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David Pirie

In Black & White: Vampire Cinema / How To Read a Film

[Originally published in Movietone News 57, February 1978]

THE VAMPIRE FILM. By Alain Silver and James Ursini. A.S. Barnes & Co.; The Tantivy Press. 238 pages. Illustrated. $10.
THE VAMPIRE CINEMA. By David Pirie. Crown Publishers: Crescent Books. 176 pages. Illustrated. $7.98.

Two recent books on vampire movies, both apparently bidding to become the definitive source on the subject, actually emerge as complementary: the inadequacies of one are the strengths of the other.

David Pirie’s The Vampire Cinema demands respect at very first glance. A green-fleshed, imposing figure of a caped vampire from Jean Rollin’s Requiem pour un Vampire glares at us from a tombstone-shaped frame, centered on a background of blood red, threatening us moviegoers and movie-book buyers with the (intended?) ambiguity of the book’s title. Unlike most coffeetable books, this one has a text every bit as good and exciting as its pictures: Pirie’s writing, except for a few grammatical eccentricities, is literate, sharp, economic, and filled with insight. The illustrations, many in color, are selected, arranged, and reproduced with the greatest integrity, reflecting Pirie’s insistence upon the centrality of landscape and milieu to the vampire film, and with a profound respect for the fact that the pictures, and their layout, carry much of the burden of the book. They are there to be looked at, studied, their captions read—not just to dazzle the eye, decorate a page, or fill up space. Alice’s rhetorical “What is the use of a book without pictures?” is particularly relevant in the case of books on film, where recourse to composition, uses of color, light, and landscape are so crucial. Unhappily, Pirie is ultimately more concerned with theme and genre than with the specific cinematic techniques so many of these pictures exemplify, and that is one of the few inadequacies in his book.

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