If you enjoy The Cinemorph, please hit the subscribe button. Also, plesase check out Hanging With Dr. Z on Youtube! And while I have your attention, I'm looking for the cam-shaft bolt for a 1974 Dodge Duster...
In a previous Cinemorph article (The Movie And The Movie About The Movie, Pt. 2) we discussed Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse now, and how its production oddly paralleled America’s involvement in the Viet Nam War. How unlimited resources were not enough to win the day when nobody really knew how the danged thing was supposed to end. As Coppola famously said at Cannes, “My film is not about Viet Nam, my film is Viet Nam. It’s what it was really like. It was crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Viet Nam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.”
After Apocalypse Now, Coppola set about making One From the Heart, originally written as a light, simple, romantic comedy. For Coppola, it would be a career and cinematic palette cleanser after the multi-course onslaught of Apocalypse Now. MGM was going to finance the film, but then (uh-oh), Coppola decided to finance the film himself (gulp!). He bought the rights back from the studio, raised outside money and made the film under his Zoetrope Studios banner. Free of restrictions, he decided to shoot the entire film on obvious sets, using extensive miniatures to create a hyper-stylized visual experience. But all of this cost money. More money than he originally intended to spend. And now, that money was coming out of his own pocket (and that of his creditors).
One From The Heart was further plagued by a contentious relationship with its U.S. distributor, Paramount Studios. So much so that they backed out of releasing the film at the last last minute. At the end of the day, One From The Heart was released by Columbia and accepted critically as an interesting experiment. Coppola himself, in an article entitled “Viva Las Vegas! Francis Ford Coppola On One From The Heart,” expressed dissatisfaction with the version released. The film’s final budget came in at around $ 26 million and it grossed less than $ 1 million. “Ouch!” For Coppola, who financed the film, the fallout resulted in financial pandemonium.
And so began Coppola’s “middle period.” He worked. A lot. I’m assuming because he had to. He adapted two S.E. Hinton stories back to back, The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, the ill-fated Cotton Club, the underrated and charming Peggy Sue Got Married, Gardens of Stone, Tucker, and then…. and then… The Godfather Part III. A film that, for various reasons, did not ascend cinema’s Mount Olympus like its predecessors. As we said previously, Winona Ryder famously left the production last minute, but apparently she and Coppola remained on good terms. So much so that when she read James Hart’s script for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Coppola offered himself as director. His reason? He wanted a hit.
In the extras on the DVD release of the film, Coppola states quite bluntly that, after all his battles, what drew him to Dracula was the opportunity to make a big studio picture on time, on budget, with no drama.
Sounds great! And the film gets a LOT of stuff right. The visuals are stunning. Evolving his initial approach in One from The Heart, Coppola only wanted to use effects that were possible in the early, early days of cinema. That meant miniatures, forced perspective, and in-camera effects and tricks instead of the more modern approach of matte paintings, optical printing, etc. etc. (this was just at the dawn of CG. Jurassic Park was released only a few months prior to Dracula. The method works great. The films is gorgeous and creates its own strange little Victorian world. The sets, music and costumes are all spectacular.
As far as casting was concerned, never before had the Dracula story been told with so many Hollywood A-listers. Gary Oldman as Dracula! Winona Ryder as Mina! Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing! Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker! Tom Waits as –
Wait. Go back. Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker? Um, yeah.
See, this was before Keanu Reeves had become the awesome, hyper cool, cinematic super dude he is today. This was 1992, and he was still the Ted half of Bill and Ted and Johnny Utah from Point Break. In Dracula, his British accent was wobbly and, given the tone and scope of the theatrical extravagance on display, he seemed out of place. There are scenes set in Transylvania where you’d swear he’s holding a skateboard just out of frame. This is especially true when toe to toe with Gary Oldman, who’s got the pedal to the metal from the gate. It’s a fate he shares, regrettably, with Winona Ryder, who was supposed to be Dracula’s great love. Unfortunately, she had about as much on-screen chemistry with Oldman as a thing with no chemistry that’s been paired with another thing with no chemistry and then they have to kiss. Richard E. Grant is on hand as Dr. Seward, his superlative talent wasted in a small role. Grant is perfectly suited to the over the top style of this film, and watching him relegated to the sidelines is like watching Jimi Hendrix take the stage and then step off to the side and play rhythm.
Special attention should be paid to Sadie Frost’s excellent portrayal of Lucy and Tom Waits’ Renfield, who would have stolen the show if given the opportunity. You have Tom Waits playing Renfield and he’s barely in the movie!!!!! And we haven’t even gotten to Billy Campbell, Cary Elwes, Monica Bellucci, et. al., because, and here we go again, this was “no ordinary Dracula. This was Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” If you listened to the publicity, this was the only time anyone had ever tried to make film version of Dracula that was loyal to the book.
I have three points. Ahem.
1. You’re making a movie, not a book. Show me a movie that’s 100 % faithful to the book and I’ll show you a boring movie. Gone With The Wind is different from the book, so relax.
2. It wasn’t the first. In 1970, Jesus Franco made Count Dracula with Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski as Renfield and they made the same claim.
3. The main thrust of the Coppola version, that the Dracula story is a romantic tragedy because Mina is the reincarnation of Dracula’s long dead wife is nowhere to be found in Bram Stoker’s book! It’s a great device that adds a lot to the story, but as far as I can see, it’s from Dark Shadows.
Dark Shadows, as you may recall from last time, or from your life, if you’re old enough, was a 1960’s daytime soap opera produced by Dan Curtis. Dark Shadows told the story of Barnabas Collins, a vampire freed from his coffin after two hundred years to stalk the seaside town of Collinsport, Maine. And what does he find upon his release? Why, local waitress Maggie Evans, who he is convinced is the reincarnation of his long lost bride-to-be, Josette DuPres. Curtis would repurpose this storyline in the 1970 feature film adaptation, House Of Dark Shadows (watch this space) and a few years after that, in his made-for-TV retelling of Dracula starring Jack Palance.
Is this a bad thing? Nope? But when your ad campaign is based on being faithful to the book, and the motivation that is driving your plot isn’t even in the book, it warrants at least being mentioned.
That said… I really enjoy Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I do wish it was better. It’s not even a little scary, but it’s packed with bells and whistles to the point that, even when it’s not working, it’s fun. It’s gorgeous to look at and great to have on at a party with no sound (as is Mars Attacks!). Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves both survived a weekend of snarky reviews, and it went on to make a nifty profit.
And for all those Dracula fans who are still yearning for a version that’s more faithful to the book? Try the book.