Hey tweens who enjoy a little abstinence-only subtext thrown in with your vampire movies: go out and get a load of the non-virginal variety in Guy Maddin’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. This was one of the Maddin movies I’ve been saving. It’s the Canadian director’s collaboration with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Which means that in addition to bared fangs there is DANCING. I have to say this wasn’t one of my favorite Maddin films. While the art direction made its nods to German Expressionism, Maddin’s presence only really became obvious in the editing–the droll title cards, a sequence of blood spreading across a map of Europe, some tongue-in-cheek sound effects (A character named “The Texan” appears to the sound of pounding equestrian hooves). I found myself missing the so-fake-it’s-great dialogue of Maddin’s frequent screenwriter George Toles. And already knowing what the story was about and how it would end removed a lot of the reasons why I pop in a Maddin DVD to begin with, to court surprise and bewilderment.
It seems the most common filter through which we view Dracula is sexuality. In the short featurette included on the DVD Maddin acknowledges this traditional interpretation of the story, citing the assumption that the story is really about Western Europe’s fear that dark foreigners from Eastern Europe will descend upon the homeland to seduce the womenfolk. But while watching this version of the done-to-death tale of the undead, I started to wonder if Dracula is really about economics.
Nobody ever really mentions Dracula’s wealth. Or that “blood-sucking” is an adjective often leveled at the more zealous capitalists among us. If an abstinence-only vampire story like Twilight is possible, perhaps our perennial obsession with vampires has less to do with anxieties about losing those we love to a sexual force and more to do with some other form of powerlessness. To put it another way, maybe our sense of economic powerlessness right now makes us yearn for the economic power of immortality, the ultimate capitalist high–a state of limitless growth.
I always felt that the popularity of Titanic was really about pre-Y2K anxiety, when we worried that the wondrous technological vessels of the late 20th century would crumble thanks to an iceberg hidden in the source code. Maybe it’s the same with vampires nowadays. Maybe we’re all wishing we were undead.