x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

In review with a vampire

Last word A Transylvanian critic takes on the popular Twilight series. Peter C Baker translates from the Romanian.

A Transylvanian critic takes on the popular Twilight series. Peter C Baker translates from the Romanian Readers, you all know where I stand: mainstream Transylvanian cinema is hands down the most vibrant in the world today. I'm not talking about the so-called independent fare that gets drooled over by left-wing academics in the Cluj-Napoca Times, the so-called "paper of record", but never plays in cinemas where you and I live. I'm not talking about "experimental" shorts that consist of nothing but close-ups of necks. And I'm definitely not talking about black-and-white "mumblecore" films where a bunch of overprivileged slackers sit around being lazy, and never even show their fangs.

Foreign film? Thanks but no thanks. I've said it before and I'll say it again: what do far-flung elites know about the daily concerns - the hungers, the fears, the desires - of real Transylvanians? The only thing worse than a foreign film, to be perfectly honest, is a foreign film made by humans. Liviu Vlaicu at the Cluj-Napoca Times can say whatever he wants: 90 minutes with no bloodsucking just doesn't add up to entertainment. Don't be tricked into thinking otherwise by the pimply 108-year old at your local video store - and don't be fooled by the titles, either. Beware, readers, of Reality Bites, There Will Be Blood and Red Dawn: none are what they seem.

Last year, when I first heard that a human movie was doing big box office here in Transylvania, I wrote it off to the enthusiasm of self-hating city slickers like Liviu Vlaicu who drink organic blood from bottles (if they drink real blood at all). But as the weeks wore on and Twilight steadily conquered our multiplexes, I became worried and curious. I went to the movie's website, and here is what I found: this movie selling out theatres across Transylvania - written by a human, directed by a human, starring humans, based on a book by a human - claims to be about vampires.

This was, as we all know, the first time a human movie about vampires had received any commercial notice here in Transylvania. But I look out for you, reader, and over the years I have imported and sat through several of these bigoted atrocities for your benefit. I can report that they're all the same, and all have the same loathsome message: sucking blood is aberrant, sucking blood is shameful, sucking blood is evil, sucking blood blah blah blah.

Twilight and its sequel, New Moon, in cinemas now, are little different, but much more insidious. This time around, a makeshift family of "reformed" vampires who have sworn off human blood is presented to the viewer as an example of the good that comes from abandoning traditional Transylvanian values in favour of a sort of mongrel international materialism. These "vampires" surf the internet on expensive Apple laptops, drive expensive sports cars, dress like human fashion models, and - of course - never, ever drink human blood. All this spending and posturing and self-loathing qualifies 109-year-old Edward, the most human-looking of the lot, not only to be an attractive hero of sorts, but also to win the romantic affections of Bella Swan, a teenaged human female, whom he swears to never bite. That's no typo: never bite.

Try to imagine, reader, the end of a classic like Guess Who's For Dinner? - except, after that unforgettable monologue in which the ageing Lord Ruthven denounces prejudice on the basis of skin colour, he doesn't proceed to feast upon the blood of the interracial human couple. This will give you some sense of how very backwards this Twilight saga is. "Want to be a hero?" New Moon screams at our impressionable youth. "Deny your very selves! Deny Transylvania!" And for no reward at all. This would be galling enough in a Transylvanian movie. Coming from humans it is downright unbearable.

Readers: does anyone know what a Mormon human actually is? Apparently Stephanie Meyer, the human female responsible for the Twilight novels, is a Mormon human. And just this week I have read in one of our many liberal newsweeklies that "New Moon offers a fascinating glimpse into the oft-overlooked complexities of the Mormon human mind". I am sure that this sentence will be repeated between dainty sips of plasmatinis at many a downtown Cluj-Napoca cocktail party this season. But what in the world does it mean?

Some commentators have decided that Bella's love for Edward bodes well for the future of Mormon-vampire relations (think blood donations and the like). What these optimists miss is that Bella Swan doesn't love Edward because he's a vampire. No, she loves him because he channels all of his powers into being a perfect capitalist human: he's rich, he drives a Volvo, he has a large and expensive wardrobe, he never sleeps, he never decays. When Bella begs Edward to "change" her, it isn't because she wants to be like us: it's because she wants to stay a young human forever, and for him to do the same. Parents! Talk to your children about what they're watching. By the time they tell you they're giving up on blood - or "going Mormon" - it's usually too late.

Credit where credit is due, however, to the New Moon soundtrack, which features exclusive tracks from many fine rock musicians. It is yet another testament to the strength of Transylvanian culture that our traditional artists like Thom Yorke have found such success even in the human world.
Peter C Baker is the deputy editor of The Review.