Archive for James V Hart

A Labyrinth of Pans

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2018 by dcairns

I recently read J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the novel version, for the first time. My, it’s good. I was struck by how none of the films capture its bizarre humour, or its strange and melancholy conclusion. And the character of Peter himself, arrogant and “heartless” but insistently attractive (or so Barrie keeps telling us), is never really attempted.

There’s three films that work on their own terms ~

The silent PETER PAN (Herbert Brenon, 1924) is really lovely. At times, it feels like a record of the play, an opportunity to time-travel back and see what Edwardian audiences saw. But has enough cinema to it for this not to become a drag factor. We get the best of both worlds (stage/cinema, London/Neverland). And the cast is ideal.

The Disney version of 1953 ruthlessly homogenizes Barrie’s vision, as the silent did before it, but the visuals are attractive (those blue night skies!), the animation superb and the voice casting pretty fine, with even the Americanization of Peter working to its advantage — Bobby Driscoll is the elated Yank showing the stuffy Brits how to live/fly. The ending isn’t Barrie’s bleak last chapter, by any stretch, but in its way it’s poetic and magical and odd. The image of the flying ship is introduced here — Barrie doesn’t have it.

(I haven’t seen the belated [straight-to-video?] sequel, RETURN TO NEVERLAND, but I assume I’d hate it: imagine suddenly being shown a reproduction of your childhood only all your friends and relatives are being played by impostors with painted faces.)

FINDING NEVERLAND is pretty satisfying, though I’m not a fan of the director. It skirts around the more awkward questions, but it works, I think. Johnny Depp’s accent isn’t exactly a realistic Scottish accent but he isn’t exactly a realistic actor. It works too. And the outtakes of Kelly Macdonald as the stage Pan, flailing about on wires crashing into the set walls are fantastic — buy the DVD for those alone.

Oh wait, YouTube. Got to 2:17 and it all happens.

How, then, to explain the three monstrous, bloated and charmless renditions of Barrie’s work?

HOOK (1991) is probably the first Spielberg film I truly hated on sight. I remember getting stupidly annoyed at the plastic frost decorating the windows — they had all the money in the world to make this, why couldn’t they do convincing frost? I just rewatched forty minutes, in a kind of gaping disbelief, and this time focussed myopically on a really bad cut in the opening children’s play. Peter’s daughter seems to teleport. The disruptive continuity howler — some things really DO pull you out of a movie — occurs in front of an entire audience of potential cutaways, so there is no conceivable reason for it except sloppiness or exhaustion.But these focal points barely even qualify as symptoms of the big-picture rot. Our old friend James V. Hart, of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA fame, scripted. I’m in two minds about his high concept premise — “What if Peter Pan grew up?” Part of me thinks the answer is, “If that happened, you would lose your USP.” And this is what in fact happens – you get a Peter Pan film without a Peter Pan.

There are compensations, if you forget about why you came. The idea that Peter would forget who he is ties in with his infantile amnesia in the book — Peter forgets everything unless it’s actually active in his life — this leads to the final chapter where he can’t remember Hook, or Tinkerbell, or even Wendy. So Hart’s treatment is a little more faithful to the story than I used to give him credit for. And there’s a good nightmarish anxiety to the situation he then finds himself in — abducted to this fantasy land he can’t remember, and expected to play a role that’s no longer him. (They should have made something of a kid in the opening play being unable to remember the lines.)It’s just that the way it all plays out is gaudy and vulgar and ugly. The sets are simultaneously massive and expensive-looking yet horribly bright, clean and cheap-looking. They want to get some kind of theatrical stylisation going but it all has to look epic and belaboured. There’s not quite enough cartoon expressionism in the shapes to give a sense of lighter-than-air fantasy. And yet, squinting hard, I can’t put my finger on why this stuff feels forced while an MGM musical could pull off the same sort of look. I think it probably has more to do with what’s going on IN the sets.

