"Shadow of a Vampire"
Pull up those turtlenecks. By the time 2001 gives way to 2002, four vampire movies will have rolled in and out of theaters, all aiming for that lucrative "youth goth" market. Thankfully, with "Shadow of a Vampire," the year of fangs and long black coats starts off with a good omen.
One of those "Does art mirror life or life mirror art?" movies that might interest Oscar Wilde if he were still alive, "Shadow" is an entertaining, if disjointed, short film set around the filming of an actual vampire movie. Despite some dire shortcomings in the movie’s plot, "Shadow" nonetheless stays engaging through the rapturous and engrossing performance of Willem Dafoe and a good one by John Malkovich.
A movie about a movie in the same vein as "Bullets Over Broadway," "Cecil B. Demented" and "The Player," "Shadow" tries to tiptoe the thin line between fiction and reality. Set against the filming of the actual 1922 vampire classic "Nosferatu," director E. Elias Merhige contorts the real lives of actual historical figures for fun and dramatic effect.
John Malkovich plays obsessive German film director F.W. Murnau, who is dictatorially filming "Nosferatu" in a remote area full of superstitious peasants. Along with him are his lead Gustav (a hilarious Eddie Izzard of HBO stand-up fame) and a vain, flapper starlet Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormack). In order to make his vampire movie as realistic as possible, Murnau recruits the famous Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) to play his vampire, Count Orlock. When Schreck does not socialize with the other actors and insists upon staying within his dark castle, Murnau plays him off as the ultimate method actor. All this is amusing to his crew until bodies start to disappear, alerting some that Murnau may have lied to them about who exactly Schreck is in his mad quest for cinema glory.
"Shadow" clocks in at only 89 minutes and keeps its message short and sweet, refreshingly avoiding any tangents and subplots. At the same time, however, it is this super-tight editing that is the main problem with "Shadow." There are many abrupt transitions from scene to scene, leaving the viewer to question how exactly the movie got to where it is at the moment. This lack of continuity and plot cohesion is the major detraction from elevating this otherwise intelligent film up from more than just an entertaining night out.
Watching "Shadow," one thing becomes obviously apparent – Dafoe unequivocally steals the show. Taking three hours to get into his make-up for the role of Schreck, Dafoe is a very convincing vampire. He dominates the show with his snarling bloodlust, humorous dialogue and overall freakiness. Basically a theatrical actor, Dafoe pulls no punches in bringing the methodical and horrific Count Orlock to life.
In writing the film, screenwriter Steven Katz remarked, "One of my real targets is how we raise artists up on a pedestal, when most of them, outside of their craft, are real sons of bitches." With "Shadow," the nefarious along with the humorous side of the artist comes out.