The blood-dimmed tide is loosed in Neil Jordan’s second coming to the vampire myth, Byzantium. Even seen solely as a vampire film Byzantium far surpasses Jordan’s 1994 Interview with the Vampire—and pretty much everything else in the genre. But while Jordan’s and scenarist Moira Buffini’s expansion of Buffini’s stage play A Vampire Story can be enjoyed as a straightforward—albeit narratively complex—vampire tale, it is much more. The familiar tropes of vampire lore (to which Irish folklore has contributed at least as much as middle-European) become, under Jordan’s skilled hand and eye, haunting visual metaphors for the tyranny of the body, the marginalization of the outsider, the economic suppression of Ireland, the subjection of women, and, most importantly, the means of rebellion against all of these. Vampires and whores, predators and victims—how can we tell the dancer from the dance?
In Byzantium, Jordan works wonders setting his outsiders apart from the environment they only half inhabit, while out-of-focus light sources dance in the background like leukocytes under a microscope. And when he isn’t creating conflicting layers with long lenses, he is choreographing motion on two or three planes of deep-focus activity. Background action cuts the vectors of foreground characters, which are themselves cut by the moving camera, keeping the viewing eye constantly alive, the viewing mind constantly questioning which movements are real and which are only suggested. One amazing shot, a lateral track of a beach conversation between two characters with a line of fishing boats moored behind them moves along the line of boats, gradually seeming to forget the characters altogether (and enabling us to do so as well), arriving at one boat boldly named “Our Lady,” then suddenly reverses its movement, as if the camera, Jordan’s eye, our eye, has gone too far, done too much, forgotten what it is about, and returns to the characters as if little or nothing had happened. It’s a delicious detail in an endlessly delicious movie, a celebration of color and light, a matrix of Irish anger and Irish love, with a satisfying, thrilling rightness about every move, gesture, and event. And if you remember that Bram Stoker was Irish, and that a guy named Yeats wrote poems about Irish rebellion and about a place called Byzantium—well, so much the better.
Copyright © 2013 Robert C. Cumbow