Vlad Hair Day

Yes! It’s time once again to play Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Francis Coppola, from the comfort of your own home.

there’s a lot going on here because of these various killing and awakening of Lucy. So yes, doing a collection of actions simultaneously happening and edited together in parallel with a ritual is reminiscent of the time I did it first in the baptism sequence in THE GODFATHER

The big intercut is probably the closest thing Coppola has to a signature. The ending of COTTON CLUB, where the movie starts suddenly pulling together instead of pulling apart, is another.

Fiona is overjoyed to see Keanu has turned grey after his terrible experience with the naked ladies, because she has been transitioning to grey hair and has just gotten a haircut a lot like his.

“My terrible experience has just been life.”

Here’s Fiona as Jonathan Harker ~

Coppola tells us that he originally shot the wedding in an abstract set with just shadows, but then decided to reshoot in a Russian Orthodox church in LA — abandoning his own idea of using minimalistic sets. He also says that as a result of shooting the scene there, Keanu and Winona were actually married for real. Can this be true? Anyhow, this is the only location shot, it seems. (Apart from the sea, the moon, a few other little things.)

Sadie Frost gets finally killed by a wolf, in bed — kinda looks like she’s cuddling a big friendly dog — and tsunami-gouts of blood splash in from all sides. Curiously, the bed seems to be empty. Well, wet dogs smell pretty awful, and stage blood never dries, so you’d have had a big red wet dog, FOREVER, I guess. I don’t know what Sadie Frost smells like wet, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

That’s clearly an hommage to Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING

“Yes, and you shouldn’t have done it,” admonishes Fiona. It’s not her favourite bit of THE SHINING anyway. The gory shagging also makes me think of ANGEL HEART, which is a sensation I resent. Alan Parker wrote in the script for that, “They make love, as fluid as a flight of birds,” which deserves some kind of bad sex prize.

As a child I just loved Snow White because she had beautiful black hair like my mother and I never could forget the glass coffin

And of course Snow White is raised from her coffin, as Sadie Frost will be… that’s a good hommage. Of course, in this scenario, Richard E Grant is Doc, Bill Williams is bashful and Cary Elwes is Dopey. Stoker doesn’t give Lucy’s suitors much more characterisation than Disney provided his dwarfs. But I like how Williams enhances his role by trying to stand in the back, out of the light, almost as if he didn’t want to be seen. The above is probably the clearest view we get of him, tucked behind the mantel, and we still can’t see his jet-pack.

Now that Sadie is dead, Eiko Ishioka has finally been able to crowbar her left tit back into her costume, which comes as bit of a relief. It was a bit too much of a scene-stealer, that breast.

I must confess, and this maybe sounds disheartening, but when I look at this and I think of all the work it is to make a movie, any movie, I have to say that unless it’s a theme or subject matter that you have to make, because it says something that has never been said before or just is in your soul and you have to get it out, I can’t see any point to wanting to make a film at all. The way it’s been set up, and the way the whole profession has gone, it’s like, you have to tolerate so much stuff, you have to work on this movie for so long, under such unenlightened directives from the company financing it, and when it’s all said and done, they publish in the newspaper like the sports scores how much money it did, and they show it in a theater that’s like a box with ten other theaters and you have to not only hear the battery of critics that rightly or wrongly say their opinion, but absolutely everybody else

uh oh

it seems to me that the only reason to make a movie is because it’s something that’s never been made before and is really part of your feelings about life and that therefore it should be something that you should finance as well as make, because that’s the only way that you can have the same rights that a painter has when he paints a picture or a poet has when he writes a poem or to a large extent a novelist has when he writes a novel.

Not necessarily disheartening, just true. “No amount of money is enough to pay you to direct a movie,” says Scorsese, meaning there has to be creative satisfaction otherwise it’s just WOES. On the other hand, following Coppola’s ideas means we can only make low-to-no-budget movies, unless we’re fabulously well-to-do like him.

