Capital Celluloid 2019 - Day 330: Tue Nov 26

Vampir Cuadecuc (Portabella, 1970): ICA Cinema, 8.15pm

This is the opening night of the most complete and ambitious retrospective of radical Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella’s work. You can find the full details here.

This screening is introduced by filmmakers Albert Serra and Ben Rivers, who will discuss the importance of Pere Portabella’s work in relation to their own practices.

There's very little in cinema quite like this movie. Made in Spain during General Franco’s rule, Pere Portabella’s extraordinary Vampir Cuadecuc was filmed on the set of Jess Franco’s shocker El Conde Dracula, starring Christopher LeeHerbert London and the exquisite Soledad Miranda. Filmed in stark, heavily grained black and white, this atmospheric and experimental "making of" documentary transforms the myth of the vampire into a powerful metaphor for bloodthirsty fascism epitomised by Franco and tyrants like him, a witty allegory with Dracula as the dictator who feeds on his people, yet whose demise is certain. Dispensing almost entirely with dialogue, Portabella relies on an abstract, fabulously idiosyncratic soundscape created by renowned Catalan artist and musician Carles Santos for its unearthly effect. Banned after completion, Vampir Cuadecuc remains a provocative, subversive and surreal experience. 

In a 2011 issue of Sight & Sound there's an appraisal of Pere Portabella's oeuvre by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum in which he counts tonight's film as his favourite work by the Catalan filmmaker. The movie itself consists of a black and white film of Jesus Franco's "very conventional colour movie Count Dracula (1970), starring Christopher Lee," writes Rosenbaum. "The material is submitted to a great deal of processing in visual textures and accompanied by a kind of musique concrete by Carlos Santos, consisting of such elements as jet planes, drills, operatic arias, kitschy muzak and sinister electronic drones."

Rosenbaum first saw Vampir Cuadecuc at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971 and reckoned it the highlight of that year's crop. "Vampir was my favorite of all the films I saw at Cannes that year. I returned to it several times, and described it afterwards in the Village Voice  as 'at once the most original movie at the festival and the most sophisticated in its audacious modernism', says Rosenbaum in this essay on his website.

Here (and above) is an extract.

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