30 years are an ocean of time: this is how Francis Ford Coppola reformulated the myth of ‘Dracula’


    In the same year of centenary of ‘Nosferatu’ (1922), another great vampire film that was decisive for the subgenre and with an indisputable cultural impact celebrates a round anniversary. Released in American theaters on November 13, 1992, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ was Francis Ford Coppola’s groundbreaking approach to the 1897 Gothic classic, an adaptation distanced from the previous film versions that, among other milestones, managed to change the perception of a character so established in the popular imagination as that of the Count Dracula, both at the thematic level, by making him a romantic anti-hero capable of uttering the phrase “I have crossed oceans of time to find you”as well as aesthetically. From this last section, the costumes of the Japanese Eiko Ishioka (whose work is often remembered for the amazing muscular armor that Dracula wears in the prologue, as well as the red outfit he wears in the castle) or the makeup and hairdressing of Michèle Burke They had an important responsibility.

    Bram Stoker’s Dracula

    Although the addition of Bram Stoker’s name to the title has generated, to a certain extent, the belief that it is the film that most faithfully follows the events of the original novel —in fact, it is a habitual feature of Coppola: in ‘The Godfather’ (1972) and ‘Legítima defensa’ (1997) also appear the names of the authors Mario Puzo and John Grisham accompanying the title—, the reason around which the plot orbits and that conferred an essential part of its identity to this adaptation did not even remotely appear in the Irish writer’s text. Is about the tragic love story that leads Dracula (Gary Oldman), in the 15th century, to renounce God and become a vampire who mourns his beloved forever, until 400 years later when he observes that she has been reincarnated as a young woman English, Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), fiancée of Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), the guest at the Transylvanian castle who is preparing the Count’s papers to settle in his new London residence. In the book, Dracula is also not linked to the historical figure of Vlad III of Wallachia, as stated here.

    The film achieved a resounding international success, with a collection of more than 200 million dollars, and broke the record then held by ‘Back to the Future II’ (1989) as the best opening in a month of November in the US. In this way, he conjured up the dire forecasts that had accompanied him in the production (due to its eccentricity, the gossips of Hollywood referred to the project as ‘The bonfire of the vampires’, alluding to ‘The bonfire of the vanities’, the Brian de Palma’s huge commercial flop from 1990) and Coppola’s Vietnam memoirs, which, in the best tradition of ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979), he had just seen how the filming of ‘The Godfather III’ (1990) was also getting out of hand and he strove to adjust his ‘Dracula’ to the planned budget of 40 million, deliver the film within the agreed deadline and shooting in the studio hoping to have more control of the environment.

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    The abandonment of the image with which director Tod Browning immortalized Bela Lugosi in her ‘Dracula’ (1931), in a suit, cape, and slicked back with a prominent widow’s peak, in favor of a style (in its rejuvenated state) closer to that of a hedonistic rock star with the aura of Jim Morrison, it was a symbolic decision but not the boldest the filmmaker took. In the visual section, with the help of director of photography Michael Ballhaus, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ stood out in its convinced commitment to an expressiveness far removed from the narrative codes of its time.

    Each scene in the film has a design, planning and assembly that evokes formal solutions from classic cinema (for example, projections of the faces of people someone is thinking about, superimposed on one side of the frame) but also the avant-garde will to create language that the New Hollywood generation, of which Coppola was the spearhead, exhibited in his most ambitious moments. In this sense, the use of intense and colorful lighting guiding the tone of the story or the unstable sets that, during the action, disintegrate and reconfigure can be considered the director’s revenge after his vilified experiment ‘Hunch’ (1982).

    The vampire image

    Beyond the aspect that they could give it, the director’s interest in filling the film with practical effects and camera tricks without digital intervention had a discourse justification. In his adaptation, Coppola and screenwriter James V. Hart take advantage of the temporal coincidence of Bram Stoker’s fiction, located in the last decade of the 19th century, with the invention of the cinematograph, apparatus for which Count Dracula, on his arrival in London, shows great interest. After all, there is nothing strange about a vampire being interested in an artifact capable of preserving intact over time the people who stand in front of him, in motion, always with the same age. This desire to remain is inherent to the staging, where dispensing with modern and still developing technologies means, coherently, giving up elements of an outdated nature.

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    The idea is not new: before Coppola, in Spain, the director Iván Zulueta reflected on the fundamentally vampiric nature of cinema in the mysterious ‘Arrebato’ (1979), a film closely linked to the concept of to be pleasantly absorbed into an abstract and alien existence to the earthly, here in relation to heroin. And after Coppola, the parallelism would notably be used by E. Elias Merhige in ‘The Shadow of the Vampire’ (2000), a false chronicle of the shooting of ‘Nosferatu’ that imagines the German director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau obsessed with that form of eternity through through the images, and also with the opioids, present in the argument.

