My fear in buying this documentary was that it would be yet another amateurish and thoroughly crummy Ed Wood-related project that was packed with talking heads and little insight. What I watched last night, however, was entirely free of the trappings of Ed Wood World (with Ed confined, rightfully, to the margins of Maila's life). Instead, what I witnessed was one of the most intimate and penetrating documentary portraits of an individual that I have watched in quite some time.
Even if I had never had an interest in alt-cultural-pioneer Vampira - which I most certainly do - I think I would objectively say that this movie is a well made and artfully directed piece of work. The insightful narration provided by the director, a friend and confidante of the late Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira, provides the beating heart to this story and also helps us to get under the fragile and wounded skin of this most interesting of women. So many of the questions I had about her life (in particular, how she fared after the decline of her career) were answered too in this documentary - such was the tragedy though of her demise, that I am now thinking that perhaps I wish I didn't know those details after all. And yet, hearing her full story and learning about the tough circumstances she endured for so long made her so much more alive and real to me.
Perhaps the greatest thing this documentary does in the end though, is to rescue Vampira / Maila from the shadow of Plan 9. I love Ed Wood and that whole scene, but Maila was so much more startling and original than her ghoulish demeanor in that movie have ever seemingly suggested to so many over the years. Previous documentaries have captured some of her wit and sparky personality for sure - but this one in particular places her front and center as a complete human being: tough and funny, ambitious and bright, wounded and wary, defiant and dignified, creative and unforgettable.
Featuring previously unseen and lovingly restored footage of Vampira and lots of interesting extras, this is Vampira's / Maila's biography in motion. This documentary may make you want to scream about the sadness that must have invaded her life, but ultimately it will actually leave you amazed at the unbroken and unbowed soul of the lady who kept her wits and class about her to the bittersweet end.
RIP Maila / Vampira will live forever