Volume 94, Issue 90
Tuesday, March 13, 2001
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Art film fails to please
Gazette File Photo
Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe
Directed By: E. Elias Merhige
By Molly Duignan
Determining what is worthy of being called "art" is a difficult task. But if art is difficult, hard to pinpoint, incomprehensible or generally weird, Shadow of the Vampire is most definitely art.
John Malkovich stars as legendary silent-film director F.W.Murneau, best known for his 1922 film Nosferatu. Shadow of the Vampire is the story of the making of Nosferatu, a quasi-documentary made 80 or so years too late.
Malkovich contributes yet another dominating performance. Despite his crummy German accent, Malkovich attempts to make this film an escape for the audience in order to engage them.
Shadow Of The Vampire skips from Jofa Studios in Berlin to a Czechoslovakian village, as Murneau trys to make his movie based on Dracula. He hires a genuine vampire to impersonate an actor playing a vampire by the name of Count Orlock.
Willem Dafoe was nominated for best supporting actor for his role as Max Schreck, the blood-thirsty vampire. Unexpectedly, Schreck is the film's only source of comedy and dark humour.
Despite the moments of comedy, there are far too many questions raised by this film that the average audience might not be able to answer. Is Murneau evil, is he a genius or is the whole thing ridiculous? Are we supposed to take Schreck seriously and accept him as a monster, or is he meant to be an object of our pity? Is the film as a whole a parody, an elegy or a farce? These questions are posed and throughout the film, but they are never answered.
The attempt to transport viewers to the early 20th Century fails. Murneau's motivation, muse and ideas are not well developed and therefore, his actions seem strange and irrational. Unless you've seen the original Nosferatu and understand why it is worthy of re-creation now, the uninformed audience will miss the genius of this movie.
Still, the performances by Dafoe and Malkovich are suberb, in that they portray their freakish characters so eloquently. The magnetism of the cast's performances might have proven compelling, but the quality of the acting is muted by the twisted nature of the plot and lack of character development.
While some movies are plagued by their "artsiness," Shadow of the Vampire's artistic side is what saves itself from total condemnation. Because it is able to pawn itself off as art, its incomprehensibility is justified. For those of us who didn't "get" this movie, calling it art is an excuse for our inability to appreciate the film.
Perhaps this movie is aimed specifically at film students, art connoisseurs or morphine abusers, like those whom the film documents. Either way, Shadow of the Vampire never departs from its "artsy" persona.
Whether this is the film's fatal flaw or clinching credibility is another question that remains unanswered.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000