    The way of interpreting Bram Stoker’s novel as an analogical history of drug addiction it has, in fact, been widely explored over the years. Coppola’s film does not address the issue explicitly, although the choice as the lead of Gary Oldman, until then known above all for his role as the ill-fated Sid Vicious in ‘Sid and Nancy’ (1986), might not have anything to do with it. innocent.

    On the thread of transcendence, another interesting aspect of ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ is its status as “Dracula of Draculas”, an adaptation that integrates into itself findings from previous films. There is an obvious trace of Murnau’s apocryphal version and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s ‘Vampyr, the vampire witch’ (1932), starting with its expressionist patina, but also of Browning and Lugosi’s ‘Dracula’, from which he repeats verbatim dialogues. The approach established by ‘Nosferatu’, and perpetuated later, that the character of Renfield (the patient in the asylum) is a superior of Jonathan Harker who started the real estate deal with Dracula and visited the castle in Transylvania beforehand is also preserved here; not so the rule that sunlight kills vampires, which is neither in Bram Stoker’s book nor in Coppola’s film. And a less obvious borrowing, acknowledged by the director, is that of the British telefilm ‘Dracula’ from 1974, with a script by the writer Richard Matheson, who already imagined a Count frustrated by the loss of his beloved and on the lookout for a woman whom consider his reincarnation.

    British actor Gary Oldman, very heavily made up and dressed in a metallic jewel encrusted cape, gestures menacingly in a scene from the film'bram stoker's dracula,' directed by francis ford coppola, california, 1992 photo by columbia picturesfotos internationalgetty images

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    All this also connects with the nostalgic yearnings of Dracula played by Gary Oldmanwho we get to see dressed in a suit based on ‘The Kiss’ (1907-08), the painting by Gustav Klimt that represents Apollo’s attempt to possess the nymph Daphne before she becomes a laurel. The attempts to restore a romantic past that is his lost Arcadia and that he wishes to make eternal are the engine of the story. Thus, the first interaction in the streets of London between the Count and Mina, in whom he is sure to see his deceased Elisabeta, produces an impact similar to that in ‘Vertigo (From the Dead)’ (1958) generated the scene where James Stewart’s character reconstructed Kim Novak’s according to the memory of the woman who obsessed him. The ghostly green that enveloped Novak in that Hitchcock movie is the same one that radiates from the suit worn by Winona Ryder in that urban meeting.

    The dead travel fast

    The success of ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ was inevitably followed by a renewed wave of vampire cinema. The most singular two-way influence would be that of the author Anne Rice: in the same way that without her best-selling ‘The Vampire Chronicles’ (published since the 70s) the baleful, romantic and existentialist vision of Coppola’s film might not have been the same, It’s hard to imagine that a major study would have approved the risky adaptation of a book like ‘Interview with the Vampire’ (1994) sooner. with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, without a precedent of this magnitude. They would have less to see stylistically from ‘Open Till Dawn’ (1994) or ‘A Vampire Loose in Brooklyn’ (1995); and a lot ‘Dracula, a very content and happy dead man’ (1995), direct parody of Mel Brooks with Leslie Nielsen picking up the baton (and hairdo) from Gary Oldman.

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    The legacy of Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ also goes through the reinsertion into the canon of an uninhibited erotic charge, until then more typical of minority vampire films or exploitation: everything hidden and suggestive materializes here with little fuss, even with scenes of bestiality. Part of the religious background of the book seems to be preserved in the treatment of the character of Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost), a “concubine of Satan” in the eyes of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), who is presented as much more liberated than other women. from the Victorian era… and is narratively sanctioned for it.

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    However, it is in Mina’s evolution as a desiring woman, and not as a virtuous and pure couple, that the film strays the furthest from its original source. In addition to finishing giving the romance of Dracula an absolutely nuclear character, the twist allows ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ to distance itself from the anticlimactic ending of the novel, lacking a confrontation, which was already one of the weak points of Tod Browning’s version.

    Winona Ryder, whom the issue of the sexual repression of women had first led to an interest in the script and to promote its production offering it to Francis Ford Coppola himself, He fared better in the reviews than his partner Keanu Reeves. Both raised in North America, their fake British accents earned the merit of sounding even more outlandish than Gary Oldman pretending to be from Eastern Europe. Keanu visibly struggles not to end each sentence by saying hesitate [tío]”, wrote journalist Josh Winning sardonically, of Total Film, in reference to the fame that preceded Reeves for his role in the comedy ‘The amazing adventures of Bill and Ted’ (1989).

    Although the second half of the film was also criticized for being scattered as a result of its plot licenses and the change in Mina’s character, the place of ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ in modern popular culture currently seems as stable as the foundations of many a Transylvanian castle. Or like the accidental marriage that, thanks to Coppola and his commitment to the cinema verité, Ryder and Reeves got when they got married in front of a real priest of an orthodox church in the scene of the wedding of his characters.

30 years are an ocean of time: this is how Francis Ford Coppola reformulated the myth of ‘Dracula’