Robin Williams ought to be a good adult Peter, if anyone ever wanted to see such a thing, at the end, when he acquires what I suppose we must call Panhood. But there’s such a struggle to use his manic, improvising persona in the early scenes, where he’s supposed to embody the worst aspects of adulthood (from the perspective of a disappointed son or a millionaire fantasist) that the glee is spurted out prematurely and we never get the melancholy Barrie clearly felt about growing up, which is what the movie desperately needs. The Depp of FINDING NEVERLAND would have been a better fit here. And I think Williams could have aced it, if they hadn’t kept trying to force him to be his usual self.

The idea of a violent Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) playing Three Stooges routines with the fortysomething Peter is lifted from the battering Carol Kane gives Bill Murray in SCROOGED, where it was also quite out of keeping with the source matieral but at least was an original take. And funny.Then there’s Dustin Hoffman. Spielberg had apparently been really keen to work with Dustin Hoffman. I guess maybe this cured him. But he didn’t really get any of the benefits of working with Hoffman — you know, the skilled, credible performance. All he got was a putrid Terry-Thomas impersonation, plus the downside of working with Hoffman, which is having to hang out with Dustin Hoffman.

Bob Hoskins embodies Smee beautifully. Hoskins was pretty much always good, and Smee is the character who always seems to work. Barrie sketches him in lightly, but the suggestion that Smee is a lovely, sweet man who thinks he’s a terrifying pirate, and even Hook doesn’t have the heart to disabuse him of this notion, always seems to emerge somehow.I also remember being offended by the multi-ethnic Lost Boys. It’s a nice thing that Spielberg wanted to get some diversity in. But why, then, are they all American? Why are they all boys? If they’re boys because we’re being faithful to Barrie, then they shouldn’t be American. They can be any ethnicity, his descriptions don’t preclude that, but he’s clear about how they talk. America is quite a big problem in this film — the whole opening has to set up a world the film will then abandon, in favour of London, which it then has to abandon ALSO. Oh, and the kids have basketballs and skateboards. They are all Poochie from The Itchy and Scratchy Show.

And Peter has to rediscover who he is to be a better father — except that Barrie’s Peter would make a TERRIBLE father, seeing as he’s totally self-centred.The film is full of evidence of Spielberg’s skill, and cinematographer Dean Cundey emits some gorgeous lighting — the real beauty seems to emerge from unexpected places, while the stuff the movie NEEDS to make beautiful tend to be leaden, garish or puddingy. Like Stevenson’s description of Mr. Hyde, the movie somehow imparts an impression of deformity without having anything you can really point to as proof of disfigurement.

Spielberg had a kind of Peter Pan obsession for a while, and talked about doing a version starring fellow enthusiast Michael Jackson, but I never heard any realistic plans for how they were going to make that work. A black, or originally-black Peter, sure. A Peter played by an adult who THINKS he’s a kid, maybe not. I believe Jackson tried to sue Spielberg when he made HOOK instead.

But look at these pretty things! I particularly admire the map markings on the actual geography of Neverland.

P.J. Hogan’s 2003 PETER PAN is also pretty repulsive. The cinematography is actually pretty tasteful as long as there are no special effects involved, but the long shots of Neverland, the skies etc, are all lurid monstrosities, Maxfield Parrish with the chroma turned up until your retinas catch fire.

Ever time a cherub vomits, a cloud is formed.

The departures from Barrie are striking,and pointless. The kids have acquired a meaningless auntie, and though it’s always nice to see Lynn Redgrave, she doesn’t get to have any fun here. Jason Isaacs plays both Captain Hook and the kids’ dad, which might make a kind of sense if he were the slightly oppressive, comic patriarch of Barrie’s opening chapters (the Disney film probably captures that guy best, and there Hans Conried voiced both Hook and Mr. Darling, and it DID work), but here he’s a milksop clerk, so there’s no resonance in the stunt casting. I guess Hogan just really likes Jason Isaac,Richard Briers is Smee. Works like a charm, though there’s nothing SURPRISING about it — except for the always pleasant surprise of finding Briers in a film. (The real Briers loved nothing better than SWEARING HIS HEAD OFF, and I wish there were a movie that indulged this. But I know of none.)

