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Zeitgeist Video presents
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2003)

"She filled herself with polluted blood."
- Van Helsing (David Moroni)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: May 17, 2004

Stars: Zhang Wei-Qiang, Tara Birtwhistle, David Moroni, Cindy Marie Small, Johnny Wright
Other Stars: Stephane Leonard, Matthew Johnson, Keir Knight, Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Director: Guy Maddin

Manufacturer: Asset Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sensuality, gore, violence)
Run Time: 01h:14m:37s
Release Date: May 18, 2004
UPC: 795975105132
Genre: classical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-B+ B

DVD Review

The story of Bram Stoker's Dracula has been filmed so many times, in so many different ways, that it's getting difficult to conceive of new and different approaches to make it fresh and worth watching again. Such a novel approach was taken by Royal Winnipeg Ballet when it adapted the vampire story into a ballet, choreographed by Mark Godden and shot for posterity by noted Canadian auteur Guy Maddin.

The ballet picks up nearly a third of the way into the book as young Lucy Westenra (Tara Birtwhistle) has already begun being pursued by Dracula (Zhang Wei-Qiang), newly arrived in England. Despite the best efforts of her three suitors and Professor Van Helsing (David Moroni), Lucy succumbs to the vampire's spell, and he next turns his sights on her friend, Mina Murray (Cindy Marie Small).

Set to elements from Gustav Mahler's first and second symphonies, this ballet manages to be surprisingly faithful to the source material, in ways that other more heralded close adaptations have failed to accomplish. As in Stoker's novel, the women are the competent ones, and the men almost uniformly ineffectual and suffering from a variety of inadequacies; Mina in both versions is called upon to save the day, though one hardly ever gets that impact from prior screen adaptations. Stoker's xenophobia is emphasized, especially in the casting of an Asian dancer as Dracula, whose outsider status is thus even more emphasized. Even such seldom-seen details as Dracula's hairy palms are included in the tableaux.

But since this is a Guy Maddin production, there are also off-kilter touches. In one surreal moment, Dracula bleeds gold coins. Tombstones appear to be organic, as does much of Dracula's castle. The usual claustrophobic air of Maddin's films by necessity has to give way to the openness necessary for the dance, but he nonetheless makes his impact known through visuals. Elaborate multiple dissolves, collages, and step printing fracture time and space in a highly effective manner. Since Maddin is one of the few souls still practicing the art of the silent film, he's a natural match for the expressive dancers, who manage to convey a great deal wordlessly, though he does utilize the occasional intertitle to emphasize the attitudes of the human male characters. It is they who need to rely on the verbal, rather the emotional framework that Dracula and the women are able to conjure without any words at all. Tara Birtwhistle in particular has a wonderfully expressive face and gives a splendid turn as Lucy. The sequence where she is confronted at her grave by the men, usually a quick matter of a gory staking, here is a sensual battle of wills as she confronts the men back and for a time gets the better of them.

One of the most prominent features of this adaptation is its emphasis on sexuality and sensuality, which of course is not foreign to the vampire genre, but it's carried off more effectively here than in any other version I've seen. The lust of Lucy and Mina is palpable, and the men are constantly trying to punish them for their sentiments, attractive to them as those lusts might be. In the finale, Dracula not only provides the ultimate sexual enticement to Mina, but he also sexually humiliates her fiancé, Jonathan Harker (Johnny Wright), by tangling him up in his own phallic pike (used in place of the usual wooden stakes). Any fan of the story should definitely want to see this production, whether or not they have any liking for ballet. Indeed, Maddin gets carried away with fog frequently enough that it's often hard to see the dance movements. But the choreography is fluid and superbly suited to the thematic material, so balletomanes will generally be pleased as well.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Oddly, the widescreen picture is presented in nonanamorphic manner. That being said, it looks startlingly good even when blown up on a 16x9 set. What might at times appear to be defects (heavy grain, blown out whites, etc.) are mentioned in the commentary as being intentional. I didn't see any aliasing or artifacting, and edge enhancement was not a problem either. I've not seen Asset Digital's work before, but they've certainly gotten off to an excellent start with this transfer. The film is shot in black and white, with occasional color toning to suggest morning or night. In addition, blood and a few other items are hand-colored (or made to look hand colored), emulating the Pathécolor look of a century ago. Black levels are very good, detail is fine and greyscale, when appropriate, is extensive. I suppose it could have looked better anamorphic, but the improvement would have been nominal.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)yes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 stereo track decodes to provide a reasonably wide soundstage. Mahler's music has good impact, without sounding unnatural or shrill. Bass, when called for, is emphatic, with the celli and basses sounding quite true, as do the brasses. The cymbal crashes are mixed a shade loud for my tastes, but that's a pretty petty complaint. Hiss and noise are nonexistent on this very clean track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
0 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Guy Maddin
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio interviews
  2. Still gallery
Extras Review: The best extra on the disc by far is a full-length commentary by Guy Maddin, who provides a darkly humorous discussion of the making of the film and self-indulgences, not to mention conquering his own fear of ballerinas. He poses the interesting question as to who, exactly, is the 'Virgin' of the title, and though he proposes a candidate, there are still multiple possibilities.

A few short featurettes also support the film. A brief (3m:53s) behind-the-scenes segment, apparently from a CBC news program, includes a Maddin interview and some instructive footage of the manner in which the dancing was shot. Less interesting is a video essay (8m:55s) on the construction of the sets, which is primarily useful to get a good look at the organic Castle Dracula sets in decent light; they're quite obscured onscreen in the feature. A pair of radio interviews with Maddin and producer Vonnie Von Helmolt and a gallery of three dozen stills rounds out the set.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

A fresh look at Stoker's vampire, with creative emphases on the book, taking the story back to its origins in a way unlike any other film has done. Despite a nonanamorphic transfer, it still looks fine and Maddin's commentary is quite entertaining in its own right.


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