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Shadow of a Vampire (2000)
Directed by E. Elias Merhige Written by Steven Katz
In 2000, Nicholas Cage started up a production company of which he entitled Saturn Films, with Shadow of a Vampire the first script it sought to have completed. Writer Steven Katz, having had an interest in Nosferatu for the past 10 years or so, finally decided where to go with the direction of the script. The thought of Nosferatu being cast with an actual vampire so as to explain the incredible and realistic approach to the film’s take. With Cage claiming to have a knack for “matching talents,” working with both main Actors in the past. Both Actor’s having a history in stylized theater groups; Malkovich from Chicago and Dafoe, New York. Which was where Katz saw Willem in a Performing Garage and wrote the role of Max Shrek directly for him. The only problem seemed to be when referencing the title. Cage said it seemed to have an added pressure whenever films featured the word Vampire in a title. So it become Burned to Light for a majority of filming but in mid production was settled on the original idea.
There was also something quite poetic about the way Merhige directed the film. We open to a rather eccentric Director narrating a scene while shooting Greta, (Catherine McCormack) as she plays with her cat. Taking the audience on a journey into the “making of” a classic tale of which writer and director admitted to being great fans of prior to working on the film. We’re given a slight introduction of Max Shreck as they move locations just to meet him and are then told of the odd arrangements due to their lead being a most dedicated “method Actor.” Slowly bringing him fully onto the screen though catching a glimpse of his hands as they reach for a cage brought down for him to feast on. They begin shooting scenes with Gustav (Eddie Izzard) who becomes vastly suspicious of Max’s methods when later catching him feed off a crew member. One they end up replacing with Fritz (Cary Elwes) who seems to already be acquainted with their leading lady.
By the end they all become a part of something bigger than they could have imagined. Though I will admit that a certain scene is which Greta is seen experiencing a Morphine high while in some dream like state could have just the same, not have been included. However Elias had stated that because it was after the War, he thought it was important to show due to the vast importance it held in real life. But what I think is great about Malkovich is that not too many people can sell crazy the way he can. The camera in a sense becomes his character’s demonic tool, causing him to become completely oblivious of the obvious reality surrounding him. Each crew member giving into temptation as they pass the camera back and forth and their fates unfold; Friedrich finally getting his finished product. The transition from black&white to color as it comes to its conclusion is slow yet purposeful. They captured the shot of Shreck disappearing by taking a blow torch to the actual negative.
He was fortunate to have such strong male leads. While Malcovich wrote the majority of his lines in the film, as Nicholas Cage also put it, “Nobody gets upset like Malkovich on-screen.” The Director even stated during one specific moment that he went up and whispered into his ear to be more “over the top” than usually. So as he’s yelling at Max to die and shouting his otherwise true feelings unable to admit to, Udo Kier can be seen glancing over at him almost in disbelief, unaware of his new instructions.
Willem Dafoe seemed to have no trouble transforming into a most perfect emulation of his predecessor. Willem had stated having a model to mimic made the transition easier but I often think it would mean quite the opposite. If not an added pressure in having to resemble yet surpass a previous execution of a character. Though Willem brought several subtle touches that gave the role it’s added appeal. Because anyone whose seen The Boondock Saints knows how lost he can get within a character. Whether a snarl, the clacking of his nails or his often and many confused looks, Dafoe masterly pulled off the role. Throwing in a bit of comedic essence as he interacted with the surrounding cast which wasn’t sure what to think of him.
The surrounding cast included Kier as the Producer, Albin. Along with two other crew members at a time that made them seem more like the three stooges to a point. They were only along for the ride and to help see Friedrich’s film through to the end, which they did adequately so. A separate moment is shared between Albin and Henrik (Aden Gillett) with Max when he joins them for some Schnapps. Speaking of his past and feeding off a bat in front of the two. His facial expressions were hilarious and only become more enticing the further you get into the film. Plus Elwes had a hilarious accent and condescending grin that made for a nice side character once thrown in.
Though it is a dark picture so best to keep in mind upon viewing. Which you always want, to an extent, when watching something about Vampires. There were also things added to certain scenes that made the dark settings even more enriched. When Max Schreck reveals himself, he exits from an extremely dark corridor. And as he approaches Gustav, you can hear a slight heartbeat, making for great tension. The most pivotal moment being the one that leads to the confrontation between Director and Count Orlock. The two start by discussing semantics of the film and changing things originally stated would. Reaching its peak once Greta arrives at a later time and Schreck says it was hardly the Directors film any longer. Charging forth, he begins choking the Vampire as a shift occurs and we see a grin adorn his face as though glad he had done so. It’s in that moment that they know they can no longer trust the other and do what they can to secure each part of the deal. An original story and great assembled cast with an ending that has you conclude in whichever way you choose to see fit.