“In the population of Transylvania there are four distinct nationalities: Saxons in the South, and mixed with them the Wallachs, who are the descendants of the Dacians; Magyars in the West, and Szekelys in the East and North. I am going among the latter, who claim to be descended from Attila and the Huns.
I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting. (Mem., I must ask the Count all about them.)”
— From “Dracula” by Bram Stoker
It was time to get down to doing what I came here to do. Laura and I packed up the car with all my equipment and set off for a road trip – Transylvania style! Our first stop was the gas station. My 1.5 litre Dacia Logan was diesel powered. In Europe there are two flavours of diesel, along with two kinds of unleaded gasoline. I filled the car up with the cheap kind (3,95 lei/litre) and wound up with a 163 lei bill (about $50). One quick pit stop at McDonald’s and we were on our way down E60 towards Brasov, in the Transylvanian Alps.
“All day long we seemed to dawdle through a country which was full of beauty of every kind. Sometimes we saw little towns or castles on the top of steep hills such as we see in old missals; sometimes we ran by rivers and streams which seemed from the wide stony margin on each side of them to be subject to great ﬂoods.”
— “Dracula” cont.
The drive was as picturesque as Bram Stoker describes it. In terms of majestic beauty, a road trip through the Canadian Rockies still holds the crown, but Transylvania has its own charms. There’s not much of a margin for error on these roads. Sometimes there’s a guardrail but generally, the highway features sharp drop offs, blunt protrusions and sharp turns without any warning. The quaint villages and slower pace of the highway through the mountain passes all add to the flavour of this magical place. The journey was only a couple hours old and it was shaping up to be one of the best road trips ever.
Brasov is kind of like Banff, except dustier. This city, set in the Transylvanian Alps is older than any in Canada and features rich architecture and Piata Sfatului among many other things. I once wrote that Brasov is like the good child who grew up to become a successful accountant. Bucharest is more like an angsty dysfunctional artist who drinks too much.
After checking into our hotel and chilling out for a bit, it was time to break out the cameras and head into Piata Sfatului. I’ve been to Brasov once before, about three years ago. The place hasn’t changed. I more or less knew my way around and that helped a great deal as I took everything in, figuring out how I was going to shoot this demo.
I’ve been thinking about this shoot for several months. I’ve researched the story thoroughly. I’ve read the novel, watched the movie, and culled creative possibilities. I’ve endured lost luggage, and a miscalculation of my own productivity. I knew I would get to this day, but it all seemed theoretical somehow. Suddenly, there I was, holding the camera in my hand, and it was time to be real.
I once flew into Montreal with a broken charger, ninety minutes of battery life, and a whole weekend worth of filming ahead of me. I had to be selective about what I shot, and for how long. I suddenly felt a sense of deja vu as I stood there, camera in hand, with the realization that I was 8,000 kms from home, a whole team of people counting on me, and the future of this project riding upon the footage I was about to capture. I had a mini ‘oh shit’ moment as I let it sink in.
The story of ‘Nosferatu’ doesn’t take place anywhere in particular, and to a lesser degree, it doesn’t take place within a specific time period. The film stands as one of the greatest examples of German Expressionism, and is acknowledged as one of the best films of the 20th century. The problem was the filmmakers didn’t secure the rights to Bram Stoker’s novel and after a long drawn out court case, the film negative and all prints were ordered destroyed in 1924. The film however, like Dracula himself, rose from the dead. One print was discovered in Paris and was saved through an underground distribution network of art houses.
I was standing near Piata Sfatului thinking that establishing the setting for the story in Transylvania wouldn’t be enough. The story needed something much more powerful. I looked at Laura, dressed head to toe in red, and thought to myself, “the story needs a metaphor.”
Suddenly all the loose strings could be tied up, and I knew exactly where to point my camera.