Friday, January 08, 2016

The Immortal Augustus Gladstone – review

Director: Robyn C. Miller

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

Robyn C. Miller is better known as the director of classic video games Myst and Riven but here takes the mantle of director, writer and star. The film itself is a mockumentary that follows Augustus Gladstone (Robyn C. Miller) a man who believes he is immortal. A man who believes he is a vampire.

The background to the film paints the picture of Augustus producing YouTube videos that have gained some popularity and thus led the documentary crew to adopt him as their topic and yet opens with his gravestone. It adds a cyclic element to the story.

Robyn C. Miller as Augustus
The story itself is told by interviewing friends and acquaintances, by following Augustus around and, of course, by interviewing him. As well as this the film contains vox pop about connected subjects and the crew get more and more drawn into the story in their own right. This all builds a picture of Augustus and we are left to ask the question, is what he telling us truth or lie? We are told fairly early on, by friends, that Augustus is not a "liar", as such, as he never intends to hurt people with his stories and that he wanted it to be true.

Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Ferensac
Augustus lives in a derelict and abandoned hotel, where he has created a homely area. He looks odd as he is very pale and thus wears make-up, and bald, so wears a wig. He says he does this to stop others feeling uncomfortable. He claims he was born in 1856 and seems to tie his vampirism to Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Ferensac. The Count gave him an early edition of Dracula, which is his prized possession. What we do discover is that he is epileptic.

He talks openly about the Exposition Universelle, 1900, in Paris that he claims to have attended and I could see how – whilst still keeping things ambiguous – perhaps being able to film scenes from these period conversations would have offered the film the feel of a more folkloric Americana production in the realm of Big Fish (2003). However that was firstly probably beyond the budget of the film and, more importantly, beyond the budget of the documentary makers within the film.

giving a tour
Rather the film relies on the character of Augustus to be its centre and its anchor, and you know what, it really works. Augustus comes across as every inch the Southern Gentleman, eccentric, yes, but out of time and utterly likeable. It is down to Robyn C. Miller’s performance that the film works so very well. It will not be everybody’s cup of tea but it held me fascinated for its running length.

a photo of Montesquiou
We get little offered in the way of vampire lore. I have mentioned Augustus’ physical appearance but there is no reason at all that this might have been down to the vampirism. We see photos and a portrait of the Count, who has a full head of hair and we see vintage footage of a self-help group, which Augustus claims to be vampires, who look like any normal group of people. During the film the documentary team take him to see a doctor who is clearly worried for Augustus (and believes him delusional) but Augustus will not allow a blood test (though he is given a brain scan).

servants of Satan
Augustus always carries an umbrella – offering shade from the sun – and claims that he does not eat. Certainly we never see him eat but neither do we see him drink blood. He claims it is the plasma that a vampire needs, says he would never kill to get blood but does not show us him feeding either. He becomes obsessed with finding surviving family. He says that vampires had been accused of being servants of Satan, though he strenuously denies this (we do get a “creative” drama scene by the filmmakers at this point). Is he really a vampire though or simply delusional?

I’m going to say you should watch the film yourself and decide; a bittersweet affair to be sure and certainly unusual. 8 out of 10. Be warned that it is on the art-house side of vampire movies and thus might not be for everyone, but for those intrigued the home page is here and the imdb page is here. The film is on demand at vimeo.

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