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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.19:1 Standard
  • German Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Optional all-new English-text version of the film
  • Audio commentary featuring film scholar Tony Rayns
  • Carl Th. Dreyer (1966), a documentary by Jörgen Roos chronicling Dreyer's career
  • Visual essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer's influences in creating Vampyr
  • A 1958 radio broadcast of Dreyer reading an essay about filmmaking
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring new essays by Mark Le Fanu and Kim Newman, Martin Koerber on the restoration, and an archival interview with producer and star Nicolas de Gunzburg, as well as a book featuring Dreyer and Christen Jul's original screenplay and Sheridan Le Fanu 1871 story "Carmilla," a source for the film

Vampyr


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Carl Th. Dreyer
Starring: Julian West
1932 | 73 Minutes | Licensor: The Danish Film Institute

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #437
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: July 22, 2008
Review Date: July 15, 2008

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SYNOPSIS

With Vampyr, Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer's brilliance at achieving mesmerizing atmosphere and austere, profoundly unsettling imagery (as in The Passion of Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath) was for once applied to the horror genre. Yet the result-concerning an occult student assailed by various supernatural haunts and local evildoers at an inn outside Paris-is nearly unclassifiable, a host of stunning camera and editing tricks and densely layered sounds creating a mood of dreamlike terror. With its roiling fogs, ominous scythes, and foreboding echoes, Vampyr is one of cinema's great nightmares.

Forum members rate this film 8.9/10

 

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PICTURE

Criterion presents the German version of Vampyr in its original aspect ratio of 1.19:1 on the first dual-layered disc of this two-disc release. And, as a bonus, Criterion hasn’t picture-boxed the image which is appreciated since the image is already narrow to begin with.

The film’s history is a rather grueling one with multiple versions/cuts existing, and the original negatives thought to be destroyed. Criterion is working with a 1998 reconstruction/restoration of the German version as stated in the booklet and in a text introduction before the movie. The print used for this disc shows its age and it has its fair share of flaws. Dirt and debris is present all throughout the film, along with hairs, scratches, and heavy grain. Vertical lines also constantly show up, and the picture does flicker. But this was expected (and I’m sure it’s also expected by most everyone.) Still it’s not as bad as I was actually expecting it to look and I’m sure they cleaned up whatever they could.

But despite the rough print, the transfer itself is quite astonishing. The image is actually quite sharp, presenting excellent detail and clean lines. Some sequences do look a little fuzzier and softer than others (exterior shots look the worst, though sometimes this has to do with the “mist” that’s supposed to be present) but this is inherent in the source. When the image looks good it’s surprisingly good. Contrast is pretty descent with strong, distinguishable grays. Blacks are nice, though the issues with the print do present them as washed throughout most of the film.

But despite the inherent flaws with the print used it still exceeded my expectations, my expectations being something closer to Criterion’s transfer of Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne. Yet they’ve worked quite hard on this one and have given us a rather sharp looking picture.

7/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterion presents the film with a German Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track. As expected the track does have its share of problems, but again I was expecting a lot worse. While there is some distortion to the track music never gets shrill and the track didn’t present any cracks or pops, nothing but a faint hiss in the background. Voices vary throughout, sometimes coming off faint and unintelligible, while other sequences present the exact opposite. But considering the film’s age this track sounds quite good and it also exceeded my expectations.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Another massive looking release from Criterion, we only get a few supplements spread over this two-disc set, but for those interested in the film and/or Dreyer this release delivers.

This release actually presents two versions of the film. The first is the German version, which contains German text with English subtitles. Criterion has also included a version they simply call the “English-Text Version”. One of the problems with the German version is that it is at times hard to read the subtitles displayed over sequences with written text. Criterion has digitally inserted English text over the German text sequences. While I know some would consider this blasphemy I have to say how impressed I was with it. It actually looks quite natural and fits in well with the film, presented in the same manner as the German text, with the same print flaws and similar fuzzy look along with the same font. They not only did this with the white text displayed onscreen, though. For those not familiar with the film there are shots of passages from a book about vampires throughout. Criterion has also put English text over the passages from the book, and again it looks natural. I’m sure people will object to this but it really does look good and I may actually prefer it if only because it is easier to read than the subtitles in the German version. (NOTE: Voice dialogue is still in German with English subtitles.)

