked on Caligari, some early 20’s Murnau films, and Lang’s Destiny.

Two overtly Christian scenes were removed before the film’s release. And German censors had him tone down the staking scene and remove some shots from the drowning-in-flour scene – they’re restored in this documentary.

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