I watched Vampyr last night, and I was unfortunately quite disappointed. I think part of it can be linked to the amount of text used, and the poor translation of the film (I’m not fluent in German, but I know they leave out a few passages of dialogue that from what I pick up, are rather important… and the copy that I have has annoying giant block letter subtitles that take up literally half the screen). Suffice to say, I wish they hadn’t tried to make this a sound picture, because I think it would have been better as a straight out silent film. The excess of text though, is also a problem and it ruins the pacing of the film. Especially compared to something like Murnau’s Nosferatu, there isn’t even scarcity and precision in what is presented to us. All this add up to why I had so much trouble integrating myself into the film… my concentration just kept getting interrupted. The story itself wasn’t particularly thrilling either, but I think it would have been greatly improved if these problems had been sorted out.
That being said, despite not being enamoured with the film, I loved the strength of the imagery. Dreyer doesn’t use the close-up as much as I expected (or would have liked), especially in context of La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc being the only other film of his I have seen. However, even in their limited utilization, they’re played with great effect. It’s the borrowing from German expressionism, however, that’s the strongest. The interplay of shadows as “demons”, and the use of extreme angles, stairs and emotion over logic. The film is at it’s best when it forgoes plot, and character in exchange for these strong emotion driven imagery. One scene in particular stands out as one of the characters is “dead” and is put into a casket with a window and as the body is carried away, we see what the corpse sees. These scenes are pure silent cinema, relying entirely on the power of the visual image rather than on character or plot. The film should have focused on these impressions, rather than on the facts. Sound in this case, becomes reality, and becomes what grounds the film when it should be flying high.