Vlad to meet you, hope you guessed my name

Good morning, I’m Francis Ford Coppola and I’m speaking to you from the Bohemian community of North Beach, and I’m going to talk to you a little bit today about my connection to Dracula.

Not really, of course! I’m not Francis Ford Coppola, I’m not actually speaking to you from North Beach (never been, no idea how Bohemian it is), and I have no actual connection to Dracula. But I was thrilled to see that the DVD of Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA has a feature on the menu labeled Watch BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA With Francis Coppola. Nothing could thrill me more that to watch this beautiful, silly film, in the company of its director, though I suppose I’m slightly afraid that he’ll call me a whore to help my motivation, as he did to Winona Ryder. But I can take it!

How is this visionary illusion created? First, by an apparition of the Great Man in a violently pink shirt, appearing before us as if from the tomb. He talks at you from the screen, as if he can really see you. He knows it’s morning!

At 1:19 we get Uncle Francis’s first factual error when he says that John Carradine plays Dracula in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. But kudos for being bold enough to admit that Carradine was his favourite screen Dracula. That’s just insane. But already BSD is making more sense to me.

So join with me on this adventure, I will tell you some of my thoughts concerning why I made it in the way I did

How I Did It by Victor Frankenstein

and hopefully share those experiences with you.

Then he goes away and the film plays, but his disembodied voice continues to eerily comment on the action, as if he were sitting beside you in the darkened auditorium, ruining his own movie. Oh no, if he calls me a whore in this setting I’m not sure I could handle it. I confess, I mainly wanted to join Uncle Francis on this adventure to see how long it would take him to say something funny, and he already has before the commentary even started.

Did you know that in the original Columbia Pictures logo it was Irene Dunne that was photographed standing there holding the torch?

WOW! Literally the first line, spoken over the logo, is a factual error! Though it’s nice to get an Irene Dunne reference into a Dracula film. THE AWFUL TOOTH? And I guess an Evelyn Venables reference wouldn’t have the same cachet.

Uncle Francis launches into a history lesson at this point. I don’t know as much as he does about this time and place — the backstory of Vlad Tepes — but I’m going to assume he’s making one Irene Dunne-type mistake every eight seconds, if that’s OK with you.

I love the imagery in this sequence, though it’s slightly uneven — maybe TOO MUCH BEAUTY? But hats off to the shadow puppetry. Bold. Taps foot waiting for Uncle F. to say something I can fact-check.

This prologue was pretty much created after the fact by my son Roman

Okay, that’s nice to know. Hats off to Roman and filmmaker/VFX artist/titles guy Gary Gutierrez.

Sudden sound change and Uncle Francie launches into a sentence that sounds like a continuation of a missing thought —

So when the young actress Winona Ryder

Glad he’s explaining who she is.

came to see me and the purpose of our discussion was really about the fact of how she had dropped out of working on GODFATHER III, you know

I think Winona may have had an ulterior motive in arranging that meeting.

Winona was supposed to play the young daughter of the GODFATHER III story and when she came she didn’t feel well and she basically withdrew from the film leaving me in a tough spot for GODFATHER III.

But I’m not bitter. I’m definitely not going to call her a whore.

Much later we talked about it and I didn’t want to have a grudge against a young person so I tried to be nice to her and say “Yes I understand what happened,”

I’m a bad person for finding all this funny. I in no sense foresee this relationship turning sour owing to Francis’s subconscious rage at the young whore actor Winona Ryder.

and she said, “Well, good, because I have this script of DRACULA, would you consider doing it?” and of course that was a magic word to me

Maybe the trouble with this sequence — and the film as a whole (or one of them) — is that it’s full of beautiful shots that don’t necessarily cut together, and these shots are quite extreme — they all feel like CLIMAXES — and they break into much more conventional coverage and create an odd, stop-start effect, rather like me with the pause button transcribing Uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s words of wisdom.

I agreed to do it, it was really sort of putting my life back together after some of the big financial setbacks that I had had, which was what led me to make the third GODFATHER and the DRACULA picture and kind of stabilise my life at that time when it had been pretty rocky.

This works particularly well as a commentary while a visibly inebriated Gary Oldman is pledging his soul to the Devil and drinking from a golden goblet of stigmata-juice. I’m running out of hats to take off but this astonishing frankness deserves a fresh head-baring.

Still on the prologue and costume designer/genius Eiko Ishioka gets a mention. After the young actress Winona Ryder and son Roman, but still, prominently up there, which is good. Now it’s late, and I have an edit tomorrow, so I’m going to have to say

TO BE CONTINUED

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10 Responses to “Vlad to meet you, hope you guessed my name”

  1. Oh, I wish it were online! There is definitely a lot to say about this one, pro and con, and I hope to get to it in future installments.

  2. I recently saw this on 35mm and it’s pretty astonishing as a film. It looks like nothing in the 90s and nothing made today. I think it ranks alongside VAMPYR and Cuadecuc-Vampir (by Pere Portbella) as the best Dracula movie.

    It’s basically Dracula if Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, and Georges Melies collaborated on it in the late 19th Century. And it’s glorious.

    I’d rank it among Coppola’s best alongside Rumble Fish, One from the Heart, Tetro, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Tucker, Conversation.

    I would love to listen to this commentary. I like Coppola’s DVD commentaries from Rumble Fish and One from the Heart. The former film, Rumble Fish, has a hilarious story about Chris Marker meeting him on the set of the film.

  3. I meant NOSFERATU instead of VAMPYR, but Dreyer’s movie is also great.

  4. John Boorman was a big admirer of this when it came out. It’s an interesting test case: so much of what it’s doing is gorgeous aethetically or interesting technically. It’s full of ideas, too, although sometimes leadenly expressed. And it’s not scary, and is often unintentionally funny, and not funny when it tries. So filmmakers are perhaps more likely to admire it than the public, who understandably want films that WORK.

  5. But Bram Stoker’s Dracula did work for the public. It was a commercial success (made $215 million as per wikipedia) and its aesthetic was influential enough that it got spoofed on Simpsons, and by Mel Brooks, and it’s influenced many other work after it.

  6. Yes, but crucially it GETS NO RESPECT. In the same way that something like Titanic is remembered possibly with a kind of affection but is still regarded as junk.

  7. Well respect is a tricky thing. Like George Lucas’ prequels were successful and certainly influential and famous, but somehow they aren’t liked even if they have his best film-making (especially the third prequel). I guess Coppola’s DRACULA doesn’t target teenage boys, and it goes against the counter of heroic stories killing monsters (which the original book had). And Titanic likewise targeted women. So even when they succeed, nobody liked it. Lucas’ own prequels were even more counter-intuitive to heroic fantasies and more downbeat than the hooch the current films are selling.

    It’s interesting that Coppola’s film anticipates the romantic vampire movie craze from a few years back, and even stuff like Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD (Coppola modelled Lucy Westenra’s vampirism scenes on hysteria and Cronenberg represented hysteria in the same way in that film). And Coppola’s focus on practical effects and stuff was ahead of the curve in terms of the current retro-fashion even as FFC himself has gone full digital.

  8. “More Like ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’”(according to Netflix): “We Need to talk About Kevin,” “Captain America: First Avenger,” and “Alien Resurrection.”

  9. Ha! I just wrote a little crack at Lynn Ramsay in Part 2, which may appear on Friday.

    It’s true that commercial films targeting women get less respect than equally good or silly movies aimed at guys. Pearl Harbor was seen as a flop and a terrible film, but it was INSANELY popular with teenage girls who would hold parties and watch it together, right along with Titanic.

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