My assumption on reading Barrie is that the viciousness in the book would be toned down in movie adaptations, but this is not really so. We first meet Isaac with his hook off, and he’s sporting a graphic, scarred-up stump. Unlike in Disney, where Hook is humourously chased over the horizon by the crocodile, here he gets the demise Barrie planned for him, though having the kids taunt him for being “old” is a fresh bit of nastiness, and I couldn’t work out what benefit we were meant to derive from it.A book about being a kid, and staying a kid versus growing up, morphs into a film with teenage stars, which makes a kind of commercial sense, though I think you’d only get smaller kids and their parents going to see this. Rachel Hurd-Wood is an extremely toothsome Wendy, and Jeremy Sumpter is another American Peter, with an impressive young bod and a tendency to overdo the character’s crowing (which Barrie reports faithfully but winces at) so that he seems at times like a gloating bully.

Alan Moore always talked about doing an erotic Peter Pan, which eventually evolved into The Lost Girls, a graphic novel exploring the grown-up sex lives of Alice (of Wonderland), Wendy (of the Neverland) and Dorothy (of Oz). He was convinced, before it became fashionable to say so, that the Barrie book was laden with unconscious sexuality, which may be true. There was something that fascinated me as a kid in the Disney film and comics — something polymorphous and kinky. Hogan’s movie has a lot of arse jokes and lighthearted child nudity that’s quite eyebrow-raising now, and tries to concoct more of a teen romance than is really there, but leaves out the heartbreak which could have really made it worthwhile. It could have worked for teenagers the way Baz Luhrman’s souped-up, soaped-up ROMEO + JULIET clearly did, if there had been anything to get weepy over.

The visual effects, apart from being nauseatingly gaudy, do allow Peter to dart about in the air just as Bobby Driscoll’s cartoon avatar did. No need for the ponderous bobbing of an actor on wires — or rather, Peter and Wendy can float weightlessly, but then flash from one side of the room to another, like humming birds, which we suddenly realized we always wanted them to be able to do. Disney’s flying ship is back, and looks quite lovely at times. It’s a relief to escape back to London and get away from those chocolate box skies.

Joe Wright’s PAN is probably the most annoying of this trio although, to be clear, they are all absolutely INFURIATING. It has some of the same ugly visuals, although again it does better on London. WWII London, oddly enough. A story positioning itself as a prequel to Barrie’s Peter Pan for some reason sets itself historically afterwards. Why? It’s not really clear. It allows them to have flying galleons (Disney again) and Spitfires in the same scene, but this doesn’t in any way impact the wider plot. I have a theory for this madness, but I have to save it up until the end…Levi Miller makes a very beautuful Peter — we first encounter him as being bullied and starved by nasty nun Kathy Burke in an orphanage during the Blitz . We get a bit of what the BBFC quaintly calls “mild language.” Then flying pirates start abducting kids, and Peter follows them through space (the Hogan movie also includes a bit of interplanetary zooming, although Barrie’s Neverland is obviously an island, not an alien world). Then Peter is enslaved in a fairy-dust mine by Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman, giving it his all), and meets James Hook, who isn’t a pirate, but rather an Indiana Jones/cowboy type played by Garrett Hedlund.

There’s so much wrong with all this that I can’t even begin to sum it up, but let’s start by agreeing what the Neverland is supposed to be. In Barrie, Wendy and her brothers all know the Neverland from their dreams. It’s the place of adventure that children dream about, so naturally it’s a whole incongruous mixture of genres. The only justification for Barrie mixing pirates, Indians, fairies and mermaids in one story is that he’s recreating the Jungian collective unconscious as a kind of children’s theme park. One thing he omits to include, and I suspect it was intentional, is slave labour. You don’t start your awfully big adventure by getting shackled in a salt mine, especially if you’ve just escaped from a Dickensian orphanage,

Peter discovers he can fly around this point, but then loses the ability and doesn’t remember how he did it. An earthbound Peter who lacks confidence isn’t the Peter Pan we know at all, but I guess we’re here to find out how he becomes the legend. But it’s a bit like HOOK, a story designed especially to deprive us of the expected pleasures.If I wanted to do screenwriter Joseph Fuchs’ job for him, I would suggest starting either with a Victorian orphanage (so that the story would actually predate the novel), or else the background of child evacuees (so that the story is actually specific to WWII). But for all I know he thought of all that and the execs forced him to Fuchs things up. But since Peter doesn’t age, I’d be tempted to start him out in an even earlier period, perhaps contemporary with Hook, who should be a proper pirate.