The apotheosis of Sadie Frost. Coppola tells us that the two-year-old she’s carrying was genuinely terrified and it took great effort to calm her enough to even get her on the set, She was scared of the fangs. Yet Coppola shows no inclination to go look her up and give her a present, which he was so keen to do with the baby Gary Dracula brings to his wives.

Fiona says that Sadie’s ferocious vamp act (she’s the one cast member who really paid attention during Uncle Frannie’s trip to the zoo, and the reverse-motion is fantastic, the costume is divoon), “It’s her best scene in anything, ever, the best scene in this movie, and one of the best scenes in any Dracula movie.”

“If Sadie Frost had done all her movies backwards, she would be bigger than Garbo,” I declare.

“No she wouldn’t,” reasons Fiona.

If everybody in this film gets a bit where you sort of cringe in embarrassment for the actor, which I submit is true, then this is Cary Elwes’ bit. He’s just so happy to see Lucy so ALIVE and WELL and HERSELF AGAIN…


Sadie opening her eyes and getting up, rendered backwards as Sadie lying down and closing her eyes (with frock wranglers tugging her dress about on invisible wires) is a stunning uncanny moment, almost ruined by the gratuitous EXORCIST knock-off blood puke, and then the cut from her decapitated head (shouldn’t that really be decorporated head?) to the Sunday joint being carved. The first is a bad idea because it’s just meaningless grossness — in THE EXORCIST that was the point: demons seek to remind us of our base physicality. And vampires treasure blood, so why is she barfing it all over Tony Hopkins? The meat shot is beneath contempt. True, trashing Sadie Frost has long been a popular British pastime, but we’re supposed to like her character and feel sad she’s dead.

Winona Ryder was really thrilled with the cast […] In a way it was her idea, she’s the one who gave me the script and I was very attentive to her wishes. But she had a friend, Keanu, just a friend, who she liked very much and thought was a very nice person and I did too, so we cast Keanu in the role.

The dinner ladies at my college are very nice people, if you’re ever casting something, Mr. Coppola.


We’re just coming up to Keanu’s best bit. The line “I know where the bastard sleeps,” can be said to justify his whole miscast, ridiculously well-intentioned and serious performance. It’s not good for the film, but it’s a wonderful moment of wrongness. The way he rises a few millimetres in his seat and sort of wiggles on his arse, like his English accent is finally taking over his entire body. A marvel.

Just before that, Winona does a great, complicated, funny, sweet bit, where Keanu has to say that he DID NOT drink the blood of those women, and Winona looks ashamed for him, proud of him, relieved, tender and embarrassed in quick succession. It’s a masterclass in Advanced Winona.

As the surviving cast light their torches and pull up their tights for an excursion to scenic Carfax Abbey, Coppola tells us that he had originally planned to direct MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN also but got to asking himself ~

what am I wasting my time for? I should be reading books or something and of course turned over that project to Kenneth Bra-nag.

He did suggest Bra-nag should cut the first twenty minutes of the movie and get to the creation faster, not a terrible thought in principle. We’re not told if he did actually read some books.

Coppola still insists that when this movie is shown on cable, they cut Tom Waits’ entire performance, something that makes no sense to me. He’s the best-cast actor in it (and we have to give Uncle Francis credit for that).

It’s not because of anything other than to make it fit into their time schedule.

Couldn’t they have cut some of the useless Winona & Sadie blather scenes?

Dracula as green fog slipping into Winona’s bedsheets is an in-camera effect via Roman Coppola, we’re told, which is why it doesn’t feel like CGI. Double exposures and reverse-action. But having him waft out of the covers like a Dayglo queef was probably a bad idea.

If you goof it up and it doesn’t work and you’ve already developed it, you’re sort of dead.

Like Dracula, who outs himself as a walking corpse to his lover. “Winona’s pretty good in this scene,” says Fiona. But, as so often in this movie, the best bits of her perf are right next to the worst, so we get the line “Take me away from all this… DEATH!” which is her version of knowing where the bastard sleeps. The way she curls her lips in distaste on the D word. Promoting the film, Winona listed the exciting elements of the Dracula story and when she got to “erotic” she did a little involuntary lip-curl which was very cute.

