Scantily Vlad

Part Three of my (excited)  commentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, a dreamlike incursion into the kaleidoscopic mental tombola of this great filmmaker. With added comments from Fiona the Great and Powerful.

 

Clearly Jonathan Harker should have noticed, if not alone from the hairdo and the strange red robe, that there was something amiss with this guy, that there was something very mysterious in terms of the world he was entering.

Uncle Francis puts his finger on it — one reason Keanu seems dopey in this movie, prompting a lot of audience members to be (naively) surprised that the BILL AND TED star is a really bright guy, is that his Jonathan Harker has to be unbelievable obtuse and unobservant. Of course, all Coppola’s tricks with shadows are fun to do, just as Bela Lugosi walking through a spiderweb is fun, but it destroys our ability to empathise with the supposedly “normal” character.

Martin Scorsese talked about how strong and alarming it was to have Christopher Lee just stride into his closeup and chummily declare, “I am Dracula,” as one might say “Yep, that’s me!” As he put it, “…unlike Bela Lugosi, with whom you knew you were in trouble.” So I think it might be worth sacrificing some of the fun in order to gain some credibility. Despite Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski’s bizarre appearance in the two NOSFERATUs, the use of solid, real locations does add a certain mundanity that’s useful for contrast and also to anchor the phantasy.

I think maybe some of this stuff would work if it was just barely GLIMPSED, so that Harker might be justifiedly saying to himself, “Did I just see that?” and the audience would be chanting “Yes you did!” but at least they’d be able to understand his restrained, uneasy behaviour. And Keanu would have something to play.

he was reputed to be an expert meme

I think Francis means “mime.” But if we just exchanged the meanings of those words we could have some interesting conversations, so maybe he’s right.

Coppola tells us that Eiko Ishioka designed not just the costume but the hair, the whole look. From his making-of diary I recall him wanting minimal sets and to have the costumes really stand in for the sets, but he wasn’t given the freedom to go QUITE that far. Here, he tells her that he fired the first designer.

when you do things like that you’re always on the verge of the ridiculous.

He knows it! Stop mocking him.

Wait! “Reinfeild”? What the hey…?

Ah, that’s my missing Persian print! I can’t find that print. I know I loaned it to the movies to be able to do this scene and of my entire Richard Burton collection of Arabian Nights, that book is missing.

Aw! But I can attest that, while movie companies usually look after props well, unless Kurt Russell is about, it’s when the director brings props in, those are the things that vanish. Still, now we know that Coppola has a vast collection of ancient Persian porn.

While this is being discussed, we meet Sadie Frost via some very non-Victorian dialogue, and then her three suitors, Withnail, the Dread Pirate Roberts, and the Rocketeer.

They were such an enthusiastic young group of people. They all came to Napa I remember for a week or so of rehearsal and I staged also some wacky adventures for them to go on to bond. I remember that the three suitors, I ordered a hot air balloon so that they could go ballooning

In his diary (published in the late-lamented Projections) Coppola complained that there was a lack of commitment from the younger actors, but maybe he didn’t mean these ones. Fiona and I saw Richard E. Grant talk about his film career and he was a bit cheeky about Coppola’s rehearsal techniques. I don’t think he mentioned the balloon, but he said they were all sent to the zoo to study the animals. And I think Sadie Frost did use this a bit for her one good scene here (as a vampire).

Antony Hopkins: “Gary needed help with his character and he wasn’t getting it from the director.”

Oldman to Coppola: “Look, the film’s called DRACULA, isn’t it?”

I’m heartbroken that when they show this movie on TV they cut these sequences out, maybe they’re too weird

Wait, they cut Tom Waits out on TV? Because you can’t show bug-eating estate agents on TV?

Apparently Waits/Renfield/Reinfeild’s weird Freddie Kruger finger-fretwork is “so he won’t hurt himself.”

Here, Coppola makes the mistake of starting a sentence with no conclusion, or point, in mind, and has to speak very slowly, hoping something will come up:

Of course, he is under the care of Richard E. Grant’s character, Dr. Seward, his behaviour is… notably being studied as for… what evidence it can… ultimately then contribute… to the strange things that begin to happen… in London… with the shadow of the oncoming of Count Dracula.

Fiona: “I think you’re being incredibly mean towards a man who’s bipolar.”

And it’s true, we all get lost in our own sentences sometimes. This blog may stand as a record of that.

Reinfeild/Renfield/Waits says that the master is coming to make him immortal, Seward/Grant yells “HOW?” in a very untherapeutic way, and the man who wrote the words “He got twenty years for lovin’ her / From some Oklahoma governor” unceremoniously throws himself on the man who delivered the sentence, in a BBC documentary about The Arabian Nights, “I’m going back in time, to Egypt.” Fiona bursts out laughing. “This is a very funny film.”

This was a live-action effect. Here you see there’s a mirror and you don’t see Dracula reflected in the mirror but you do see his hand, and that was hard to do and I don’t remember how we did it.

Great. Well, Fiona suggests that’s Keanu peeping through a wee window while his stand-in stands in the foreground looking at him.

The photographer of the film was Michael Ballhaus, and he was a fine gentleman, I think during much of the filming he was very confused [laughs] as to what the overall concept of this film was.

No comment.