As I realised that Peter’s brief burst of flight was going to be followed with an hour of performance anxiety, I suddenly flashed on DUMBO. That’s where this story idea comes from. Fuchs is going full Joseph Campbell on us, mashing up bits of familiar stories in the hopes of capitalizing on their resonance. It’s like he read the Umberto Eco piece on CASABLANCA and didn’t bother to fact-check it, took it all quite literally. So Hook, who is already Indiana Jones, makes a last-minute redemptive return EXACTLY like Han Solo in the first STAR WARS; Peter is the son of the Fairy King and a human mother, EXACTLY like Jesus. And so on. In fairness, Barrie was doing a kind of mash-up of his own, but he seems to have been having a lot more fun.

A prequel to Peter Pan that casts Peter and Hook as buddies, it seems to me, should end up by telling us how they became enemies. It’s not like we ever had a burning desire to know how they MET. And yet, this crucial scene is not included, as if the makers hoped for a sequel. Hmm, a sequel where the hero is betrayed, lops of his friend’s limb and leaves him for dead? Sounds like REVENGE OF THE SITH. Which did OK box office, I believe.The crocodile does appear, but doesn’t get fed Hook’s hand (Barrie’s most grisly and amusing idea, the great reptile enjoying the taste so much that it follows Hook doggedly from then on, hoping to snaffle the rest of him). Tinkerbell appears, but doesn’t get to do anything to distinguish her from the swarms of other humanoid fireflies. The mermaids appear, a shoal of Cara Delevignes, but do literally nothing. There are Never Birds, which are usually left out: they all look like THE GIANT CLAW. Tiger Lily is whitewashed into being Rooney Mara. Too old for Peter, too young for Hook: this makes the film completely sexless. I’m guessing that, if the previous PP was aimed at girls, this violent and dour Neverland is boy’s own territory.

So, everything is either neglected, absent, or all wrong. At the end, it’s Hook who says “Second star to the right and straight on till morning,” only he leaves out the word STAR, rendering the line both prosaic and meaningless, which sums up the whole enterprise.Oh, there’s a very characterful fellow called Adeel Akhtar, who is the Ideal Actor to play Smee. Who is now for some myterious reason Sam Smiegel. To get in a bit of LORD OF THE RINGS “resonance”? Akhtar is great, though, maybe the greatest Smee in a long line of great Smees. Smee alway works. He’s like Renfield and Goebbels. You can’t go wrong.

In fairness to all those who have tried and failed, what Barrie does is strange, hard to pin down, and difficult. Nearly all his considerable wit is contained in the descriptions of characters’ thoughts, and therefore not directly filmable. (A movie’s narrator can only do so much: they have to shut up eventually.) His plotting is loose, to say the least: he spends a lot of time setting up Hook’s poisoned cake plot, and then throws it away with a single line. He implies a near-infinite array of stories, almost impossible to choose from, and doesn’t traffick in satisfying pay-offs, preferring to pull dramatic rescues out of his ass whenever required. Deus ex anum. And all of this serves him very well on the page. The trouble with the screenwriters trying to fill his shoes is that they display all the same faults, which are much more destructive in a movie, and have none of his virtues. Hart, Hogan and Fuchs seem all curiously devoid of humour, to the point where I really wonder what would attract them to this material. (I know PJ Hogan had a background in comedy, but it’s deserted him here. He’s trying for laughs, but without being amused himself.)

Somebody should do Peter Pan again: it’s worth getting right. They will need to remember it’s a children’s story; that Peter and Wendy are children; that the Never Land is children’s dreams of adventure; that the book is funny both ha-ha and peculiar; that the brighter the colours, the more taste you need to apply. Have fun!

