What is Hollywood, you ask, dear children? A quorum of whores babbling endlessly on about fucking while the bordello is razed for a penny arcade -- Paul Bern

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I just watched Dreyer’s Vampyr for the hundreth time and I am ashamed to say that it never occurred to me until now to re-cognize the movie in terms of Dreyer’s sympathetic and lifelong judeophilia.

Let’s, for the sake of argument, “read” David/Allan Grey as a Jew. I know that certain pedantic persons will rush to point out that the Baron de Gunzburg, who plays Grey and who paid for the movie, was in fact a) Jewish and b) Gay. Not so very interesting. But, at least, thoroughly Other.  But for our purposes here, all we must do, as goes the current fashion, is merely THEORIZE David/Allan Grey as The Lone Jew in Vampyr.

Grey, identified as a dreamer, comes to an inn. He knocks on a lighted window, and disconcertingly the light immediately goes out. Continuing the disorientation, a child-woman emerges from an attic window and tells him to go around the other way. We always see Gray, a little forlornly, from the inside looking in. He is always gazing through textures and frames, trying to definitively establish the truth of this mysterious and to him, threatening, world. The Jew as passeur, no less than the ferryman he sees through the window. Through the dangerous 1930s, and eternity.

Now, let’s briefly note the dismal & tainted history of the vampire gothic as a racist genre (vampire as blood-sucking foreign Jew, running in terror from the cross and pogroms by Christian warriors, etc) and let’s see how Dreyer turns the “sucker” on its head. With sublime perversity, Dreyer contrives to REVERSE the central mythic slander against the Jews. Rather than taking blood, Grey is now giving it to save the life of a Christian. With Sybille Schmidt, we stare blankly at the syringes that will be her own future destiny.

Then Gray, with great pathos, becomes weak and translucent, and undertakes a deeper journey, to the kingdom of shadows, through the experience of death itself, to gaze upward at the church, and then back out of the dream to confirm the dreamed truth of the twilight world.

Dreyer curiously splits off the tedious genre work of killing the vampire and his helpers and assigns it to the loyal retainer and the apparition of the old man; Why? To preserve the fundamental innocence of the dreamer, and maintain Grey’s absolute identity with the audience.

Gray’s popped eyes, in the early sequences, which are, along with the utterly chic suit he incongruously wears, perhaps the source of the condescension toward this aristocrat of performance – that is, De Gunzburg as Baron – and his supposed failings as somnambulist, are in fact a poetic device in Dreyer’s weirdly naturalistic phantasy universe: the eyes emphasize Grey’s status as witness and, more trenchantly, pre-figure that transcendent moment when Gray looks at himself dead BUT WITH EYES OPEN.

The crucial moment when the peg-legged soldier places the candle on the coffin-window, and suddenly the Vampire herself appears projected out of hazy nothingness into diegesis. This conveys the random terror of dream experience rather well. But it is only though actual subjective experience as dead that Grey can bear witness to the existence and identity of the vampire. The old retainer is acting based on stories, text, hearsay. Grey confirms the underworld (the hidden side of the town of Courtempierre) through his (and our) filmed experience of it.

Vampyr also bears some vague mirroring and mystical relation to Ordet – in that the orders of the world (priests, theologians, medicine men) prove dangerous and nihilistic, a dreamer-madman proves to be the key to everything, and a resurrection is doubled by a death.

Grey’s function in the story is to witness and recognize as such the secret dark side of the good bourgeois (the wounded veteran soldier and the doctor) who are in fact servants of the vampire.

So, to sum up: at the very least, Vampyr is a prefiguration of the storm of satanic hostilities that would rise up out of the “normal” bourgeois world with its plague of death symbols, an unmasking of the true vampires who would soon inaugurate their death factories in a black mass and parody of capitalist production. I can say, as far as obscene-absence films about the Shoah go, Vampyr scores an honored place along with Night and Fog and Lanzmann’s film.

Vampyr was premiered by UFA in Berlin, hot on the heels of Browning’s Dracula. In this hothouse context, the "inexplicable" censoring change of the name from David to Allan becomes yet another clear spoken absence.  The premiere was a disaster. The film was booed. Perhaps it was the avant-garde spatial theatrics, or the slow naturalist infusion of death and dream rather than expressionist grotesques. 

That could be, I suppose. 

Maybe, giving the audiences more and less credit, when they rejected an identification with David/Allan Grey qua Jew, and qua dead man, the only recourse left to their "good" souls, was to recognize that THEY were the bloodthirsty.

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