Archive for Bram Stoker

Vlad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2018 by dcairns

Here’s part two of my commentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. Slip into your loud pink shirts and join me on this adventure! This time, we’ll also get Fiona’s commentary on my commentary. Maybe by the end of the two-hour running time we can include the whole world.

Take it away, Franny!

Tom Waits played Renfield, who was the former real estate guy who had gone off to Transylvania to attempt to do a real estate deal with this mysterious Count Dracula.

When you say it like that, it seems so natural. Waits’ casting might seem, on paper, the barmiest thing in this very eccentric film, but I contest it’s one of the things that incontestably WORKS. But then Renfield, like Goebbels, always seems to work. I defy you to name a bad Renfield. Although Jack Shepherd in the BBC teleplay is so amazing that he can make everyone else look like a flop. But Waits is great, and it must have been nice for Coppola to have a familiar face in the cast, an ally who evidently gets what he’s on about, as so many of the others did not. (But I’m not entirely blaming them.)

This is the only film I know of where Tom Waits plays an estate agent. That should change, man.

Waits’ first bit shows him standing from a crouch, filmed from above with a wide-angle lens, so he seems to sprout impossibly. A great trompe l’oiel moment, worth stealing. If you like stealing things — if you’re Paul Schrader or Lynn Ramsay — you should check this film out.

OK, Francis has started explaining the plot now. You have a choice whether to listen to actors speaking James V. Hart’s dialogue to explain the plot, or Uncle Francis, who might be doing a better job of it. Disappointingly, our favourite funny uncle generally adheres to the Sidney Pollack dictum of “Let the boring crap be boring crap,” so that apart from the pleasingly theatrical establishing shot above, this kind of scene plays out in dull, televisual close-ups. Since there’s always a world of wonder happening in the sets and costumes, this is a shame, and Coppola’s nervous tendency to jump in close — brilliantly apposite for Mafia politicking, fatal for tap-dancing — is in play throughout.

SUBTEXT — Coppola has already told us how Winona Ryder “didn’t feel well” and had to drop out of GODFATHER III. So in my reading, Renfield/Waits = Winona/GODFATHER III, the first attempt at doing whatever this is, who had a nervous breakdown and had to be replaced by one Coppola with another, and Keanu/Harker = Winona/BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, the current movie/mission. Harker’s trip to darkest Transylvania on behalf of his real estate firm is a metaphor for Coppola’s second attempt to work with Winona. Let’s see if this theory holds up, whatever the hell it is. Really, this is not a subtext I’m reading from the film, but from the film’s audio commentary.

This was a great big sound stage that had a pool, and this is the pool where Esther Williams made all of her films in the MGM era.

I’m thrilled to hear this and it seems totally appropriate. The same pool was renovated for HAIL, CAESAR! I believe.

I love the peacock feathers folding across the scene like a curtain, I hate the mix to a tunnel mouth. A lot of the overlaid images in this movie are very nice, and very silent-movie in style, but so many of the transitions are horrible — not in execution but in CONCEPTION. I will mercilessly flag them up as they appear.

Everything is live, it’s not done in post-production as it would be done in modern times.

Coppola then compares this approach to Pabst, curiously enough, before mentioning the more appropriate Murnau. Keanu on the train, deliberately stylised and unreal, still manages to be just as convincing as Arnie on the train in TOTAL RECALL. And Transylvania looks just as alien as Mars.

It’s interesting, I see the letter and he says, “Your friend, D.” For a while I was suggesting that we call the movie D. with a period just to try to designate it as being different from the more familiar Dracula movies, but I guess that wasn’t such a good idea, at any rates it wasn’t an idea that was used.

You’re right, it’s a terrible idea (commercially) but thanks for confessing to it. Coppola has already said that he put Bram Stoker’s name up front in the same way as he did with Mario Puzo’s, a much happier notion.

As Francie is describing how faithful James V Hart’s script is to the book, the film rushes ahead to Castle Drac, skipping out lots of atmospheric build-up. As a result of cramming back in all the usually deleted characters, the movie tends to be in an awful hurry, rather like Keanu’s coachman. Coppola tells us that he had the entire cast sit around for three days and read the novel aloud ~

something that really frustrated Antony Hopkins, who didn’t see for the life of him why I wanted to have them read the entire book, and of course I did because I wanted to be sure they read the whole book, and also I was hoping we’d discover something in the book that had been left out.

Strictly speaking, the latter task could have been accomplished just by FFC reading the book alone, but who’d pass up the opportunity to get the cast of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA to read you Bram Stoker’s Dracula? I like to think this happened at Coppola’s house while he lay in bed drinking his fine Californian wines.

