This is the most elegant description of a vehicle crashing that I have ever read. The words attempt to relate facts and give descriptions, yet it is quite obvious that another story is beginning and being told:
I knew what was coming. I covered my eyes, unable to see it out, and turned my head away; at the same moment I heard a cry from my lady-friends, who had gone on a little.
Curiosity opened my eyes, and I saw a scene of utter confusion. Two of the horses were on the ground, the carriage lay upon its side with two wheels in the air; the men were busy removing the traces, and a lady, with a commanding air and figure, had got out, and stood with clasped hands, raising the handkerchief that was in them every now and then to her eyes. Through the carriage door was now lifted a young lady, who appeared to be lifeless. My dear old father was already beside the elder lady, with his hat in his hand, evidently tendering his aid and the resources of his schloss. The lady did not appear to hear him, or to have eyes for anything but the slender girl who was being placed against the slope of the bank.
I approached; the young lady was apparently stunned but she was certainly not dead. My father, who piqued himself on being something of a physician, had just had his fingers to her wrist and assured the lady, who declared herself her mother, that her pulse, though faint and irregular, was undoubtedly still distinguishable. The lady clasped her hands and looked upward, as if in a momentary transport of gratitude; but immediately she broke out again in that theatrical way which is, I believe, natural to some people.These words are from Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" from the collection of tales In a Glass Darkly upon which Carl Theodor Dreyer based his 1932 film Vampyr. Dreyer begins his film with these words:
This is the tale of the strange adventures of young Allan Gray, who immersed himself in the study of devil worship and vampires. Preoccupied with superstitions of centuries past, he became a dreamer for whom the line between the real and the supernatural became blurred. His aimless wanderings led him one evening to a secluded inn by the river in a village called Courtempierre.
Here is a description of what Allan Gray sees upon arrival at the secluded inn by the river:
A man is walking down the narrow riverside path that winds its way toward the spot where a ferry crosses to the other bank. It is a summer evening, after sunset. The traveler, Nikolas, is carrying a rucksack and, in his hand, a pair of fishing rods. He wants to spend his holiday in solitude, which is why he has come to this remote region in search of peace.
He arrives at the old inn and finds the door closed. The inn is lying in profound silence, as if all its occupants have gone to bed. Nikolas rattles at the door, but it is well and truly locked. At this moment he sees a reaper walking along with his scythe over his shoulder. He looks at the man curiously as he walks down the ferry. He shouts after him:
Hullo, you there!
But the reaper, not hearing his cry, continues on his way. The landscape is bathed in gray, dim twilight; every object has a tinge of unreality.The final description comes from Dreyer and Christen Jul's screenplay for Vampyr. In some sense, an understanding or an awareness of all this text is non-essential to Dreyer's film as its visuals are where its magic lies; or perhaps, all of the text is truly essential, as Dreyer's film also takes creative power in its hybrid nature of a silent film of recent past and a film of the burgeoning sound era. The opening text of the film which describes Allan Gray appears as exposition but also functions as a primer for viewing. Vampyr clearly adopts the sensibility of Allan Gray as Dreyer is depicting a "dreamer's" dream. The opening text allows an opportunity for the viewer, if he or she wishes, to adopt a detached or objective style of viewing, e.g. watching Allan Gray, the dreamer, and his adventures. I believe, however, this style of viewing is almost resisting the film. Having seen Vampyr numerous times, the visuals, the atmosphere, the music, e.g. its creative rendition, only allow for quick surrender. Seeing Vampyr through Allan Gray's eyes is far too seductive.A lot of the beauty in Vampyr comes from Allan Gray's smaller journeys within his his larger adventure. Upon his arrival at the inn, he does see the reaper but does not really have an encounter. He only witnesses the man call for the ferry at the river. The "unreality," however, is very much captured.The morning after Gray's night at the inn and his fateful encounter within, another "aimless wandering" occurs. This world is either Allan Gray's, Marguerite Chopin's, or Dreyer's. Once more, near the film's conclusion, Allan Gray leaves the manor after Gisele. As he runs, he trips and falls to then compose himself on a nearby bench. In an audacious move, Allan Gray never leaves the bench but has another small journey.Despite the interplay of written text within Vampyr (and playing with the outside texts which inform it), Dreyer's film is pure cinema. Dreyer's visuals and Wolfgang Zeller's score capture such beauty, making it timeless. The visuals and music defy description; or more appropriately, the visuals and music defy adequate description.
The Criterion Collection has released Vampyr in a stellar edition. Le Fanu's "Carmilla" and Dreyer's and Jul's screenplay accompany the disc (also from where the quotes above are taken). Criticism is also included in the form of an audio commentary and in a booklet. One of the more interesting reads are the notes on the film's restoration. It is difficult after viewing Dreyer's cinema to not recognize him as one of its masters. A personal favorite.