Winona later said that doing the press interviews to promote BSD was the greatest acting challenge of her life.

I think if I was going to shoot a big elaborate sexy scene involving so-called sexual activity I would hire a fight co-ordinator to do it

And his reasoning is actually really sound.

Everybody seems to have decided that Winona’s non-Victorian VPL is in no way a problem.

The foam rubber nipple of Gary Oldman! Where is it today, I wonder? Melted down to make Winston Churchill’s jowls, probably. A shame, I’d like to make a Frankensteinian assemblage using Nicole Kidman’s false nose from THE HOURS and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s prosthetic vulva from ANTICHRIST (you can glue the clitoris back on, it’ll be good as new) and so on. The Oldman teat would be a valuable addition.

I think it was Orson Welles who said the two most difficult or convincing things to show in a movie are people praying or people making love.

He probably didn’t say it in quite those words. And I haven’t heard it before. But I’m willing to sort-of trust Uncle Francis here.

“Keanu’s hair suddenly looks like Widow Twanky’s!” Or maybe the farmer’s wife in the painting American Gothic. It’s back to “normal” in the next scene but here it’s all bushy and centre-parted, a literal fright wig. Maybe it’s turning into Vlad’s bum-head hair.

When my Japanese friend Kiyo saw this scene, with Oldman in his batsuit, he said, “But he hasn’t got a pennis.” The slight mispronunciation made it very funny at the time, and we quote the line almost as much as his “But he’s obviously strange.” The two arguments might go together, supporting one another.

I remember this now also… I really blew my top once in rehearsal, because we’re trynna stage this scene and I’m saying, “OK, you’re in the wolf suit but like you’re not in the wolf suit because we don’t have the wolf suit, but you get up on the bed and of course they’re all frightened because you look like a bat, or whatever it is you look like,” and he starts to get very, you know, he’s a very good actor and a very intelligent person, but he started saying to me in this very early stage of rehearsal, “How can I go up on this bed and be this weird creature when I’m not IN the weird creature suit?”

“Just pretend! You’re an actor!” says Fiona.

And I said, “Well just pretend you are!”

“I’m in agreement with Uncle Francis.”

And he started to get really, “How can I do it blah blah blah” and I just lost my cool and kicked the chair across the room

“The cat knows how to get mad.” – Gregory Hines on Francis Ford Coppola, referring to a hole Uncle F once kicked in a door, as high as his head.

and I left and said “Forget it, goodbye,” and left the rehearsal.

My memory — and I can’t remember if I’m correct for sure and if I got this from Coppola’s diary in Projections or some other source — is that the bat costume was devised to ANSWER Oldman’s question, “How can I dominate this group of people who ought to just rush in and beat the shit out of me?” But the answer, really, should be, you’re Dracula. Toshiro Mifune could just stand there and everybody else could look scared to go near him. Christopher Lee or Robert Ryan or Danny DeVito could do it. But those are super-confident screen dominating presences, and kind of tough guys. Oldman has presence, but maybe not the same physical confidence, which may mean he’s miscast… which I’ve been suspecting all along.

Super-hilariously, while the Dread Pirate Roberts has a duelling pistol and the Rocketeer his Bowie knife, Withnail, being a psychiatrist, is brandishing a steaming test tube. I really really want to know what’s supposed to be in it. Richard E Grant is acting like it smells really bad. I would guess garlic, but it’s red and glowing.

This *might* be the scene where Coppola yelled “You whore!” at Winona, to “help” her with her character. Or that might be later. But it definitely happened. The kind of thing a director COULD perhaps get away with, if it were done purely for motivational purposes, but as is apparent from this commentary, Coppola doesn’t really like Winona very much. Which makes me sad. How can you not love Winona, Uncle Francis? She has such cute ears.

