Top positive review
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Classic supernatural movie overflowing with extras
on 30 December 2008
Vampyr was made by Dreyer in 1930 when sound were new in cinema. And this shows because it mostly feels like a silent movie: there are few dialogues. This also has too do with the fact that Dreyer had to record the film in english, german and french, so scenes with speech had to be repeated. With the effect that those scenes were kept to a minimum. Vampyr was shot on location, in a castle, a flour mil, an ice factory and an inn, as I understand it. Economy was limited and the film was financed by baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, on condition that he played the lead (Allan Gray) in the film! And, as Guillermo del Toro says in his commentary: the baron looks just like HP Lovecraft!
The film itself is grainy, with intent capturing the right kind of light and fogginess. The speech sounds disjointed and the locations and logic of actions can be confusing to say the least. Vampyr was no success with the audience in it's time of release, and it's not too hard understanding why. The first time I was Vampyr I actually was disappointed because it felt so strange and a little silly with the vampire manual that Allan Gray reads from (a manual given to him by a strange man appearing in his hote room in the middle of the night). But undeniable is the visual impact because Vampyr looks really original and very dreamlike: one can actually discuss how much of the action takes place in 'reality' and in Greys mind with it's focus on the mystical and supernatural.
Some months after watching Vampyr I returned to it with the feeling that I didn't 'get it' the first time. Luckily it was the MoC DVD overflowing with extra material that I bought. I listened to the del Toro commentary and right after that I listened to the commentary by Tony Rayns (yes there are two different commentary tracks) which gave another perspective. Both commentaries are fascinatint and worth listening to and give Vampyr a new dimension, supplying alternative interpretations, facts about production and pointing out details easily missed. Also, the DVD includes a 30 min 'visual essay' by Dreyer-scholar Jörgen Roos which contextualises Vampyr, and also a documentary about Dreyer. As if this wasn't enough there is also a short (14 mins) documentary about the baron, and a pdf with the story 'Carmilla' which inspired Vampyr. And as usual there is a thick booklet with essays, pictures etc.
After going through the extras - which was a delight and far more rewarding than actually watching the movie! - Vampyr (and Dreyer) has gained my respect. The film does not explain itself totally - I still see it as en enigma what actually happens when Allen Grey sees himself in the coffin (the most famous scene in the film). But this, as in the films of David Lynch, is part of the charm that makes it interesting and re-watchable.