Monday, April 09, 2012


Its not often that what at first looks like a documentary film turns out to be something I would call art. Artful? Maybe. But ‘art’? Beautiful, accomplished, effective, heartfelt or even touching are descriptors I would apply to many documentaries I have seen but how many can be said have stepped into the area of being not just informative on their chosen subject but are art in their own right? In my experience these types of docs are few and far between so when they come along it should be pointed out and lauded. ON VAMPYRES AND OTHER SYMPTOMS should be held up as a great example of a documentary that I think is actually art.

It seems that director Celia Novis had the opportunity to speak with and get to know director Jose Larraz in conjunction with his appearance at the 2009 Sitges Film Festival. While some filmmakers might have seen this as a chance to interview the legendary man by simply asking questions about his work or his feelings about what he accomplished Novis clearly had a better idea. She takes the approach of an artist. She follows Larraz on his trip to the Festival allowing us to see him in normal activities as we hear his own voice explain various points in his career. Then as we see his speech to the theater crowd to introduce a screening of his classic horror tale VAMPYRES we see his public personality. Larraz is a very funny speaker and his self-effacing way of talking about his films is incredibly endearing. He is as unapologetic about his use of eroticism as he is surprised by the warm reception his movies get in the 21st century. He is proud of his work but not insulted if someone doesn’t like it and it is this attitude I find to be a wonder. It makes his movies even more impressive to me because if such a group of dark, brooding horror tales can be made by such a humble man then surely there is hope for other filmmakers of his type to craft lasting contributions to the genre.

The standout element that Novis uses in ON VAMPYRES AND OTHER SYMPTOMS that makes this film more than just another look at a retired artist is a series of comic book style drawings used to relate the story of Larraz's meeting with Joseph Von Sternberg in the 1960s. Shown with simple pans across the comic panels to reveal the word balloons in secession they give real insight into the cinematic passions that drove the director to make movies. Intercutting this tale with the 2009 footage of his adventures at Sitges is what creates the artful nature of this film. The expert back and forth of the dreamlike narrative is a conscious attempt to evoke the same kind of style Larraz used in his movies to make the viewer drift along with his fantasies. That she even tried to use this difficult style is laudable and that she succeeds is astounding. The feeling of being caught up in the often nightmarish sensation of becoming slightly unstuck from reality is very well done here making Novis' film a worthy companion to its subject. If you have ever enjoyed one of Jose Larraz's films I can highly recommend seeking out this documentary. It is truly beautiful and managed to bring a tear to my eye on more than one occasion.

1 comment:

Brad said...

Excellent article Rod. I didn't even know this documentary was out there. If you haven't seen Symptoms, do!