Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1872) preceded Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 25 years and inspired the latter. My new film, Carmilla, places Le Fanu’s female vampire against the backdrop of historical conflict between the East and the West, and finds the origin of the popular myth in racial and cultural fears that shaped our culture.
Having come to the U.S. in 1980 and observed expressions of xenophobia during the “trade war with Japan,” I have focused on the East-West conflict as the subject matter of my work in performance, installation and film. While researching my performance piece Tokyo Rose (1993-95), I learned that the phrase “Yellow Peril” was first used by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1895. This made me realize that there is an older, deeper fear of “the Orient,” an abstraction that stretches from Vienna to Tokyo and which represents everything the Occident is not.
In the age of AIDS, the vampire has been widely accepted as a symbol of the Black Death, itself a result of Europe’s contact with its neighbors to the east and south. The fact that the vampires’ prototype is found in the folklore of the Balkans –– the geographical bridge between Asia and Europe –– led me to suspect that the “evil” had a human face after all. A meeting with a Transylvanian Saxon woman who was interned in a Soviet labor camp after WWII moved me to expand the definition of the East to include the Cold War period to the present.
Le Fanu’s protagonist prefers same-sex victims and pursues them with erotic fervor. The lesbian overtones of Carmilla heightened the character’s “otherness” to its Victorian readers. I chose to focus on Carmilla over Dracula because her gender and sexuality make her a personification of “The Other” the West has defined itself against. The Orient of my Carmilla is dark and feminine; with Carmilla, I continue my exploration of the history and evolution of negative female figures that symbolize age-old fears of the foreign, defined by gender and race.
In 2012, I was able to complete the screenplay and exhibit two video installations thanks to fellowships from the City of Los Angeles. The film’s Facebook page (facebook.com/CarmillaMovie), also begun in 2012, is gaining momentum, now reaching 25,000 people weekly.
This year, I want to shoot several episodic scenes that anchor the narrative in history and suggest the visual scope of the film –– including the “Mata Hari’s dance” scene and the “Harem” scene with E.W. Lane, the Orientalist and translator of One Thousand and One Nights. Your tax-deductible donation will not only pay for the purchase, rental and/or fabrication of the costumes and props, but will also pay for my time to complete the CG Harem set and produce a series of concept sketches.
In case of over-funding, we can begin production on the “Maria Tanase” scene, with music by Mia Doi Todd; additional funds can also help me in my October 2013 residency at Bucharest AIR.