Wow! All hail Carl Theodor Dreyer! I had only ever seen his PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, which is magnificent. This was his first sound film, but last night at the Roxie it was silent again with a new score by Steven Severin (with pre-show help by Jill Tracy conjuring up the spirits of the night.) Now I could go off on an internal debate about the merits of watching the film in the original version (although the English version is lost, what remains is pieced together from the French and German versions) vs. new interpretations. And that debate actually becomes more interesting when it involves an early talkie film, where there is one true soundtrack (even if there's a written score for a silent film, you're still at the mercy of the accompanist's interpretation.) But instead I'll just leave it at Steven Severin did a great job with the creepy, supernatural score that always put the film first. And I'll say that it's real interesting how easily Dreyer's first talkie is turned back into a silent film.
Dreyer clearly was an expert at silent cinema, and was still relying on all his silent film skills even when he transitioned to sound. And it's pretty amazing what he did visually to create the weird atmosphere. Disembodied shadows walking around. Ethereal, translucent ghost versions of people walking around (I remember being amazed in 1985 when Michael J. Fox dissolved before our eyes in BACK TO THE FUTURE, but Dreyer did the same thing 53 years earlier!) These are even more impressive when you know there were no computers and all the effects were done in-camera.
Oh, as for the story, it's pretty simple. A traveler Allen Gray arrives at a small village where strange things happen. He has an interest in the supernatural, and soon finds evidence of vampires. But the story is really immaterial, it's the tone and style that's important. And last night, both Dreyer and Severin got it just right.
Running Time: 70 minutes
My Total Minutes: 300,437