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Vlad Songs Say So Much

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2018 by dcairns

Welcome to the final installment of THE VLAD TAPES, my commentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. I was several installments into this before it struck me that BSD was the first movie I saw at the cinema with Fiona. It wasn’t a date — there was a producer present — but it was the start of something. And the first time I saw Fiona wearing glasses. And at the end of the movie she said, “Now, we can’t discuss it until we’re outside,” which I thought very disciplined. Normally, now, Fiona launches into the post-match analysis as the credits are starting their rise, so I think maybe she was just showing off.

We begin with an elaborate explanation of the ongoing plot from Uncle Francis, which I’ll omit.

This is, you know, a glass shot, or some old-fashioned studio effect.

It would be nice if he was sure which.

I forget even now watching what we had built and what we added… I think my mind was going at this point.

And when did that start, exactly?

You know it was a lot of stuff to shoot in a relatively short time frame… this is for sure a glass shot, the road is real and then the rest is painted.

I guess with the passage of time, it’s less easy to tell when the film is being deliberately retro and when it’s just using the standard techniques of 1992. Plenty of films still used glass shots then, I think. But the lack of overt CGI certainly works against it dating.

And it’s snowing at Castle Sitting Down Dracula! They should show this movie every Christmas.

You begin to wonder why all movies look alike, and it’s because the solutions to problems are done a certain way and when you’re making a movie you have that stunt guy and he says “You fall off a horse this way,” and that’s the way they fall off the horse in every movie… I mean, good reason, it’s probably the safe way…

Wait, what are we saying, again? The real geniuses devise more painful and dangerous ways to fall off horses. That’s probably about right, I guess.

but it’s sort of an undertow when you make an industrial film, which this is, to do it the same way they’re used to doing it…

OK, yes, I get you. And it’s true. But to break through that you do need to offer a better way, don’t you?

If you have a photographer and you ask him to do something stupid or unconventional, he’s worried […] what his peers are gonna say, is he gonna be laughed at, at the Photographers’ Ball when they all get together…

Is there a Photographer’s Ball? Was Ballhaus scared of what they’d all say at the ball? I love this idea. I love the image of a shamed Ballhaus, his peers all laughing down their viewfinders at him, waving their light meters scornfully.

My daughter Sophia does it another way, she’s a tiny woman, she’s not a, she’s a very petite woman, very sweet and gentle, but she’s just hard as nails underneath, so she’ll just say “I don’t want to do it that way.”

Whereas Francis would kick holes in doors. We live in less romantic times.

Van Helsing uses a Gurkha knife to decapitate the brides of Dracula:

So much for the three Brides of Dracula, you cut off their heads and they’re finished.

True. But you needn’t feel so superior about it.

I feel a bit sorry for the brides. They seem to be conscious, but unable to move because it’s daylight, and here comes this gallumphing taff actor to decapitate them. Horrible! Think of it from their point of view and it’s the scariest scene in the picture.

Animated POV again —

That was to show that Mina had the pixilated vision so she didn’t need the binoculars.

Are you implying she’s squiffled or something?

It is remarkable that this chase has the variety it has, because it’s all shot in the same place.

Chases don’t work so well in the studio. What Uncle Francis is really saying is that this is pretty good considering it’s the wrong way of doing it.

But actually, it’s really quite accomplished. It’s the fight that comes next that’s kind of messy.

These blue rings of fire I do believe were done on an optical printer

Francis feels the in-camera tricks have a more organic feel. Possibly true. I like how they’re the same rings — positively the same rings — as seen when Mephistopheles appears in Murnau’s FAUST and the false Maria is brought to life in METROPOLIS.

Much of these shots are done by Roman because there were so many shots to get, a slew of them […] we were like a two-man team doing these things.

The epic battle just seems like a lot of thrashing about. The occasional wide shots, like this one, aren’t terribly impressive. It’s very much a sequence made by the cutter, using a lot of just-adequate material, and it never gets very involving or exciting, despite the music and the race-the-sunset concept.

Keanu seems slightly more on top of his accent at last. Like he’s delivering the lines, not the other way around.

And for the large, large, large part, all these lines are out of the book.

If Keanu Reeves swapped parts with Alex Winter as the author of The Vampyre in HAUNTED SUMMER, which film would get better and which would get worse? I think they might be about the same. Still GREAT.

