Friday, November 6, 2009

Dream Cast "Carmilla"

Awhile back, I posted my dream cast for Jane Eyre. Well, now my imagination turns to what some might call more 'up my alley.' One of my favorite period stories is Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla, part of a collection published under the title Under a Glass Darkly. Some disagree, but most who've studied such things say LeFanu's tale is the first example of the lesbian vampire trope. After Bram Stoker's famous novel of a Transylvanian Count, this may be the most adapted vampire story in history (although the caped impaler wins handily in that category, probably by an order of magnitude).

Most such adaptations are poor, to say the least. Many are trashy, brimming with sexual innuendo but no tension, drama, or even eroticism. Others, like Hammer Studios' The Vampire Lovers at least qualify as guilty pleasures. Roger Vadim at least tried to do a more-or-less faithful rendering in Blood and Roses (its English title). But even he changed to period, location, the focus and introduced a male love interest (not at all uncommon is such adaptations).

As of today, I have every known filmed version of the story save two--one of which is believed lost (a BBC production from the 1960s) and the other was a French t.v. film from the 1980s (am working on finding that one). Hardly any even try to capture the peculiar flavor of the original.

Granted, this is anything but an easy task. Much of the "action" takes place off stage (or page, if you prefer). The discovery of the vampire and her destruction follow almost immediately. No chases across the mountains, no futile efforts to keep the undead from her prey. In essence, the entire novella is from the victim/beloved's POV, a waif named Laura who usually becomes little more than a pretty prop for the filmmakers (Showtime's Nightmare Classics version is notable for at least breaking this stereotype).

But consider...Styria (the setting) is a sparsely populated land of mountains and forests dotted with farms and the occasional schloss. Following invasions and war its towns and castles mostly lie fallow. It is an empty land, a haunted landscape. Mists hover around the near-empty woods and valleys. On the night of a full moon, a stranger comes to a lonely family--a girl named Laura living with her widowed father. What's more, this stranger (the title character) recognizes Laura as someone from her childhood dreams. Laura recalls Carmilla the same way! Thus is born a mysterious friendship which proves to be much more.

Imagine if you will a motion picture as atmospheric as Picnic at Hanging Rock or Let The Right One In or The Duellists (plus maybe a touch of Lets Scare Jessica To Death). Laura and Carmilla walk together amid the lime trees, wheedling secrets from one another, sharing a dream not only in the past but to some extent right now.

Laura in the novel is telling what happened to someone--we do not know who. How reliable a narrator might she be? What was left unsaid? For example, who can say where Carmilla dwells at other times? She must sleep in her grave, yes, but who are the people who brought her? If anything, the coach and aristocratic woman who calls herself the vampire's mother seem even stranger that she herself. In truth, the novella abounds in tiny unanswered questions. My ideal would be for a film focusing on those questions, yet not really answering many of them.

Along those lines, I would suggest an unconventional choice for Laura. Some fans suggest Emma Watson for the role, but given the nature of Laura--this lonely, rather naive girl who so fascinates an unaging nosferatu--my suggestion is another Harry Potter alumn. Evanna Lynch.

For the title character, I'd choose someone who's actually played a vampire once before, but is now better known for another fantasy film series. Anna Poppelwell (for those who don't know, she was in the recent two big budget films based on the Chronicles of Narnia). Some might think this odd casting, since Ms. Lynch comes across as so ethereal while Ms. Poppelwell is quite voluptuous. Yet to me this creates an interesting dynamic, and helps explain/reinforce the relationship of the two--each in some sense is better suited to be the other, and perhaps on some level they know it. Besides, expectations are things to be used ruthlessly by storytellers the world over. So there!

Laura's father, whose name we never learn, is supposed to be English and elderly. Yet there's also something of a mystery to him. For example, he evidently forbade Laura to be told ghost stories and the like when she was a child. Why? For that matter, whatever happened to his wife, Laura's mother? My choice would be Edward Petherbridge, an excellent British actor probably best known here in the States as Lord Peter Wimsey on Mystery.

Running the household is Madame Perradon, Laura's governess and for all practical purposes her mother-figure. Since the casting in this matter is entirely up to me, I will select another British actor, one rightly praised for her many fine performances--Kristen Scott Thomas, perhaps best known for The English Patient but equally if not more impressive in such films as Angels and Insects, Four Weddings and a Funeral, etc.

Maybe somebody someday will do a version not unlike the one described here. Maybe. Stranger things have happened.

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