We did work with wolves, they were real wolves, and they’re tricky to work with, you have to be very respectful of their territory.

Wait, they filmed on the wolves’ territory? Or certain areas of the studio were designated wolves’ territory for the purposes of filming? Did Tom Waits also have territory?

We’re told that lots of thought went into the moment when the coachmen reaches out with an overextending arm, plucks Keanu from the soil, and sets him within the carriage. I love that they did it live on set. I don’t love how it looks. I think wirework might be a better solution. Also, poor Keanu has the impossible task of reacting to this occurrence with mild surprise.

Ishioka did various designs for the coachman, all beautiful and eerie, but the fellow never really gets an effective “hero shot.” The stuff involving actors doing and saying things tends to be the least effective in this movie. Fortunately, a huge amount of the movie has nothing to do with acting and dialogue and blocking; unfortunately, it’s not a totally abstract/special effects film.

you know that you’re in a realm of supernatural because things don’t happen correctly.

Or maybe you know you’re in a late Coppola movie.

“He’s got bum hair! His hair is shaped like a bum!” says Fiona, of Gary Oldman’s Dracula.

Coppola is pontificating, interestingly, about the similarity between vampires and mafiosi (you have to invite them both in) and Keanu is enjoying his supper when Dracula suddenly crosses a room, swinging a dirty great sword. This is pretty funny in the movie, but hilarious in the Watch BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA with Francis Ford Coppola version because FCC takes no notice of it whatsoever.

I think it would work better if Keanu choked on his goulash in surprise. The film is really devoid of any actual human behaviour, isn’t it? I mean, so is the Universal version, but I think that’s a bit of a problem there too.

Of course this, um, performance of… Gary Oldman

The hesitations are funny and possibly revealing.

attempted to blaze a new trail, making use of the historical Vlad Tepes, the picture of which is on the portrait

I’m pretty sure that’s a picture of Gary Oldman.

as well as, a character, the eccentric count living in an old castle that had been made so famous by Bela Lugosi. And we felt very much that we were going to go in another direction, for better or worse, and try to find a new kind of imagery…

And I think we’re all happy Gary isn’t wearing an opera cape, which Christopher Lee always said was a silly costume for lounging around at home in the Carpathians. I don’t know what WOULD be most suitable. Maybe furs? Maybe NOT a giant red kimono with a ten foot train. But, it’s another bold choice.

“You know what he looks like?” asks Fiona. I mention Glenn Close.

“No, the bum-face guy in SOCIETY [Ed Begley Jr.]” she declares.

“Well, he has a similar sort of neck wattle…”

“And he has a bum on his head! I’m lowering the tone, aren’t I?”

Oh, I expect you’ll want to see Gary Oldman singing West Side Story in his Dracula voice now, won’t you?

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Vlad to meet you, hope you guessed my name

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2018 by dcairns

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

Film Directors with their Shirts Off: The Enormity Of It All

Posted in FILM, literature, Radio, Theatre with tags , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by dcairns

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Well, we’ve already seen him with his trousers down. Now as it must to all men, the time comes to see him with his shirt off. John Houseman gives us a swift verbal picture of what we’re missing ~

“He said he had been working all night and when I arrived he was still in his bath — a monstrous, medieval iron cistern which, when it was covered at night with a board and mattress, served them as a marriage bed. Orson was lying there, inert and covered with water, through which his huge, dead-white body appeared swollen to gigantic proportions. When he got up, full of apologies, with a great splashing and cascading of waters, I discovered that his bulk owed nothing to refraction — that he was, in reality, just as enormous outside as inside the tub which, after he had risen from it and had started to dry himself, was seen to hold no more than a few inches of liquid lapping about huge, pale feet.”

From Unfinished Business.

“He looks like Tiny Tears,” says Fiona. “He’s got a body like Tiny Tears.”

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George Orson Welles Tiny Tears.

Coincidentally, we listened to Welles’s radio version of Dracula via YouTube, which goes like a train and is very spooky to boot. Funny how, in eschewing the languorous pace of the Lugosi, it kind of anticipates the bracing abruptness of the Hammer version. It does borrow the curtain call speech from the Universal version. This one is so fast it omits the brides of Dracula and Renfield altogether, but beefs up Mina’s part to make her a proper heroine and give Agnes Moorehead a chance to get her hysteria out again. Welles as Drac sounds like his JOURNEY INTO FEAR heavy played too slow, sonorous and powerful, but as Dr Seward he’s really great, adding a sense of authentic terror to the piece. The neurotic fervor of George Coulouris’s Jonathan Harker redoubles the effect (even with savage pruning, you can’t escape Stoker’s messy multiplying of protagonists!)

Thanks to RWC for the Welles skin.