And then, alas, there’s a series of morphs taking Gary through his previous incarnations, though he skips the big friendly dog and the green fart stage. Remember how excited everybody got about morphing for about five minutes? (David Lynch, on why he didn’t use morphs in LOST HIGHWAY: “It just seems like everyone and his uncle’s doin’ it.”) Lap dissolves would have been more in keeping with Roman Coppola’s old-school approach to the other effects, maybe with a slight, subtle morphing assistance. It’s the one jarringly fashionable effect.

I remember I showed it to my friend George Lucas, and he looked it and he said, “I think she should cut off his head,” and I said, “Well, that’s pretty disgusting,” he says, “Yeah, well, that’s the greatest act she could give him, to give him the peace and the moment of once again being taken to God’s breast can only be given to him by cutting off his head,” and I said, “Yeah, I hadn’t quite thought of it that way,” and I did it. […] George had thought that to REALLY be sure that he’d never be a vampire again… I thought it was pretty CLEAR… I did it the sparks went in, the thing went through his heart, like a stake through the heart, George says “She should cut off his head, that’s the greatest act of love she could do,” I said “Okay! If they don’t get it with the stake through the heart, we’ll cut off his head. Pretty startling thing to do.”

“I don’t think he should have listened to George,” says Fiona.

I point out that they had to decapitate all the other vampires. Van Helsing was very clear about that.

“I suppose so. You can’t have a special rule just for Gary Oldman, much as you would like to.”

Still, given all that’s happened since, maybe a good general rule would be, “Never listen to George Lucas.”

I guess Gary got to keep the head, but did they also give him the nipple from earlier?

Which actor of our times is closest to being able to assemble a full silicone Frankenstein monster of himself from all the bits he’s had done in different movies?

And such is the end. They go off to heaven as lovers always do. Paola and Francesca, Dracula and Elisabeta

Bert and Ernie.

Although waitaminute, Mina’s not dead, so can the woman she’s the reincarnation of be going off to heaven with Gary? Seems a tricky one. It’s kind of like the polygamy we have to assume exists in Heaven for all the people who were widowed and remarried and then died…

and on and on, the end.

Yes.

The credits are rolling but Francis shows no signs of stopping.

My idea was to make it with young people and to make it more romantic and in fact SEXY, the Brides of Dracula and the various scenes with Sadie and then combining eroticism when Mina begins to be infected by the blood of the vampire, she gets to be sort of provocatively sexy, and in fact she was pretty sexy in that scene with Anthony Hopkins, you know, she brings him down to her level and almost exalts [sic] in the fact that she has him stoked up.

Well, it is Bram STOKER’S — oh wait, I already made that joke.

So it was supposed to be a more sexy version. I don’t feel it’s so scary a version. Maybe a little bit.

Yes.

It’s my take on Jim Hart’s script, which I guess is all a director can do.

Short of getting a better writer.

I was able to achieve a final — hopefully final! — freedom from the film industry as an industry. As I continue now, as I speak to you, it’s 2006 and I am just recently sixty-seven years old, or as I like to call it, fifty-seventeen, and I decided to do what I always felt I wanted to do, which is to be an amateur

Which is lovely. And then he compares himself to Borodin, because Borodin was a doctor in his professional life and a composer on the side, and Tchaikovsky, because, well it kind of breaks down there. Maybe Francis likes hot baths.

I hope you have enjoyed these thoughts

“Oh we certainly have!” says Fiona.

Thank you so much.

You’re very welcome INDEED.

It’s not over until the thin Aberdonian lady sings, so here’s Annie Lennox. Remember not to start discussing the movie until she’s done.

Vlad to the Bone

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2018 by dcairns

Welcome back to Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula with director Francis Coppola, in which Fiona and I watch BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA with director Francis Coppola.

We were talking about the intimations of homosexuality in the novel, and how the movies occasionally make this apparent. And, interestingly, the first line of the IMDb’s short plot synopsis reads “The centuries old vampire Count Dracula comes to England to seduce his barrister Jonathan” while the second line continues, “Harker’s fiancée Mina Murray and inflict havoc in the foreign land.” There it is — the flash of gay ankle followed by the chaste covering-up.

Now, let’s all don our pink shirts and join Uncle Francis.

