Monday, June 29, 2009

Putting the Bite on Soledad Miranda

The above image comes from Jess Franco's 1970 production, COUNT DRACULA, a film that marketed itself as a faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. While it fell short in that area, Franco still gave Christopher Lee a stage on which he could portray Dracula the way he'd always wanted to. Playing Mina, Soledad Miranda falls prey to the count in the above scene, resulting in a kinetic moment upon which Lee remarked, "I have played this scene many times, but this woman is giving me something no other actress ever has" (quoted from Tim Lucas' liner notes for VAMPYROS LESBOS).

Miranda carried this kind of sensual energy into Franco's later production of VAMPYROS LESBOS, a film that returned to Bram Stoker territory, this time very loosely adapting "Dracula's Guest," a short work that we now know Stoker originally planned as an early chapter in DRACULA. Franco makes no direct connection between these two films. Miranda's character, Countess Carody, alludes to her earlier life as Dracula's lover, though one almost wishes that Franco carried the Mina name into this film, thus implying a loose connection between the productions. The (r)evolution in Franco's aesthetics would find reinforcement in the (r)evolution in a character whose vampirism involves a rejection of masculine/patriarchal authority.

Franco likewise resists formal conventions in the film, and while his critics frequently point out how his non-comformist streak can result in awkward and even sometimes awful film-making, VAMPYROS LESBOS marks one of his grander achievements, an erotic masterpiece of vampire cinema. The film's nightclub scenes--an erotic spectacle within a spectacle--calls attention to a vampiric consumption of energy that takes place through the gaze of the spectator--by extension including the spectator of cinema.

In particular, the scenes of Miranda, donned in her nightclub garb, reaching forth to the film's viewer effectively break the fourth wall, so to speak, making our own spectatorship (and desire) the subject of the film on some level. As the vampire in these scenes, Miranda is simultaneously lethal, sad, and sensual. She gives a quintessential performance in a landmark film of erotic horror.

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