“Oh, I’d forgotten about that, that’s GREAT” — Gary just turned into “a man-shaped pile of rats.” It’s not a talent everyone has. It’s such a brilliant coup de cinema — he backs into the shadows so only his eyes are visible, glowing like a WB cartoon character when the lights go out, then the illuminate him, and he’s made of rats, a sort of rat king gestalt figure, which then collapses to the floor as individual constituent rats — I wish he WASN’T a bat because that’s over-egging it. From human to rats is much stronger. There’s TOO MUCH good stuff in this film and of course also too much BAD STUFF. Just TOO MUCH STUFF. But God love ’em.

“Of course, if I were doing it, or Tex Avery were doing it,” says a cartoonist friend, “all the rats would have Gary Oldman’s face.”

The rats flee the room. All of them. To think, if Withnail or the Rocketeer or the Dread Pirate Roberts had managed to stamp on just one of them, Dracula would have ended up reconstituting himself without a knee, or a chin, or something.

Coppola does a really bad Jack Nicholson impression, which is something I never knew about him.

what Gary was telling me was that my attempt to stage this in rehearsal was futile because he wasn’t in his rat suit, and I was saying, “We know it’s going to be something interesting and horrendous, so let’s just work it out for the movement.”

I love how it’s morphing from bat to wolf to rat in Uncle Francis’s lively mind. I mean,Dracula keeps changing, but not as much as Francis’s mind. Sometimes he just says “beast,” and is correct.



10 Responses to “Vlad Hair Day”

  1. Fiona here – I have since abandoned my Going Gray/Grey attempt.

  2. Fiona, what role do you think Sadie Frost’s straying husband Jude Law (“Jude Law” is British for “straying husband”) play in her performance?

    Can’t wait for you guys to get to “The Cotton Club.” Coppola is working on a new edition of it that’s more in line with his original vision. Hope it has MORE Joe Dallesandro.

  3. Fiona here David E – I really couldn’t say what part Jude Law played in her performance. Wasn’t her whole childhood screwed up to begin with?

  4. I definitely remember that quote from Welles, although I think he actually said it was impossible. I’d cite Stewart wringing his hands in “It’s a Wonderful Life” as disproof of the former, but as for making love… I think my favourite sex scene is probably in Anomalisa, so… yeah.

  5. Of course the outward appearance of both acts is easy enough to portray, but Welles must have meant the inner essence… which is arguably pretty hard to capture with ANY act. Peter Greenaway said, slightly similarly, that sex and death are the two things we never believe on the screen, although that’s an odd thing to say since both have been filmed…

  6. Fun fact: Sadie Frost made her screen debut in an ad for Jelly Tots. I think that was a bigger influence on her approach than the straying Mr. Law.

  7. Coppola works as a wineseller and vacational film-maker these days. I think what he is striving towards is Chaplin’s position when he made A KING IN NEW YORK (“A film of a free man” in Rossellini’s words). I saw TETRO among his newer films (haven’t seen the other two yet), and that’s a movie with a lot of interesting correspondences to both Bram Stoker’s Dracula and also Rumble Fish. TETRO is pretty good in my view.

    It has Vincent Gallo, and it was also Alden Ehrenreich’s first big role. It’s interesting that Coppola was one of the first ones to discover Harrison Ford, and now he discovered Ehrenreich who is going to play the same character as Ford (even if as an actor he is totally different).

  8. Alden Ehrenreich is a fresh and engaging face. He’s excellent in “Hail Caesar” and “Rules Don’t Apply”

  9. Yes, I really think he’s going to be big. Coppola used him in Twixt too, though it seems Spielberg was the first to notice him.

  10. Over the last few years Coppola has abandoned feature films totally and has been doing a lot of experiments with what he calls “Live Cinema” where a multi-location film is staged, filmed and broadcast to select cinemas, live.
    Last year he even had a book published explaining his theories. Apparently he’s evangelical about the process

    The problem is these live cinema experiments have only been shown to small groups so far, and don’t seem to be being preserved (I presume that’s part of the live element. Otherwise it’s just a premiere) So most people haven’t heard about them.

    Still, a good way to round out an experimental career

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