…all of it is from the Bram Stoker book, and lines, and [laughs] there, the robe goes out the door and the shadow goes after to follow it, I haven’t seen this for a while, but it’s full of, a treasure box of strange effects.

He’s not wrong.

Coppola tells us that you could go two ways with this, theatrical and stylised, or realistic and documentarian, since whatever happens you need to make it different from the various well-known earlier versions. This was possibly the more striking choice on paper, since you could argue that adaptations had been shading towards the more real… but then you have to factor in Frank Langella’s DISCO DRACULA, whose idea of Swooning Romance anticipates some aspects of the Coppola. Given Coppola’s great success in a sort-of realist vein with the GODFATHER films, I just wonder what he could have done with that.

“Monica’s so hot she can make your crucifix melt,” says Fiona, and then, “I had another of my Monica Bellucci dreams.”

Even though, in this case, the girls had all agreed that there would be nudity in their contracts, when they came on stage they were all covered up. And then I would say, “Hey, Roman, tell them to take off their clothes,” and Roman said, “I’m not gonna tell them to take off their clothes.” He said to the assistant director, “Okay, tell them to take off their clothes,” and nobody wanted to tell them to take off their clothes, and that’s usually what it’s like, but I agree that those scenes are not comfortable for anyone, and when I see the DRACULA material of the smoochy scene there with them all kissing and stuff, I was just dying, I was so uncomfortable.

The smoochy scene. I love Uncle Francis.

I remember when we shot this I was careful to do it in a way that exposed the baby to the little bit of handling as possible.

What this would USUALLY mean — and I have no knowledge of this incident or Uncle Francis’s child safety record generally — but what this would usually mean in terms of film shoots is that they just got on with getting their shots until maybe somebody said, “Hey, possibly we should try not to expose the baby to so much handling, you know, just the little bit of handling as possible,” and the director would say “We’re nearly done,” and years later would remember how careful he was. But I’m not saying that’s what happened here.

I always thought I would love to see that baby again, I held her in my hands and thought that, Oh I’d love to see you in future years, it reminds me I should find out who that baby was so I can go bring her a present or something.

Here I am, Uncle Francis! Just cash is fine.

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11 Responses to “Scantily Vlad”

  1. Thanks to Dwight Frye’s ultra-energetic performance, Renfield has always been my favorite “Dracula” character. The gay tween in me suspected that the count brought out the clerk’s “strange twilight urges,” particularly when he lets loos with that great maniacal laugh when he appears on the boat and is taken away to the asylum. That Coppola casts Waits in this role is most interesting. Besides being a superb songwriter waits is a fine actor. I particularly love his limo driver whose girlfriend is Lily Tomlin’s diner waitress in Altman’s “Short Cuts.”

    And he croak/sings Brecht-Weill with great panache!

  2. That pink shirt is starting to grow on me.

  3. I have to say, Coppola/Keanu’s Monica Bellucci dream looks better than Lynch’s.

    The dream that inspired Stoker’s Dracula is the bit with the brides, which in the novel and dream ends with an old man (Drac) spoiling the party by shouting “This man is mine!”

    So there is definitely a bit of gay subtext going on, and it would be nice to see a film acknowledging that.

  4. Dracula is definitely Bi. He uses men, the better to pursue women. But the men are part of his diet nonetheless. The first part of the story charts the seduction of Jonathan Harker.

    Who could do justice to this? Todd Haynes perchance? Jonathan Rhys-Myers could play the Count. Logan Lerman could be Harker — and Ezra Miller as Renfield.

  5. Your comment on Coppola’s (mis?)pronunciation of the word ‘mime’ is very interesting. I have only ever heard if pronounced ‘meem’ by men of a certain age (now 65 plus) who spent the 1960s and ’70s in the San Francisco Bay Area. Indeed, several of them were involved in the quite-famous-at-the-time San Francisco Mime (Meem) Troupe. I don’t know if this was an affectation adopted by members of the Troupe, or if the alternate pronunciation has a different genesis.

  6. Another monster in the closet…

    “Meem” is no doubt how Marcel Marceau would have pronounced it, if he had broken his silence, so I suppose it has some validity…

  7. “This man is mine!”
    Henry Irving.
    “Dreadful!”
    Henry Irving.
    Wonderful . I howled in the cinema at it when first released. Such a messy treat. Hopkins steals it for me as he yawns his way through the film with surly contempt. ( “I don’t like actors.” He says in the doc about rehearsals at Coppola’s bonding session.) I adore his ludicrous underplaying and his regarding Keanu with undisguised bafflement. “Oi know where the barstawrd sleeps.”
    Joyful. He’s up to the same old shenanigans in The Wolf Man. Again serving lines of horrific tragedy and great import like cakes at a school fund raiser. Great piece David.

    Sent from my iPhone

  8. The lack of a Renfield in the Christopher Lee / Hammer movies, especially the first one, always bothered me. I can imagine a script conference where somebody says, “Do we really need the crazy guy who eats bugs?” but to ask the question is to answer it.

  9. The obvious philosophical difference between the Universal and Hammer versions is that the latter is in a terrible hurry. Which you can understand, given the funereal pace of the former. But the early scenes in that are GREAT, it’s when they get to England that the film crawls to a standstill, so the solution adopted was rather radical.

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