L.A. WEEKLY: Had you seen Mark Godden’s production for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet before you were contacted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to make the film?
GUY MADDIN: No, I hadn’t. When I finally accepted the job, I went to the ballet, and they performed it just for me, an audience of one. The choreographer went up onstage with me, because I wanted to get up close with my camera and make a record of the performance. He held me by the nape of the neck, and whenever I got in the way of a potentially lethal ballerina leg kick, he’d yank me out of the way. Then I dragged him around while I went in for close-ups and framed up the story, watching it unfold. I got to experience the dance the way the dancers do. It’s all rather chaotic. The symmetry of, say, Swan Lake disappears when you’re in amongst the dancers, all those bodies — great bodies, athletic bodies — close together, lifting, grunting, straining. You can hear the sweat pattering onto the dance floor, the floor bouncing, the tights ripping, the nostrils flaring, breaths, exertions — it’s fantastic, more like playing hockey than dancing, when you’re up that close.
I was also surprised to find out the extent to which dancers act melodramatically, with their faces as well as their bodies. And they seemed thrilled to be photographed in close-up. You could feel them just sucking it in. I think most ballet dancers would be happy if audiences had some kind of Jumbotron over the stage, to show these expressions along with the dance.
I like the way you cut up the movements in the editing so that it looks like the biomechanics of silent-film acting, or even like the exaggeratedly slow movement in Todd Browning’s Dracula. You tend, at times, to forget it’s a dance film.
Well, yes. I wanted to make a movie movie rather than one that just happened to be danced instead of spoken. Even in the ballet, there are these passages where the dancing stops and it becomes like silent-movie acting, all these outward manifestations of inner thoughts. It’s pure expressionism.
Some of the lighting effects are extraordinary, where they swoop around and create these shadows in the periphery of the action.
I’m friends with the Brothers Quay, the stop-action animators, and it has really impressed me, the way they keep their lights moving — along with cameras on dollies, they have lights on dollies. It really makes a difference with Dracula. I was scared viewers’ eyes would grow weary of the same sets for so long — there were only five sets in the whole movie — so I was determined to jangle it up as much as possible with lighthouse effects, searchlight effects…
It’s a remarkable bit of stagecraft when Lucy’s suitors break her bed up into segments, like a central sacrificial altar with side chapels . . .
That was a prop from the original production. I really like those men, by the way. They’re what I glommed onto when I read the book — maybe because I’ve always had such trouble with jealousy myself. They’re the real villains of the story, not Dracula.
I like it when Van Helsing sets up the transfusion for Lucy, and the suitors start squabbling over who’s donated the most blood.
Yeah, it reminded me of some sort of gang rape — they take their turns, one after another. In general, I think Dracula, the book, provides a great model of how men and women behave during the 12-month mating season in which we all live. The vampire is a kind of an artifact of all the feelings that fill the air when we’re lusting, when our night thoughts turn to Others, to the East, not to the folks at home. Dracula seems to have been precipitated out of the air, from the night lust of these women when they’re sleepwalking, and from the male characters, as an emanation of their jealousy, their hate, their uncertainty.
Only the jealous man knows Perfect Love. It’s there, in the bed of his rival. And if you don’t know who your rival is, you can’t help but will him into existence, ascribing to him the most powerful perfections, wealth, good looks, sexual vigor, things like that . . .
Or, as Van Helsing does in the movie, ascribe to him “the mind of
Yeah. All that propaganda of love, both positive and negative.