I think a positive thing is that we told it as a love story. 

Coppola credits screenwriter James V. Hart (PAN) for “finding” the love story and “weaving it in,” and “finding” is in fact a very good word here as he’s swiped the reincarnation idea from Karloff’s THE MUMMY. But Coppola is talking about the story of Vlad Tepes’ love who killed herself.

I liked Sadie Frost, she was a very nice girl and appealing and pretty and sexy. I was sort of surprised […] we haven’t seen much of her.

We see quite a lot of her here. Including a huge close-up that doesn’t do her neck-wound make-up any favours, followed by a dissolve through the puncture marks to a wolf’s glowing eyes, which must be the worst transition ever (beating the cut to Jeff Goldblum yawning in THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK by a lupine whisker). Van Helsing himself, Antony Hopkins, once cautioned against attempting humour in a segue (in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) but I think he’s wrong. What one shouldn’t do is attempt a completely ludicrous segue without any trace of humour.

Rarely is a movie shot 100% in the sound stage and I think this is.

Well you ought to know. (Later, Unc Fran will admit that it wasn’t.)

Clearly Lucy is being affected by her encounter with Dracula and has been affected in a way and infected I should say because she has the metaphoric blood of a vampire in her, which means that she too will be a vampire.

And by “metaphoric blood,” I suppose we mean cum.

Here was a scene in which we tried, Roman and I were very pleased to do this, tried to portray an early nickelodeon and on the screen are some very early motion pictures

And we get TRAIN APPROACHING A STATION — sometimes called the first horror film due to the consternation it inspired in audiences — appearing in synch with Oldman. Only it seems to be being projected in negative — which connects it to the literal Phantom Ride in Murnau’s NOSFERATU (for which Murnau must have had Graf Orlok’s black carriage painted white, and the black horses replaced with white ones).

The supposedly early porn doesn’t convince — wrong body types — and the assumption that such films were screened openly, with ladies present, rather than at secretive “smokers” shows how the movie really doesn’t get Victorian England. Looking more closely, there’s a suggestion that the porn is showing in a back room, curtained off, but it’s a mere dolly-ride away for Mina and the Count. In principle it could be a nice metaphor for him taking her to the dark side (of the cinema).

This shot, of Dracula literally sweeping her off her feet of course was a mechanical effect, he takes her and then they’re on a little trolley that is pulled. It was interesting, when I did this shot with her, just to show the kind of kid that Winona was, she looked at me, I mean she was a little too smart for her own good in a way, as a kid. She said, “Well, I’ve already done this shot once,” ’cause this was a tricky set-up, they had to step onto this moving thing, I said “Oh really?” she said “Oh yes, I did it with Tim Burton.” But I have always felt that Winona had a deeper well of talent than she was willing to dip into.

Nice back-handed comment, and strange segue. Coppola is apparently still smarting from the suggestion that Burton had anticipated him in any way. It’s clear that she was a touch resistant to his direction, including that one time he yelled “YOU WHORE!” at her to help her get into character. I have to assume that, since she got him the job in the first place when his career was pretty ice cold, it wasn’t that she didn’t want to be directed by Francis Ford Coppola, she just didn’t want to be directed LIKE THIS by THIS Francis Ford Coppola.

I want to give Uncle Francis credit where it’s due (family loyalty) but I’m on Winona Ryder’s side here.

Don’t ever try this with a wolf, by the way. This is not something that you wanna do. Again, it’s used to show Dracula’s seduction of Mina, the sensuality that lay under the skin of the vampire legend, it’s so confused with sex and romance and love and death, the two sometimes are difficult to separate.

“Well, that’s not two things, Uncle Francis, that’s a whole long list of things,” objects Fiona. She’s right, I counted them, that was definitely either four or six things.

LOVELY transition!

Now we introduce essentially a new character, Doctor Van Helsing.

Yep, definitely new. Though he did narrate the captain’s log montage earlier.

One of the good things about James V. Hart’s script (and there ARE good things) is that the writer is aware of lots of different resonances the vampire myth has, and has researched the period enough to find things that connect with the Victorians and also with those of us watching in 1992. In Van Helsing’s lecture we get stuff about the spread of syphilis which we can easily connect to vampirism and thus to AIDS. The bad thing about this is that he just sticks it in, in the form of a lecture. It’s inelegant, but I’m still kind of glad it’s there.

