Jack-the-Vlad

Cast list for Mario Puzo’s DRACULA —

Al Pacino — Dracula

Diane Keaton — Mina Murray

Robert Duvall — Jonathan Harker

Marlon Brando — Professor Van Helsing

John Cazale — Renfield

Duvall’s Dr. Watson in THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION is a worthy predecessor to Keanu Reeves’s Unconvincing Victorian Gentleman in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. OK, on with our amazing journey through Francis Coppola’s director’s commentary, billed excitingly as Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula With Francis Coppola. Let’s! Oh, do let’s!

A pause in the commentary allows us to enjoy Keanu’s accent. It’s not that the accent is awful, or even too extreme — some posh Englishmen probably talked much posher in Victorian times — it’s that the accent has taken over the performance and is occupying all the actor’s concentration. Plus, I guess if you’re known for being Keanu Reeves, which Keanu Reeves was at the time, your English accent had probably best be quite subtle and discreet, which this isn’t.

Winona’s “It’s just that I’m so tebbly worried about Jonathan,” could give Keanu a run for his money, though. The line is kind of pathetic (I’m guessing the film wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test — Winona & Sadie’s scenes are all useless drivel, women waiting for men to show up so something can happen) but the delivery feels positively parodic.

The garden is built into the swimming pool that was Esther Williams’ swimming pool.

OK, that clarifies what Uncle Francis said earlier. Suddenly it’s NIGHT, in the best Edward D. Wood tradition, and the girls are looking off camera, slightly upwards, and the sky is full of Gary Oldman’s eyes, and NONE of this works.

You know, he’s on his ship, in his coffin, buried in his soil of Transylvania, and it’s beginning to influence even those girls in England.

It’s hot, you’re sweating, now here comes Julius!

Now Francis embarks on a stream-of-consciousness monologue in which what he’s trying to say keeps getting interrupted by what he’s looking at, because he can’t help say what he’s looking at, like a child going “Dog!”

This is a sequence trying to express the crates of boxes of Dracula’s belongings, including himself in a kind of almost embryonic state in the box and of course the movement of the ship on the water is now translated even to the girls in their garden and maze trying to unify the turmoil of storm that is about to, um, reach them… […] As though the earth of this English estate is moving, and the animals in the zoo are all becoming like a boat. […] All hell is breaking loose in the asylum because the coming of the boat again the metaphor is that the boat is expressed by boat-like movement even in a rock-solid place like an asylum.

The Joycean quality of the above does kind of suit the sequence, which is a very exciting one. John Boorman praised it for being a new form of cinema… Coppola admits he got it from Abel Gance. I think the few static shots here are a shame though. Ken Russell would have found a way to keep the madness going.

He’s getting so stoked, Renfield.

Well, it is BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.

Coppola credits the pixilation shots, like a speed-freak version of the EVIL DEAD’s shakicam, to his son Roman, and speculates that the technique may have been developed and named by experimental filmmakers in the San Francisco Bay Area. As far as I know it’s Norman McLaren’s term, but I may be wrong.

Please, this isn’t what it looks like!

Then Dracula in the form of a big werewolf is shagging Sadie Frost and even Coppola seems bemused.

I’m a little surprised by this movie, I haven’t seen it in such a long time, but… it never stops doing stuff. It’s hard for me to talk about it, because normally, doing a commentary — oh yeah, he’s actually seeing the blood coursing through her veins — these are all ideas that we hoped to do when we planned it out and then of course we had to find ways to be able to do this imagery… and some work really very, very successfully, and some, uh, not at all, but you can see that it was a production that was full of ideas…

I like that he’s on the point of explaining why the film is hard to commentate on because crazy shit keeps breaking out, when he has to cut himself off because some more crazy shit just broke out. He then invokes Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a mistake, I feel. Surely he’s thinking of Charles Band’s PHANTOMS.

This sequence is actually shot with a Pathé camera, hand-cranked camera. I wanted to shoot much more of it with the camera but the photographer was less than interested.

Michael Ballhaus is emerging as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, isn’t he? It’s a lovely moment, and for once, it DOES feel like we’re back in the past.

Maybe the British actors and Ballhaus and, oh, everybody else who wasn’t a relative, was having trouble figuring out what this film was supposed to be because Coppola, as we’ve seen, doesn’t express himself very precisely with words. But he does express himself expressively. I recall Clive James quoting, I think maybe it was Bruce Beresford — “There’s an interview where Coppola says he doesn’t make films for the hoi polloi, when he means the intelligentsia.” Coppola would naturally want to use the term hoi polloi because it sounds snooty, something a toffee-nose would say, even if it doesn’t mean what he wants it to mean.

Well hello.

Coppola points out the clever effect where Oldman seems to catch a falling medicine bottle at knee level, then all at once has it at eye level — in an unbroken shot. THIS is the kind of “Did I see that?” sleight of hand that’s perfect for making the character a touch uncanny but not obviously strange.

(My friend Kiyo said “But… he’s obviously strange,” as Jude Law romanced the heroine of TALE OF A VAMPIRE, and then Fiona and I use it every time a Gothic movie attempts to sell a character as seductive when in fact you’d run screaming into the night if you ever met him.)

Fiona points out that Oldman is unlikely casting as a sexy Dracula, but admits that he is rather splendid in his man about town garb and shades.

I’ve always had the theory that a man loves the same woman all his life even if she takes the form of different women but ultimately from Day One a man loves the same woman and she is him.

Does this line work on the long-suffering Eleanor, I wonder? Oh, I’m such a bitch.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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6 Responses to “Jack-the-Vlad”

  1. Funny to see your contemplation of a major Gary Oldman performance at this point in his career. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is “Odd Film Out” in skeenteen ways, one of them being Oldman — who is about to win the Oscar for playing Sir Winston Churchill. Having played Joe Orton and Sid Vicious, Churchill was inevitable as Oldman has come to embody (dare I say it?) ENGLAND ITSELF!

    Obviously Laurence Olivier is next on his menu. Or perchance Terence Rattigan?

  2. The Seven Percent Solution provokes a Sondheim cue!

  3. I’d like to see Gary Oldman play Gary Numan (who is around a dozen days older than Oldman).

    If that doesn’t provoke a cue, nothing will.

  4. There’s some interesting confusion here. Julien Sands played a lonely, supposedly romantic, actually weird vampire in Tales from a Vampire (1992)

    Whereas Jude Law played a lonely, supposedly romantic, actually weird vampire in Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998)

    Two oddities of British 90s cinema (its 3rd worse decade), both starring blonde Brit hunks as vampires, both attempts at drama with horror elements, both made Asian directors (Shimako Satō and Po-Chih Leong)

    I wish I could remember more about them, except that they both managed to be simultaneously weird and drab

  5. You are, of course, quite correct. I think the one I’m remembering is Tale of a Vampire, in which case I’ve transposed Law for Sands, which makes little difference. Though maybe Sands is inherently more “obviously strange.”

    Yeah, they were strangely lifeless, uninvolving and dull despite lots of peculiar elements that should have been diverting. Makes you think better of Coppola’s efforts, which are never dull.

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