Also on the first disc is a running audio commentary by film scholar Tony Rayns. I actually rather enjoyed this track, which flowed rather naturally (though I’m sure he has his notes with him.) He actually begins with the film’s rather bad reception after sitting on a shelf for a few months and then gets into the production of the film itself, Dreyer interested in making a more commercial genre film. He does get into the technical aspects of the film, such as the editing and camera work, as well as the use of sound (and the choices for having minimal dialogue,) and then even offering a decent analysis of the film itself. There is mention of the German censors and what was cut out, specifically the more graphic details during two key sequences near the end (which I won’t spoil.) Rayns mentions that these sequences, still in the French version of the film, will either be put back into the film or included as a supplement elsewhere on the release. These sequences have not been edited back into the film but have been placed in another supplement. In all, despite Rayn being unsure of how to pronounce some names (though I’m sure I wouldn’t do much better) and his unwillingness to suggest that there is some humour in the film, as if that would somehow depreciate the film on some level, it’s very informative covering many aspects of the film within its 73-minute running time.

The remaining disc supplements are found on the second single-layer DVD, totaling up to about 90-minutes worth of information.

The first supplement found here is a short 30-minute documentary from 1966 called Carl Th. Dreyer. It begins with footage from the French premiere of Gertrud, where Clouzot, Godard, and Truffaut (among others) are present. The documentary then moves on to an interview with Dreyer who goes over some of his filmography, with Dreyer briefly talking about them. Unfortunately the discussion for each film is rather brief (Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr running only slightly longer) and the clips can run longer than Dreyer’s comments, but I still found this a worthwhile supplement to go through just for his comments.

The next supplement on the disc is a “Visual Essay” by Casper Tybjerg. Made up of photographs, film stills and clips (as well as an interview segment from the previous supplement) it gives an in-depth look at the making of the film, from its inception (including pictures from location scouts) to its release (including the reedits that followed.) At times it is a little dry thanks to Tybjerg’s voice, but overall it’s a great sort of “making-of” on the film. The most interesting part, for me, had to do with the film’s “deleted scenes” most of which only exist in stills (like one that was used for the cover art of this DVD release.) There’s also the mention of an alternate ending. And here is where you find those scenes censored from the German version (but I have to admit I’m unsure why they weren’t just reinserted back into the film. A note on the restoration in the booklet mentions the sound is quite bad but I didn’t think it was altogether too bad here.) Definitely worth going through.

The final supplement on the disc is a 1958 audio recording of Dreyer talking about filmmaking. Dreyer first states he is “not a film theorist […] only a film director” but that a filmmaker still gets ideas about the craft from his work. He of course pushes that the director is the more important aspect of a film, though recognizes the team work aspect of making a film. He also talks about colour filmmaking, bringing up the Japanese film Gate of Hell as an excellent example. Dreyer speaks in English and I will admit at times I had trouble understanding every word he said, but it’s an interesting essay on the art of filmmaking (and art in general) by the director, but the fact he is obviously reading his essay and not in his native language does make it a bit dry. The audio plays over a still of Dreyer and runs approximately 24-minutes.

This unfortunately closes off the disc supplements. But, on a streak with their impressive packaging, they have included a book containing the screenplay and one of the stories that inspired the film, the story “Carmilla” by Sheridan Le Fanu. The script is a little different, with some different sequences, different names and a different ending, and the movie doesn’t share much with the story, but after Rayns and, to a lesser extenet, Tybjerg referring to both it was nice to be able to see the actual materials. The book is 214 pages.

And rounding off the release is a 42-page booklet, containing a few essays and notes, as well as an interview. There is an essay by film scholar Mark Le Fanu (who professes a kinship with the author of “Carmilla”) offering a history and an analysis of the film. Another essay by author Kim Newman focuses not only Dreyer’s film but the vampire genre in general. A reprint of Martin Koerber’s notes on the 1998 restoration of Vampyr, which has more notes on the multiple versions of the film as well as the deleted scenes found in the French version. And then finally we get an interview with Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg, a.k.a. Julian West, taken from a 1964 issue of Film Culture. In this interview he talks a bit about his history, his desire to be in film, and his work with Dreyer on Vampyr and his excitement over what sounds like a re-release of the film. An excellent booklet worth reading.

In all not much, but very informative and interesting. I enjoyed the commentary but I think my favourite supplements are the visual essay along with the two booklets. These together give a very comprehensive history of the film. Nice job by Criterion.

8/10

CLOSING

The sources used for video and audio are unfortunately in rough shape, but the picture quality still far exceeded my expectations and I know many will be happy. As well, the supplements are all very good, the inclusion of the screenplay and one of the stories on which the film is “based” being the crowning touch. An excellent release well worth picking up.


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