Cut to Keanu Reeves looking thoroughly drained.

“Shagged out… after a long squawk,” says Fiona. And then: “You don’t have to be naked to drain somebody’s blood,” she says, referring to the naked, smoochy Bellucci girls.

“But it helps,” I suggest.

Watching this with the commentary, sometimes you’re mainly focussing on what Uncle Francis is saying, sometimes on the pictures, and it feels like when you miss bits of plot it’s because the movie really isn’t interested in those things. For instance, somehow Keanu is going to escape from Castle Sitting Down Dracula. But I have no memory of how he does it. Doesn’t he sort of jump out a window and then land back in England?

Hopkins turns up in a shot which seems to be nodding towards THE EXORCIST, which may be a bit on the nose, but so’s everything in this film. Apart from Sadie Frost, who’s bit on the neck. Coppola explains that his big idea was that anyone who’s devoted his life to the study of vampires must be a bit crazy, so he instructed Hopkins to play it that way. “Whadda LOON!” Coppola guffawed on the set after one particularly fruity take.

I think Coppola’s logic is sound, but that this is still not a good way to play Van Helsing. I think Edward Van Sloan’s method was fine. Peter Cushing’s was brilliant. Jack MacGowran, playing a variant on the character for Polanski, was just fine in context. The character seems a great way to explore, consciously or not, the unpleasantness of being in thrall to medical professionals, and there’s a touch of that here. But it’s dissolved in a welter of ham theatrics.

Coppola credits the big window Gary Oldman shows up at to THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN. I like how he’s basically providing the whole filmography of influences for us. It’s a good reference, since the dream sequence in Capra’s film also seems to refer to the idea of the vampire seducer from the East. It is quite a 1930s-esque window, though, but they get away with it.

We brought in a singer, a vocalist, named Diamanda Galas to provide some very orgiastic and other feminine sounds of intensity to help us with this sequence.

“She’s only a child!” exclaims Van Helsing, which might not be my first reaction to a tits-out Sadie Frost, but we’re all different, which is one of the themes of this film anyway. He prescribes an immediate transfusion, which is of course risky as doctors at the time hadn’t figured out blood groups. He gets every male in the neighbourhood to transfuse into Sadie and miraculously they’re all the same type (Type O). Sadie’s type. (In fairness: I think that’s the way it is in the book. Coppola once shows the Dread Pirate Roberts donating, albeit without a blood test. But I’m assuming Withnail and the Rocketeer also get in on the act. The more the merrier.)

Interestingly, blood transfusion, another example of modern technology at the time, and we did it as authentically as we knew how, we tried to find out how did they do transfusions, and we did it the way they did, however, shows what a pansy director I am, it wasn’t really a transfusion, it was just a movie scene, however, the great director Clouzot, in one of his movies actually had the character get a blood transfusion and the actor showed up and they began to shoot the scene and he had brought a doctor and they did a real blood transfusion while they were shooting, and so I realise I’m not as I like to think I am, and Damn, why didn’t I have it be a real transfusion? and Clouzot was Clouzot and I don’t think I would have gotten away with it.

“He would have liked to, though,” suggests Fiona.

Clouzot transfused Bernard Blier in QUAI DES ORFEVRES, and did it again to Brigitte Bardot in LA VERITÉ, or at least he certainly had the needle in her arm. And, having gone that far, I think we all know he would have kept going.

Bad nipple continuity here: Sadie’s bosom has a strange now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t approach. The trick with getting away with continuity errors is to calculate where the audience is looking. Hard to see how anybody could miscalculate the centre of attention when Sadie is writhing about in what I believe is known as deshabille.

Coppola starts to tell us about Byron and Shelley and the Villa Deodata set in his own unique manner ~

Now these people in those days were sort of like the equivalent of, you know, Snoop Doggy Dog. They were the hip people of the day, as when I was young it would have been Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer and what have you, going off to Switzerland.

BWAHAHAHA I just can’t