Thursday, August 07, 2008

Diary of a Vampire – review


Directed by: Philip Gardiner

Release date: 2008

Contains spoilers

This is a documentary, subtitled “The Legacy of Bram Stoker”, and seeks to discover the hidden meaning behind Stoker’s seminal Novel. Now the thing is, I have read many a thesis on interpreting Dracula. It is a xenophobic look at the influence of the foreigner on Victorian Britain, it is a book of Freudian imagery, and it is a Jungian dreamscape… The list goes on and I would recommend “Dracula: The Novel and the Legend - A Study of Bram Stoker's Gothic Masterpiece” by Clive Leatherdale as a starting place to examine the various themes. Would this offer anything new?

The look of the documentary is unusual as it is clearly been made under constraints of a budgetary nature. Thus, for the majority of the piece the images shown are computer generated (with occasional live action; namely a man in a graveyard with a sword). However this worked remarkably well and coupled with an excellent musical selection I could have sat and watched the imagery tied into the music for some time.

It is neither the images nor the music that are, ultimately, important within a documentary however. Narration is skilfully handled by Michaela Warrillow, who boasts a lovely voice that I could sit and listen to all day – no bad thing in a documentary narrator.

The message within that narration, however, the base argument if you will… Well I was not nearly as sold on that. Essentially the documentary argues that Dracula, the character, represents occult influx into Imperial Britain from Eastern philosophy, specifically that propagated by Madame Blavatsky, and warns us of this threat to the moral landscape of Victorian England.

It is a similar argument to that, which attempts to show a xenophobic element to the novel. The general ‘anti-foreigner’ contention, however, holds more water than this. I think that some of the claims were certainly a stretch. The documentary suggests that the Demeter, being named for the Goddess and being a Russian ship, represents Blavatsky – I felt this argument to be interesting but extremely weak. It also ignores the fact that Stoker had extensively researched the shipwreck of a Russian ship – the Dmitry – at Whitby in 1885, or so I am led to believe. With just a slight name change it seems sensible to assume that Stoker had the actual event in mind rather than any deeply obscure symbolism.

However it is when the facts just did not hold any real basis in the novel, whatsoever, that I became concerned. It is clear that the wreck of the Demeter did happen in Stoker’s work but in arguing that Van Helsing represented Max Müller, the documentary suggests that Van Helsing was Austrian (aligning him with Müller, who was German, yet obscuring the identity) – where the text clearly refers to Van Helsing as a Dutchman. The worst, faux pas however came with a quote.

It is suggested that when Dracula says “To die… to be really dead… that must be glorious.” That Stoker is putting forward the concept that Dracula refers to the initiatory death and rebirth of a mystery religion or occult ritual. The trouble is, Stoker never put the phrase in Dracula. Dracula does say it, to be honest, but it is Lugosi who utters the words in the 1931 film version and should be attributed to screenwriter Garrett Fort. It must be mentioned that the soundbite of Lugosi speaking the line is used (several times actually) but not referenced directly in the narration. Be that as it may, it is not a line written by Stoker in the text of Dracula and thus the argument falls flat on its face.

I found it astounding, also, that the documentary made play on the Order of the Dragon but never mentioned the initiation within the Devil’s academy known as the Scholomance, as mentioned in the novel, which clearly has a dragon element to it. It also seems strange (when arguing that Stoker warned against encroaching occultism, which would undermine British sensibility) that the likening of the heroes of the book to a pagan deity would be missed. I refer to the moment in the book where Arthur kills Lucy “He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it. His face was set, and high duty seemed to shine through it.”

In actual fact I believe this to underline the, for the time, shocking Freudian symbolism within the novel. Stoker created a paganic (hence Thor) psychosexual scene which symbolises Arthur’s (arguably necrophilic and certainly voyeuristically observed) intercourse with Lucy. Indeed the death of Lucy becomes la petite mort after which Arthur is spent. “And then the writhing and quivering of the body became less, and the teeth seemed to champ, and the face to quiver. Finally it lay still. The terrible task was over.

The hammer fell from Arthur's hand. He reeled and would have fallen had we not caught him. The great drops of sweat sprang from his forehead, and his breath came in broken gasps.”

Be that as it may, if you are going to argue an occult sub-text or message to the book you really should include the section that directly relates the heroes of the piece to pagan religions – except, of course, that would spoil the very argument that the text was a warning and – in fairness – I don’t believe that scene to have any more deeper meaning other than the Freudian symbolism I have outlined.

There is an interesting thought behind the documentary. Stoker’s friends, as is pointed out, were all freemasons – though there is no evidence that he, himself, was. It is also rumoured that he had contact with members of the occult society the Golden Dawn. However I am unconvinced of the argument that he was giving an underlying warning about the encroachment of the theosophists and less so when the evidence used is inaccurate. So, all in all, lovely to watch and nice (aesthetically) to listen to but the substance, whilst interesting as an argument, is flawed by poor research. 3 out of 10.


Bill said...

Just dropping in. I am still on the road and was checking out some of the regualr sites. Still doing some tweaking in the lobby of the guest house on my site... some weird Wordpress issues that if you know nothng about them the better, like the plague.

I still am awed you have done over 1000 posts on basically nothng but vampire flicks and related media.

I have some material I will share with you eventually, vampire related. Whilst I like bloodsuckers I see you have a yen and passion that is singular.

I would like to see this Bram Stoker documentary (?) based on the vid caps alone you have here.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Bill

Make sure you enter the competition and you could win this documentary mate.