Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Honourable Mentions: Jonathan

You’d be forgiven for questioning why I would look at this 1970 film by Hans W. Geissendörfer under the auspices of ‘honourable mentions’ rather than reviewing the film. After all the film most definitely is a vampire film, indeed it is based (albeit vaguely) on Dracula.

The reason is because I felt that this film, which is more political allegory than narrative story perhaps missed the mark more than it hit, slipping into pretentiousness when it could have been telling a strong story. However I have often read of what a beautiful film this is cinematographically. The film is rare, however. There is a non-subtitled German DVD that I am aware of but when I finally saw this, subtitled, it was such a washed out, from VHS print that it looked virtually black and white. I cannot give a judgement call on the aspect of the film that is meant to be strongest when it looked so blooming awful – so an honourable mention it is.

dead girl
The film begins with an old woman (Hertha von Walther) pounding on the door of Thomas (Thomas Astan), who does not respond. She gets some men (dressed in what appears to be 18th century garb) and they break the door down. They find Thomas and a girl staring at each other, almost in a trance – he has been missing for 12 days. The spell, as it were, is broken and Thomas throws himself out of the window to his death. The girl has her crucifix ripped off and is taken to the Count (Paul Albert Crumm). She spits in his face and runs, the Count says to leave her, she won’t get far. We hear screams and then see her dead, killed by dogs. We then see a man running, chased, he is shot down and it is declared a warning.

We are in a totalitarian regime run by the Count as supreme leader. The similes with fascism are obvious. Why is it that the vampires have taken control? Some have suggested it is because they can go around in daylight in this film but it is based on Dracula and thus that means little. I think vampirism is just a convenient metaphor. When is it set? That we do not know, it all looks very 18th century probably, maybe early 19th. However, at one point we see the hood of a car in a village – a mistake or deliberate? I don’t know.

Jürgen Jung as Jonathan
Just like in the book Jonathan (Jürgen Jung) is sent to the Count’s castle. This time, however, he is a man sent on a mission. The villagers intend to march on the castle and he is the advance party, his job to prepare the prisoners in the castle for the attack. All the vampires will be there and they intend to push them into the sea (vampires and water not mixing). Jonathon leaves Lena (Eleonore Schminke) behind to go on his mission and takes a pack with a bible, a dagger, a map (which he will need), garlic and a rosary.

drink of me
In a scene based upon the novel Lena is in bed, her parents praying downstairs, when the Count enters her room and bites her. He then opens his shirt and offers her the wound on his chest – a wound that is already open for some reason. She drinks. The later impact of this is limited to say the least.

Jonathan is asleep in his coach when two men jump on the back. One kills the driver and the other opens the door and takes his bag. They leave the coach trundling and one man takes the bag to a hovel, where he is given food and clothes in return for it. The girl who makes the exchange is in the hovel with a twisted man. He takes everything out of the bag (which amounts to all of Jonathan’s things bar the dagger, which Jonathan had placed in his belt) and is amused by the rosary – the room is filled with inverted crosses. The girl sings as she pours something (boiling or steaming) on her leg.

prancing brides
Jonathan awakes when the coach stops to find the coachman and the horses dead. He starts walking (bear in mind that his map has gone, but that doesn’t seem to stop his journey) and meets a vagrant who walks with him. The girl who stole his things runs out to tell him (by name) not to go with the man but is stopped by the brides. Let us talk the brides. In many a scene we have women in white dresses doing ballet – it appears. They are synonymous with the Count’s brides in the novel – as we will see – but more numerous. Actually they couldn’t be far from the castle as, in the final scene, the mob runs out and stakes the twisted man (meaning they are about two minutes from the castle).

a feed
Nevertheless Jonathan has a journey ahead of him, past fearful villagers, rutting rituals and facing betrayal. He does eventually reach the castle and breaks in. The vampires are in a ritual with the new captives when the Count declares that Jonathan is in the castle. He is captured and bid welcome, told he can go anywhere not locked, is accosted by three brides and rescued by the Count (he is mine). The brides accuse the Count of never loving (feeling familiar yet), a woman comes screaming for her child and is set upon by black clad ‘wolves’ – obviously human collaborators.

As it is, Jonathan does enter a locked area – smashing said lock – to give his message to the prisoners. At this point he is captured chained and tortured (and we get a disturbing scene with a stomped rat that I hope was not for real). The question I had at this point was why (other than following Bram Stoker’s lead) was Jonathan allowed free reign. The Count declares him dangerous before he is captured, why not lock him up and either eye mojo or torture any information needed out of him? It makes little sense.

driven into the sea
Anyway, cue angry mob pushing the Count, in black, the brides, in white, and the other vampires, in red, into the sea by brandishing crosses at them. This is after they kill the collaborators in more conventional means.

Honestly, I’d been waiting to see this for ages but it left me completely cold. That said, I cannot really make a comment on the photography, though some of the more portrait shots seemed oddly framed. A full review if I ever see a decent print of this with subtitles. The imdb page is here.

1 comment:

Christine said...

This sounds plodding but something which could have value cinematographically.