Vampires expose themselves to the light of the Cinémathèque française

The Cinémathèque française, in Paris, showcases an exhibition on vampires, from literature to cinema and series: fantastic!

Gothic novels of the nineteenth century to pop culture, The Bride of Corinth from Goethe to Buffy against the vampires, Passing by Nosferatu, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Francis Ford Coppola and Twillight, not forgetting the visual arts: vampires occupy the Cinémathèque française in Paris until 19 January.

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The vampire is one of the most fascinating, constant and codified myths of all. Going back to antiquity, it has passed through the centuries. He competes today with the zombies that are popular, but he does not disarm. Thus, no less than three comic adaptations of the novel Dracula of Bram Stoker are in stores in this month of October. The vampires have occupied the ground for ages and are not about to leave.

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French Cinematheque

The exhibition of the Cinémathèque traces this eternal history from the sources of romance, to cinema and television, through the graphic arts. The literary origins are gathered in a first room, where we find the original copy of the Vampire (1816), by John William Polidori, where Lord Byron's doctor and lover conceived the romantic, dandy, aristocratic and sexual vampire as we know it today.

Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) Vampyr / The Vampire 1900 Chinese ink and watercolor on paper 31 × 19.2 cm Linz, Oberosterreichisches Landesmuseum (© Eberhard Spangenberg Adagp, Paris, 2019 (detail))

It is surrounded by striking engravings by Gustave Doré for Hell of Dante, of Goya, or Alfred Kubin, who stand alongside the first French editions of Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker. Rare pieces from the 1920s, the novel having been translated late and published in French.

Faced with literary and graphic sources, is evoked the first adaptation of Dracula at the cinema in 1922, signed William Friedrich Murnau, Nosferatu, the vampire (A symphony of horror in V.O.). The project comes from Albin Grau, budding producer, licensed occultist, graphic designer, painter and architect, who entrusts the realization to Murnau before he becomes the master of world cinema we know.

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The film is banned by the widow of Stoker as unacknowledged plagiarism of the novel of her husband which she owns the rights. She burns all the copies of the film by court order. But Nosferatu Resists flames, so many reels roam the world.

In contrast to his successors, Murnau makes his vampire a disgusting monster. His followers turn him into a seducer, thus returning to the image that Stoker gives. The great filmmaker is also at the origin of the destruction of the vampire by the sun: the cinema, art of the light, can kill the evil. If the vampire remains well identified at night, it's Nosferatu which establishes this fatal power of the sun, systematically taken up in the vast majority of future films.

Albin Grau * (1884-1971) Nosferatu 1922 Watercolor on cardboard 16x19 cm Trogen, Kantonsbibliothek Appenzel Ausserrhoden CMO-59-1-A-32-0504S
Albin Grau * (1884-1971) Nosferatu 1922 Watercolor on cardboard 16×19 cm Trogen, Kantonsbibliothek Appenzel Ausserrhoden CMO-59-1-A-32-0504S (DR)

Albin Grau's originals for advertising inserts, and Expressionist preparatory drawings of Nosferatu, are among the most beautiful pieces of the exhibition. They are followed by evocations of the vamp Theda Bara (1915), and Musidora, actress of the vampires of Feuillade (1916). They do not drink blood to survive, but seduce or steal their victims to cause their loss, hence their identification with the vampire. So many avatars that precede the advent of the gothic Hollywood vampire in 1931.

The exhibition continues on the reception of vampires in cinema from the 1930s to the 1970s. The adaptation in 1931 of Dracula by Tod Browning with Bela Lugosi opens the golden age of American fantasy cinema that will last more than ten years with Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, the werewolf and other zombies. After German expressionism of the dumb, the horror becomes sound … and glamorous.

In 1931, Bela Lugosi embodies the exotic seducer (of Hungarian origin, the actor plays marvelously well of his accent, giving cult replicas). Thanks to him and the head operator Karl Freund, founder of the German expressionist cinema, the Universal studio, at the origin of this eden of the terror, engraves the gothic cinema in the marble after the pioneers of the mute.

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Fantasy passes the baton to science fiction for ten years and wakes up in 1958 when the British studio Hammer Films comes out Dracula's Nightmare by Terence Fisher, with Christopher Lee in the title role, which will have an unprecedented international impact. By making the fantastic cinema go from black and white to color, the studio will become for twenty years the reference of the world's fantastic cinema. Its influence will spread to the United States, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Mexico and Asia.

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Posters, photos, film excerpts follow one another on black-painted picture rails lit by chandeliers, to introduce the treatment of the myth in contemporary art, with Warhol, Basquiat, Urs Fisher, or Ferren Garcia Sevilla … Warhol will produce moreover Blood for Dracula (Paul Morrissey 1974), an erotic parody and gore with Udo Kier, who stigmatizes the burial of the myth for a few years.

The predators (1983) by Tony Scott, with Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Susan Sarandon, is the only major film of the decade, the vampire resting for twenty years. He is reborn more vigorous than ever under the impetus of Francis Ford Coppola who comes out Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1992. The film prides itself on being the most faithful adaptation ever made of the original novel, with Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman.

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The work is a box office box and revives the fashion of the vampire internationally. The subject begets little ones all the time:Interview with a Vampire (Neil Jordan, 1994) to Twillight (2009-2012) or A Walks Alone Girl at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014), the first Iranian vampire feminist (!), A UFO screened at Sundance and Deauville: a must. The vampire is everywhere.

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Pretty Pictures

The centerpieces of these rooms are the costumes of the Dracula of Coppola of a finesse of execution under the guidance of the highly inspired Japanese stylist Eiko, alongside those ofInterview with a Vampire worn by Tom Cruise and Kirsten Dunst. Unique pieces, beautiful.

The retrospective of some fifty films that accompany the exhibition goes through all the classics in its daily programming, with a good part reserved for the Hammer Films, and Cinema Bis (neighborhood cinema) which the Cinémathèque is dedicated every Friday evening.

The poster of the exhibition of the Cinémathèque française, Vampire: from Dracula to Buffy.
The poster of the exhibition of the Cinémathèque française, Vampire: from Dracula to Buffy. (French Cinematheque)

Vampires: from Dracula to Buffy, from Gothic to Pop
French Cinematheque, 51 rue de Bercy, Paris XII
Tuesday to Friday: 12:00 to 19:00, Saturday to Sunday: 11:00 to 20:00, night: Thursday: to 21:00.


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