“Before there were Luis Buñuel, Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, or Andrei Tarkovsky (not to mention Lars von Trier, Carlos Reygadas, and Guy Maddin), there was Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889–1968), the original solitary, uncompromising film artist.” So begins J. Hoberman’s Village Voice piece on our release of Dreyer’s 1932 fever dream Vampyr (and a recent theatrical screening of the restored Day of Wrath), which takes the occasion to celebrate the career of the mysterious Dane before focusing in on his “most radical film—maybe one of my dozen favorite movies by any director,” Vampyr.
Both Hoberman and the New York Times’s Dave Kehr take time to explain the film’s long neglect and more recent mistreatment in the public domain—and thus the significance of the release. It was Dreyer’s first sound film, an early talkie, and made under complicated circumstances, in three versions and languages. Its original negative and soundtracks were lost, and it was recut numerous times over the years by distributors, its striking gauzy visuals, Kehr writes, “allowed to degenerate into near incoherence.” Criterion’s new release, made from the 1998 Martin Koerber restoration, Hoberman raves, is “more complete and looking better than I’ve ever seen it.”
Kehr was also inspired to trace Vampyr’s progeny. Seen today, he writes, “Vampyr seems to belong less to a narrative tradition than to the avant-garde genre that the critic P. Adams Sitney has defined as the ‘trance film,’ a form that extends from Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet (1930) through the work of Maya Deren, James Broughton, and Gregory Markopoulos.”
Cliff Doerksen of Time Out Chicago joins the game, chiming in that the restored Vampyr “merits the attention of lovers of German expressionism, admirers of David Lynch and Guy Maddin, devotees of J-horror, and anyone interested in cinematically induced disorientation, madness, and fear.”
Call it the influence of anxiety! Or, as Joshua Land titles his feature for Moving Image Source, “The Power of Nightmares.”