Francis Ford Coppola ripped off Guy Maddin. I'm sure of it. When Keanu rides across those blood-red landscapes in Bram Stoker's Dracula - accomplished with gloriously primitive optical effects - you know somebody's seen Maddin's Careful.When you realize that Martin Scorsese was already on record as a Maddin fan by the time Careful came out in 1992, it's one short degree of separation.
Now it's Maddin's turn. Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary films the undead gothic tale through Maddin's smeared, irised lens. With ballet dancers.
It results from a perfect storm of Canadian cultural institutions, a 1998 Mark Godden ballet choreographed for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, commissioned for broadcast by CBC's Opening Night series and visualized by Maddin. Thanks to recurring rave reviews in the U.S. and Europe, Maddin is now as respectable as the CBC. The film picked up last year's International Emmy for best arts program.
Set in 1897, Dracula looks like it was shot maybe 20 years later. But that's deceptive. Maddin and Winnipeg filmmaker deco dawson, credited as editor and associate director, use a 21st-century array of tools to achieve that ancient cinema effect: Super 8, video, a spring-wound 16mm Bolex camera and a range of speed, colour and image manipulation possible only with digital editing software.
Dawson takes Maddin's dreamy German Expressionism and gives it some driving Soviet montage. Dracula picks up from the wild, kinetic energy of Maddin's short masterpiece The Heart Of The World and propels the ballet forward with a welter of images, all set to Romantic and sometimes alarming music by Gustav Mahler.
Maddin's genius has always lain in the in-betweens. So this Dracula is black-and-white, with colour. The style is queer, but not the content. The tone is ardent and melodramatic, but with postmodern bite.
It opens with lurid titles announcing "Immigrants! Others! From other lands! From the East!" and stars Chinese dancer Zhang Wei-Qiang (now going by the name Johnny W. Chang) as the dark prince. Thus, Maddin shades the story's familiar riot of blood lust metaphors with a new tingle of xenophilia.
Let's see Coppola lift that.
DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN'S DIARY directed by Guy Maddin, based on Mark Godden's ballet Dracula, produced by Vonnie von Helmolt, with Zhang Wei-Qiang, Tara Birtwhistle, David Moroni, CindyMarie Small and Johnny Wright. 76 minutes. A Domino Film release. Opens Friday (May 30). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 150. Rating: NNNN