Shadow of the Vampire
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Set in 1931, eccentric filmmaker F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) has decided to shoot his take on Bram Stokerís "Dracula" but after the authorís heirs deny him the rights to the book, heís forced to make a few changes. Changing both the movieís title and vampireís name, he hires an unconventional ďmethodĒ actor, Max Shreck (Willem Dafoe), to be his leading man. As the production starts, members of the cast and crew start dropping like flies and Murnau begins to wonder whether or not his prized actor actually is the real deal and not just acting the part of the mythical vampire.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
After having read all of the rave reviews which many people showered on this little film, I walked away from it feeling both empty and unsatisfied. The movie itself has difficulty deciding what type of film it wants to be, in that it continually shifts from being powerfully dramatic to absurdly funny. When certain scenes are unfolding and you question whether or not youíre supposed to be laughing or sitting in stunned silence, you know the production is in trouble. Apart from the main characters, the members of the crew who fell victim to the Count prompted little or no emotion from me, leaving very few people for me to care about. There was also absolutely no suspense or tension in the film, as the scenes just seemed to roll by with no real build up, even during some of the attack scenes which you wouldnít normally expect. Itís a bizarre and eccentric vehicle which essentially just left me scratching my head.
Perhaps its biggest flaw is that it's basically composed of some great individual performances while the plot and story are ultimately left hanging in the air. If thereís one real reason to see this one at all, itís the unrecognizable Willem Dafoeís devilish performance as the wacky vampire. Heís a real treat to watch (his facial expressions are priceless) as the man who really blurred the line between fantasy and reality. John Malkovich complements him extremely well as the insane director who refuses to compromise the vision of his project, at all costs. Heís all over the place, yelling and waving his arms as only he can. I really enjoyed watching his narration behind the camera and his directing techniques were ridiculously superb. Kudos go out to director Merhige for shifting between color and black and white, to simulate the ďmovie within the movieĒ which tended to work quite well. Still, regardless of the great showings from its stars, I canít overemphasize how this flick is an unconventional mix of stylized drama, humor and absurdity which as a whole, falls short of its mark.
The aptly titled ďFeaturetteĒ is a 6-minute behind the scenes look at the film, which in my honest opinion, shouldnít have been included. It comes off as an "Access Hollywood" themed promotional piece rather than an informative mini-documentary. Donít even bother with this one as youíll probably leave with just as much information about "Shadow" as you had when you came in. Next! The DVD includes 3 separate interview segments with Willem Dafoe (3 minutes), producer Nicolas Cage (7) and director E. Elias Merhige (7). Dafoe speaks candidly about hiding behind his mask of prosthetics to create a whole new character and personality, which I only wished wouldíve gone on longer because the man is truly one class act and a great speaker. Cage mostly goes into what drove him to start up his own production company, Saturn Films, and what compelled him to his choice of leads and director. Merhige basically recaps his commentary track during his interview so itís not all that new.
Donít be afraid to skip this extra. A photo montage, running about one minute and set to the movieís score, highlights the gradual progression of Willem Dafoe into the infamous Count Morlock. Itís all too short and I wouldíve liked to have seen actual footage of the application and not just still shots. A similar montage, running about two and half minutes is also included but focuses on production shots. We also get trailers for this movie as well as Merhigeís first flick, BEGOTTEN. Some pretty extensive production notes finish up the extras. The DVDís main menu is basically taken from the box cover with no animation but some sound.
Speaking from the heart, I donít think this film is geared towards the average "Joe Six Pack" moviegoer but if you like stylized cinema and are willing to accept a sacrifice in plot to watch two great performances, then this might be more your flick. Seriously, thereís no suspense or drama in this movie and youíll often find yourself laughing during many of the scenes, whether or not that was intended, I donít know. Even the DVD seems to boast some pretty run of the mill extras which didnít score all that high in my books. Malkovich and Dafoe fans need only apply here and Iíd suggest passing on this one.