Monday, 18 January 2010

Across the Forest

People become as stupid as a box of rocks from watching television in stead of listening to other people, a man in Transylvania informs us. You learn from talking to other people, but only watching television makes you die stupid. So young people are not interested in what the elder Transylvanians have to say about strigoi and varcolaci, what we might call vampires and werewolves.

The frustration must have been the same when folklorists interviewed people in many Western countries earlier in the 20th century: Mass media replacing local traditions and the art of learning from other people’s experiences by listening to their stories. Today we are required to be flexible and willing to leave behind the knowledge of yesterday to replace it with the knowledge of tomorrow, as some say.

All the more refreshing it is then to get a glimpse of a world of traditions and experiences that is in retreat, in this case the rural traditions concerning strigoi and other extraordinary phenomena, as documented in Justin Blair and Matthew Vincent’s labour of love, Across the Forest. This 79 minute documentary contains no background information or commentary, just the spoken word of a score Transylvanian men and women. Some of them are telling stories that are like fairy tales, while quite a number of them claim to communicate their first hand experiences with e.g. being visited by a strigoi and having to put a nail into the heart of a dead woman to stop the strigoi from harming animals.

The documentary style of the two filmmakers resembles that of folklorists interviewing people, so the movie is a compilation of fragments of traditions and experiences that have been part of the local communities, and they do not force any particular interpretation onto the spoken word. That makes it a bit confusing, but at the same time we are free to judge for ourselves and to relate their tales to what other information we have on such beliefs.

So although we have probably become more stupid from spending too much time in front of our television sets, we now have a chance of spending it more cleverly by watching this pretty unique documentary from across the forest. It is available on DVD for $9.99 plus shipping from the web site, which contains more information. I recommend supporting the project by purchasing the DVD.


Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but have you seen Vampire Forensics (2010) by Mark Collins Jenkins, published by National Geographic in the USA? I'm not sure if it's available yet (or in Europe), but a lot of science bloggers (ScienceBlogs, Discover, Nature Network, etc.) have been getting review copies.

National Geographic is a highly respected imprint, but from the reviews I've read, it would seem the book follows the usual practice of taking the modern fictional vampire as a starting point, and then looking at biology, physics, archeology, etc., without a thorough understanding of historic vampires and vampire folklore. I've been sending reviewers over here to dig through your archives instead.

Niels K. Petersen said...

Thanks. No, unfortunately I don't receive review copies of books but have to buy them myself. Anyway, I actually pre-ordered it some time ago, so I should get it in late March or whenever it is published.

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