I'd stumbled across Michael Almereyda's '90s indie gem Nadja whilst planning out my LIST film features related to BAM's "Bela Lugosi's Dead, Vampires Live Forever" series. The venue began this ingeniously curated program at the beginning of August and Nadja was set for the 31st — and all I had to do was check that one gorgeous b&w promo photo and read the description (Pixelvision! 90s rock! David Lynch cameo!) to get hooked. Then the Chicago Review's summation: "Hal Hartley meets David Lynch", and well the fact it's like a redo of Dracula's Daughter (1936) set in the East Village and Brooklyn at twilight and, well... so why, really, have I not see this already?? So I did the only suitable thing, Netflix it ahead of its BAM screening.
previous "Strange Films" entry, this one is spoiler-laden. Suffice it to say here: Nadja is a beauty, TOTALLY worth seeing at BAM, plus there's a Q&A w/ dir. Almereyda and editor David Leonard, moderated by New York magazine's film critic David Edelstein. Hell, I might see it again — it screens 7p at BAM on Tuesday the 31, but you knew that already since you read my LIST)
"Nights / nights without sleep / long nights in which the brain lights up like a big city..."
Segueing straight into the guitar riffs of My Bloody Valentine's "Soon", the city lights smear and, after the bassline drops, they hit the distortion pedals and we're off.
This is one of the best film intros I've ever experienced. Maybe it's b/c "Soon" is my favorite MBV track (absolutely massive live), but that w/ Nadja's words and the night-scene, it all worked wonderfully. We meet Nadja, in some late-night cafe, riffing on Europe v. America (specifically New York) to a guy she picked up, about her rich dad, while she chainsmokes and looks stunning in a headband keeping her bob in place. Her cheekbones could cut glass. Cut to taxi (or back of some car), where Nadja and dude are making out, that is until her necking turns into chomping down on his neck, either sucking his blood or ripping his throat out b/c it's quite hard to tell here. This is the Pixelvision effect, a signature toy of Almereyda's, created via the PXL-2000 (the Fischer-Price camcorder), and enacting this smoky, pixellated effect not unlike surveillance cameras. I found it quite effective throughout, as it lends a creepy voyeuristic angle, either distancing us from the action or putting us much closer, pressed up against the glass but unable to proceed any further. We learn here (if you weren't hip to it already) that Nadja is indeed a vampire and dad is none other than the recently smote Dracula.
Elsewhere, Jim springs crazy uncle Van Helsing from the clink, this long-haired batty old guy very, very much like Christopher Lloyd circa Back to the Future II, and they catch up at another cafe. The whole while, Van Helsing, perennially sunglassed (his special vampire-seeking shades), discourses on his theories on Dracula and how he would kill for a drink right now, all the while making the waitress very very nervous. When I think about it, everyone in this film has long hair (even Jim, in a shaggy way) in that, proportionally anyway, the shortest hair is Lucy's, which sort of fits w/ the next scene: she's alone at some bar and picks up Nadja (!) after some confiding back and forth (Nadja is upset her brother — the twin — hates her, though she must visit him anyway; Lucy's brother killed himself at age 21). Right, this scene was immediately preceded by another soundtrack bonus: Portishead playing as Nadja floats towards that bar, wiping away tears, drawing a cigarette, cloaked in black. They relocate to Lucy's flat. The Pixelvision commences once again as the women photograph themselves, then make love.
Jim returns, possibly the next morning after a bender w/ the uncle, and finds Lucy listless and bleeding, zombie-like. So he's obviously concerned but then Van Helsing pulls up, announces that he's actually Jim's father and they can't bother w/ Lucy right now b/c Dracula's body is missing and the twins took it! (so Van Helsing assumes) Jim finds the polaroids of Nadja and Van Helsing deduces that Lucy's zombie mode is b/c she's under Nadja's spell so they have to locate her. And she's gone to Brooklyn to visit her ill twin brother Edgar, whose nurse Cassandra is also apparently his blond human lover. Nadja tricks Cassandra into moving Edgar back to her spacious Manhattan prewar building, where she feeds him her own blood on the sly while Renwick dopes Cassandra w/ some laced milk (but not before dissing her for not being on psychosomatic meds and why the hell won't she move from his favorite chair?? It's one of the best exchanges in the film) Van Helsing, Jim and Lucy show up, Nadja gets Lucy to attack Jim while Cassandra flees and Najda flees after her.