Vampyr  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

Vampyr is a French-German film by Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, released in 1932. An art film, it is short on dialogue and plot, and is admired today for its innovative use of light and shadow. Dreyer achieved some of these effects through using a fine gauze filter in front of the camera lens to make characters and objects appear hazy and indistinct, as though glimpsed in a dream. The film, produced in 1930 but not released until 1932, was originally regarded as an artistic failure. It got shortened by distributors, who also added narration. This left Dreyer deeply depressed, and a decade passed before he able to direct another feature film, Day of Wrath. Film critics have noted that the appearance of the vampire hunting professor in Roman Polanski's film The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) is inspired by the Village doctor played in Vampyr.

Contents

Plot

The plot is credited to J. Sheridan Le Fanu's collection In a Glass Darkly, which includes the vampire novella Carmilla, although, as Timothy Sullivan has argued, its departures from the source are more striking than its similarities.

The actual events are rather obscure and dominated by a weird, dream-like atmosphere. Allan Gray (despite the film's German title), a youth travelling in the French countryside, puts up at an inn in the surroundings of a solitary castle, near the village of Courtempierre. He begins to see strange sights that are impossible to explain (notably shadows leading a life independent from that of their "owners").

Having been asked for help by the Lord of the Manor, Allan visits the castle and becomes involved in the tragic events that are befalling the family. Leone, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor appears to suffer from anaemia, but her father already suspects that her illness is caused by a vampire. The Lord of the Manor dies, seemingly of natural causes, but actually as a result of the actions of the servants of the undead. As Allan reads an old book about vampires, he learns more and more about these creatures, while the fiend continues to assault the young woman.

The vampire turns out to be an extremely evil old woman, Marguerite Chopin, who died in mortal sin and caused a similar epidemic a quarter of a century ago. She is conspiring with the village doctor who helps her to gain access to her victim; her ultimate objective is to cause the victim to commit suicide and thus deliver her to the devil. Eventually, Allan and an old servant stake her, and her servants also die. At the end, Allan is seen leaving together with Leone's sister, Gisele.

Production

An art film, made in 1930, it was initially made a silent, but was converted to sound during production and was released in three languages, English, French and German, resulting in the amount of dialogue being limited. Admired today for its innovative use of light and shadow, Dreyer achieved some of these effects by using a fine gauze filter in front of the camera lens to make characters and objects appear hazy and indistinct, as though glimpsed in a dream.

It exists in prints of various lengths and arrangements of scenes, and under alternate titles including Vampyr: Der Traum des Allan Grey (The Dream of Allan Grey) It was copyright in the USA in 1934 as The Vampire and exhibited theatrically with the title Not Against the Flesh in 1935, both by General Foreign Sales Corporation. A re-edited, English dubbed version, The Castle of Doom, in the very late 1930s by Arthur Ziehm Inc..

Dreyer's cast was predominantly made up of amateurs (only Sybille Schmitz and Maurice Schutz were professional actors). However, this was unimportant to a director who was more concerned with creating an atmosphere of dread than staging a play. Dreyer reportedly told his cameraman, "Imagine we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered: everything in it has taken on another level; the light, the atmosphere have changed, though they are physically the same. This is because we have changed... This is the effect I want to get."

No sets were constructed for the film. The inn and castle were real, and the building of dancing shadows was a disused ice cream factory. Originally the village doctor was to die in the mire of a marsh but Dryer changed it to a white, dust-filled flour mill after he observed the inside of a plaster of Paris factory thick with fine powder. White is the predominant colour, representing the loss of blood, and seen in the use of white mist, white flour and the white buildings and skies that recur throughout the film.


Cast

Responses

The film, produced in 1930 but not released until 1932, was originally regarded as an artistic failure. It got shortened by distributors, who also added narration. This left Dreyer deeply depressed, and a decade passed before he able to direct another feature film, Day of Wrath (Vredens Dag).

Cultural influence




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Vampyr" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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