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Monday, October 30, 2017

Enough To Make You Think Vampires Are Real


Nominate Vampyr (1931) For All-Time Creep Out

Because of its spelling, I went around years pronouncing Vampyr as Vam-peer, a nod on my part to greater sophistication of Euros who'd made this odd and very acquired taste of a chiller. First familiarity came of Carlos Clarens' An Illustrated History Of The Horror Film, published in 1967, where creepy stills promised fear cold as a grave, implying burial alive among highlights. Problem, of course, was seeing the thing. Television had none of it, while further book reference (The Film Till Now) spoke of "a film much applauded by the intelligentsia," author Paul Rotha's seeming dismissal of  Vampyr as "very much of a museum piece." Was this as much result of awful prints in circulation? There were versions in varied language, that is what little could be made out from largely inaudible soundtracks. Directing Carl Dreyer had covered bases re English, German, French editions, but much of reception was cool, and I couldn't find indication that Vampyr got US release beyond a Film Daily mention on 10/30/33, wherein Arthur Ziehm of General Foreign Sales Corp. was said to have acquired rights.




Vampyr floated for decades at diminished capacity. Histories when they mentioned it did so in terms of compromised image. "Unfortunately the prints that are available in the United States are not made from the master negative and so their photographic quality is rather poor," said one 1960 reference. Ever the opportunist Raymond Rohaeur booked Euro-passage in October 1964 to acquire rights from Vampyr's producer/money man/star Baron Nicolas De Gunzburg (how many Barons got kicks making movies?), who'd almost forgot Vampyr. Rohauer did a customary slash-and-burn job of warning off "bootleg" copies of his new-obtained pic and combed archives to upgrade elements where possible. Subtitling whiz Herman Weinberg was hired to do a same for Vampyr. College and festival runs evolved once Weinberg finished his work in January 1968. Variety announced a Paris "first-run" in May, 1968, on a festival menu with Buster Keaton's The Cameraman. Fleetwood Films "will reissue (Vampyr) this (1968) winter in a more complete form than has ever been shown in the US," said Variety. Dreyer's would become known as a deepest-dish chiller and challenge for watchers to stay awake. There's nothing in horror's universe like it, but patience is required. Moments of Vampyr top any effect thrill-makers have achieved. Now that prints are decent, we can fuller appreciate promise put forth by Clarens' book images of fifty years ago.

5 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

When I ran my 16mm print of VAMPYR in 1980 at the original Cineforum in Toronto (it was at 12 Mercer Street, building gone now, down where the CN Tower is) for the first time I saw the film in a long narrow space with a full ceiling to floor screen. The sides met the walls.

I was amazed at how powerful the photography became in that setting. Dreyer's almost constantly moving camera created an stunning illusion of depth. I felt myself pulled into the image. It became a cinema hallucination.

As I said previously motion pictures from this time period were made as films not as horror films. To view them as such negates much of their real power.

I had always liked the film but seeing it in that setting gave it an energy that it had lacked in more conventional spaces.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Very strange movie. I saw it on TCM a few years ago, and enjoyed it... But I remember nothing about it.

9:41 PM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

If you had some confusion about the correct pronunciation of “vampyr”, then imagine my own when, as a barely literate ten-year-old kid, I was confronted with the word “wurdalak”, a Russian term for to the “undead”, in reference to a ghoulish character portrayed by Boris Karloff in Mario Bava’s 1963 BLACK SABBATH.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Many pronounce "VAMPYR" as "vampeer." It's "Vampire."

6:05 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

This post made me decide to buy the Blu-ray. I'm glad I did. My 16mm of VAMPYR was very good. It ran a little over 60 minutes. This version runs 73 minutes. Everything about this restoration is superlative. I projected the film on a 9 by 12 foot screen. I also darkened the light considerably as the factory setting is way too bright (brought it down to minus 30). If you have not done this yet yourself you should. I mentioned to professional photographer Barrie Schwortz (from whom I obtained my SHROUD OF TURIN replica) that I was doing this. He stated that as a professional he, himself, had also found the settings way too bright.

The resulting change in the impact of the image is spectacular. Originally I was miffed because this version does not include THE MASCOT by Starevitch which is a favourite film. Well, the bonus material on Carl Th. Dreyer more than compensates for that. I had always thought Dreyer filmed VAMPYR after Tod Browning's DRACULA. I was surprised to discover the film was in the can before that film went into production.

One BIG difference between films of that era (1915--1960) is that motion pictures were produced and directed largely by adult men and women. This became particularly apparent when I listened to Dreyer speak about his work. At the same time I reflected on how impossible it would be in today's climate for that man and people like him to create films of the high caliber they did.

An unexpected piece of illumination came in when Dreyer talked about THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. He spoke of the snide manner of the priests towards Joan. That snide manner is endemic in academia. If we want to see how the Sanhedrin treated Jesus we need only look at Dreyer's JOAN. He nailed it.

I probably would have passed on this title had I not read your posting. Again, thank you for turning me on to something I otherwise would have missed. I also noted that the narrator of the film on Dreyer pronounced "VAMPYR" as "VAMPEER."

7:10 AM  

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