Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 29, 2014

There are a few funny jokes here, a bit of the customary Guy Maddin knockabout. But mostly the Manitoba madcap’s striking all-dance take on the Dracula story is played completely straight, and it’s played very effectively too. The august presence and participation of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet may explain a certain solemnity or gravity that attend these proceedings. Maddin & Co. don’t appear to be remotely cowed, but they have put themselves at the service of an external sensibility, and an alternative methodology. Dance and film both benefit from this courtesy, and from a collaboration that is definitely the proverbial more than the sum of its proverbial parts.

Dracula … does feature Maddin’s signature silent film-derived stylizations. This manner of his has sometimes lapsed into mannerism, but ‘midst this tremendous terpsichory his otherwise or often eccentricity actually, decidedly enhances. And Bram Stoker? The new medium really refreshes his old warhorse. The new medium’s take on that old warhorse threatens to outright dismantle it. Here is a radical revision of narrative sympathies—protagonism and antagonism, right and wrong—that may throw audiences for a real, probably quite salutary loop.

Fidelity is often identified as the first duty of the adaptor, and deference to a source can be a decided virtue. But our generative stories contain gaps and ruptures, and an active and even impolite interrogation thereof can lead to important insights. In Maddin’s Dracula vampirism is a dodge, or a distraction. The war these men are waging is actually against their own women, against their autonomy in general, and their sexuality more specifically. It’s the men who seem hysterical here, and most in jeopardy. The (Asian!) Count actually emerges as being outright cool.

This might well give the reader pause. If and as she is committed to the course of virtue, which is to say of chastity, can such challenges even countenanced?

Good question. Good chance to decide, or at least to consider whether ideological adjustments might not be made in the midst of traditional affirmations. Apropos, Maddin’s marvelous revision brings to mind similar texts like Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things (a critique of the Frankenstein myth) or Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage (about the women on Noah’s ark), not to mention all the women who have even more pertinent things to say on the subject.