Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: Shadow of the Vampire

First off, I didn’t plan for this particular Saturday to be a triple-feature. Believe it or not, it just “kinda happened” and there were even periods were I felt bad about doing it.

I’ve gone to see films and then snuck into another movie afterwards, but I don’t think I’ve ever done three in a row and if I have it was so long ago I don’t remember. The only really strange thing I remember ever doing was sitting through ARMY OF DARKNESS, then afterwards going to the bathroom and coming right back to sit through it again. But I’m a big Sam Raimi fan, so that kind of explains that.

Not that any of this is important anyway. There was a time when I thought it would be. Way back when I started this Internet movie reviewing thing for diRt, these things read more like a weekly journal into my inner thoughts and what I had for lunch the day I saw the film I was writing about. But after a certain point, a couple of weeks after I started the Underground Film Journal, I realized there were more important things in the world than me. So while it’s next to impossible to not write about myself, I’ve tried to focus more on larger social and political issues. However, I’m sort of a lazy bastard, so mostly what I end up writing about are half-baked theories I’ve come up with based on whatever magazine article or book I’ve been reading at the time.

A couple months ago, this guy I know who is a fellow comic book collector was throwing out a bunch of his comics and instead of sticking them in the recycling bin he gave them to me instead. His and my tastes aren’t completely compatible, but I’m not one to refuse free comics so I took them.

For the most part the books are of the superhero or action/fantasy genres, basically they’re disposable entertainment. They seem to be produced by people raised on disposable entertainment and are thus only able to churn out the same kind of garbage. Some of it can be very entertaining garbage, but a lot of it is just plain “garbage” garbage. However, there’s nothing necessarily inherently wrong with junk food for the brain. Like Mom used to say, “That stuff will rot your brain.” I think the brain needs a decent rotting every once in awhile, which again is why I took the free comics.

(And I don’t mean to write all this as an insult to the taste of the friend who gave me these books. He did give me the ones he was chucking out. I assume he kept the really good stuff for himself.)

Unfortunately, though, I think the majority of the non-comics reading world thinks that all comics are throw-away, mindless superhero junk (no small thanks to pap such as the recent UNBREAKABLE). However, I also recently purchased what I think is an amazing piece of illustrative work called SAFE AREA GORAZDE by Joe Sacco.

SAFE AREA GORAZDE (pronounced “go-RAJ-duh”) is a book of illustrative journalism and a first-hand account of the Bosnian war from about 1992-95. Gorazde was a town in Bosnia that was deemed a “safe haven” for Muslims against the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs.

I remember hearing the news accounts of the war while it was going on and totally having no clue as to what the fighting was all about. Joe, in a move of brilliant reporting, clearly sums up who the players all were and what they wanted. Basically, the war was religiously motivated and initiated by the Serbs, who are Orthodox Christians and who were in political control of the republic of Serbia, which is a part of the country Yugoslavia along with the republic of Bosnia. Unlike the Serb dominated Serbia, Bosnia was fairly ethnically diverse and split amongst the Serbs, Muslims (who worship Islam) and Croats (who are Roman Catholics). While the Bosnian Croats and Muslims wanted an independent state free from Yugoslavia, the Serbs in Bosnia were opposed to the republic from breaking away from its partnership with Serbia. Then, when the Croats and Muslims were successful and Bosnia achieved independence in 1992, that’s when the Serbs started the war.

Like I said, Joe explained the above, and much more, really brilliantly. I’m doubtful the above paragraph of crap I just wrote will make any sense to anyone. In addition to being an incredibly talented cartoonist/illustrator, Joe Sacco did go to school for journalism, so he’s combined both of his prestigious talents into a barely explored medium – illustrative journalism.

The format and visual language of “comics” actually serves, compliments and adds to the written form of journalism. Combining the words with drawings makes the stories more personal because there are faces to connect with the tales that are being told. Nor is there the distraction of the stillness and disconnection of photojournalism. Illustrative journalism is intimate and descriptive in ways words by themselves or photographs can be. For the entire length of SAFE AREA GORAZDE, you are there living the lives of the Bosnian Muslims just as Joe did off and on over a four-year period.

I don’t remember which country SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE was supposed to take place in. The film is a fictional recreation of the making of the German Expressionist silent horror film NOSFERATU, with the conceit that real-life director F.W. Murnau hired an actual vampire to play the part of an actor named Max Schrek to star in his film NOSFERATU. The film does start in Germany, but the vampire’s scenes were supposedly shot somewhere else.

It sounded like a great concept and it stars two phenomenal actors, Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich (as “Schrek” and Murnau respectively), so I was very excited to see it. However, I’m not sure what happened. I’d like to blame the director for being totally incompetent or an overzealous producer chopping the film up into an incoherent mess, but I don’t know. Maybe the script didn’t make sense to begin with. Whatever the case, it’s a film that doesn’t really go anywhere with its fabulous conceit and then wraps up with a baffling, meandering ending.

Anyway, skip the movie, and speaking of incoherent and meandering, you probably should have skipped this review, and rush right out and buy SAFE AREA GORAZDE.