A Floury Scarf

At the end of Dreyer’s VAMPYR (spoiler alert) the evil doctor (a fore-clone of Professor Abronsius from Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS) is famously smothered under an onslaught of flour. We can look back to Griffith’s A CORNER IN WHEAT and forward to Peter Weir’s WITNESS, but seems to have been thought up independently, after a visit to a plaster factory got Dreyer thinking about WHITE.

Personally, what I like is the way he takes his scarf off as he’s being smothered. Like that’s going to make him more comfortable. “Blimey, it’s — kaff! kaff! — warm in here,” he could almost be saying. This is the kind of weirdness that makes VAMPYR so memorable, and it suffuses everything from the design (this is perhaps THE great wallpaper movie) through the photography (the sharp interiors and deliberately light-fogged exteriors) to the camera moves (which follow the actors about but don’t respond to their every hesitation: the camera keeps drifting as the actor pauses, then catches up). This is the kind of stuff that gives the film its particular oneiric sway.

Incidentally, my friend Robert tells me he just dreamt he was co-starring in a remake of Chan-Wook Park’s LADY VENGEANCE alongside the artist formerly known as Prince. I resolve to dream a movie tonight so I can compete with that epic at the box office of the subconscious. I’ll let you know if I succeed.

The marvellous Eureka Masters of Cinema DVD of VAMPYR comes stuffed with extras, including a commentary by Guillermo del Toro which begins “Just imagine a fat Mexican has come to your house and you have to listen to him talk,” and Craig Keller’s sweet documentary about Dreyer’s leading man, Baron Nicholas de Gunzberg, who helped finance the film as well as appearing in it (he’s a very effective, unusual actor, and his money obviously didn’t stink either). Baron Nick’s later status in American fashion, as mentor to Calvin Klein, was news to me, and a delight.

Between love and madness lies obsession.

13 Responses to “A Floury Scarf”

  1. Baron Nicky is a clear precursor of The Count of Montebello

  2. The other toff worthy of note has to be the Vicomte de Noailles (sp?) who bankrolled L’Age D’Or and Le Sang d’un Poete. I wish more of the gentry behaved in such a splendid manner. Scotland, with its surplus of motheaten aristos, could lead the world in art cinema, if only more followed in his hallowed footsteps. (And if we had the filmmakers, an unproven hypothesis).

  3. Well you do have Tilda, you know.

  4. ”Vampyr” has nothing like it in film history. It’s based on a story that is straightforward but the film gives over to other stuff. Like Allan Gray coming to that house while seeing shadows in the water bouncing around. Then going to the house where he sees the old man and the like. It anticipates the section in ”La Fantome de la liberte” of Bunuel’s which is set in that inn(it begins with the absolutely adorable Milena Vukotic coming there in her car and ends with Michel Lonsdale getting spanked…) and many other stuff.

    The other aspect is the fact that Allan Gray despite being the adventurer really does nothing. He doesn’t kill the vampire(just a corpse here) that’s done by the brave old caretaker. The doctor guy who works with the vampire or something(that part never made sense to me) gets done in by wheat and the heroic caretaker while Allan Gray sails away on a boat with Fraulein Gisele(anticipating ”Celine and Julie” perhaps).

    ”Vampyr” seems to be about the conflict between technology and the occult(which Lang wanted ”Metropolis” to originally be about). The two girls(one of them is played by Sybille Schmitz, the lady who inspired ”Veronika Voss”) are plagued by this old European folk demon who haunts from behind the grave, the vampires dance in the world of the past and Allan Gray’s repressed mentality wishes to be with them and fight them. The really scary dream scene of his own funeral cinches that. The last shot of the film is the machinery of the wheat sorter literally stopping…just like the film.

    It’s film poetry, baby.

  5. Dreyer claimed not to remember making Vampyr ! Appaently he became smitten with his DP.

    Whether he got to first base wiht him — or round the plate for a home run — I do not know. But the great director was terribly discombobulated by Mate’s beauty this time out. A sprk was aprently struck with The Passion of Joan of Arc that burst into flames with the embers of Vampyr.

  6. Wow. Yes, from his comments in interview, Dreyer can’t really account for the film at all, just saying that vampires were all the rage and he wanted to make a popular success. Not really an adequate explanation for a film which plays like Eraserhead underwater.

    I guess the hero does rescue the girl at the end, but he’s generally as ineffective as most of us are in dreams.

    I too love the way the machinery stops alongside the film. Ophuls pulls a slightly similar stunt in La Signora di Tutti, with the printing press making Isa Miranda posters grinding to a halt as the news spreads of her death. Fade out — the machines of celebrity are deactivated.

    One of the film’s advantages is it’s not purely based on LeFanu’s Carmilla — it draws ideas from several of the stories in that collection, and jumbles them together in an illogical way. The dream-narrative gains enormously from this approach.

  7. It is. Coppola was greatly inspired by ”Vampyr”(by his words, moreso than ”Nosferatu”) for his ”Bram Stoker’s Dracula” which is a fairly faithful adaptation to the original book but actually goes into many tangents and asides. It’s not just Stoker’s Dracula, but it’s ABOUT Stoker’s Dracula. A work of adaptation and criticism at the same time.

    Dreyer’s film is less intellectual and more poetic but it can also be seen as being about storytelling. Like the caretaker reads the Book of Vampires(borrowed from Murnau) and learns how to become a Vampire Killer and also Fearless at the same time. Then the major section takes place in dreams and shadows and the like. It’s really a fantasy, about the mixture between dreams and reality, country and urban side, past and present.

    Dreyer claimed not to remember making Vampyr ! Appaently he became smitten with his DP.

    Oh…I didn’t know Dreyer was gay(or bisexual or whatever!). That’s a surprise. Many film-makers pretend not to remember and the like. Preminger famously said that he didn’t remember any of the films he made between ”Laura” and some film made in the 50’s, maybe ”River of No Return”. And that includes ”Daisy Kenyon”, ”Where the Sidewalk Ends” and ”Angel Face”, perhaps his three best films.

  8. Directing Joan Crawford can do that to people.

  9. Vampyr ‘s narrative incoherence is inextricably ties to its cinematic power. It “doesn’t make sense” in the very way that nightmares don’t. In fact I would go so far as to say the film is a perfect evocation of a nightmare, from start to finish.

  10. Yes, and the unfolding narrative has just that dreamlike quality of mystery: “There are no dogs or children here,” is one of the great lines of dream dialogue.

    Preminger actually says he got on OK with la Crawford, I seem to recall. He remembered nothing about either The Thirteenth Letter, his Clouzot remake, nor the woman he was married to at the time. “It was a forgettable film and a forgettable marriage.”

    Rewatched the last episode of The RKO Story last night, and enjoyed that story about Mitchum walloping Preminger on the set of Angel Face…

  11. Love Vampyr, it’s one of those surreal films you must see at least once.

  12. Twice is good, the story starts to make more sense. As a friend said, it’s a perfectly clear story, it’s just that nearly everything is happening offscreen!

  13. Hi – great stuff here. I’ve put a link to your blog on my Vampyr post – hope that’s okay. I’m afraid it was a bit of a quick post today as I’m so busy – will have to refine it later! Look forward to reading more of yours.

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