Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), or The Art Of Seduction

16 06 2009

Francis Ford Coppola is a visionary. This is a loaded word, so let me elucidate. Coppola is a director that wants things a very particular way. It’s not a matter of pride or arrogance, perhaps, as much as it is a small amount of obsession. A visual obsession that drives him to create stunning scenes so stimulating and arresting that he basically strong-arms you into liking him as a director. Today’s film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, makes the mistake of poor casting and an uneven script, but is saved by the sheer visual evocation in the portraits that Coppola paints on the big screen. And it is that strong sense of what makes a scene that creates the legacy of this picture.

I’m sure we all know the story of Dracula. Well, in this one we also get a prologue, insinuating that Dracula was really Vlad the Impaler, a brutal Romanian folk hero from the 15th century who impaled his enemies with long and narrow pikes (hence the name!!!). During a campaign against the Turks, who were trying to invade Romania at the time, there are falsified reports of Vlad’s death sent to his wife Elisabeta, who kills herself as a result of the news. So when it turns out that Vlad is alive and well, and he comes home expecting a LIVE wife, well, things get complicated. In a fit of rage and melancholy, he desecrates a church and decries the name of God, swearing that he will rise from the grave. And so he did. He lives on for nearly four centuries, changing his identity and moving to and fro over the years, living without his one true love. Luckily enough, though, he happens upon Jonathan Harker, a law firm employee who he meets while finalizing the purchase of one of his new homes. It’s fortunate because Harker’s girlfriend just so happens to be Mina, a reincarnation of the love he lost so long ago. He wants her, and when Dracula wants something, there’s no way to stop him!!!! Unless you’re Van Helsing!!!

It’s the timeless tale of temptation and seduction. Dracula, for some reason, represents relentless desire. He is enthralling, a beacon of passion that entices women into their own demises. It means to create a meditation on desire, and how sometimes the things we want most are the things which destroy us. Even Dracula, the beast who thirsts for the blood of the living, puts himself into peril by being infatuated by Mina. It’s all fairly interesting, but things go awry when the cast gets involved with the pristine material.

I’m amazed at the LACK of talent here. Despite all the well-known actors, only a handful keep from embarrassing themselves. Bravo to Gary Oldman as Dracula, who stayed buoyant while the rest of the cast floundered. Oldman plays Dracula with a particular flare that can only at this point be described as Oldmanian. He stands, acts, and speaks like a vampire, and with a stare so intense it could practically start a broken car, he makes Mina his more and more by the minute. It’s a solid performance, and one that really stands out in Oldman’s oeuvre. Everyone else, I could have done without the entire movie. Keanu Reeves leaves a bad taste in my mouth as Harker. What a HORRENDOUS accent! It was pretty bad, and I mean that in the most constructive, helpful way. Winona Rider as Mina left me wanting. No passion, no verve, no veiled Victorian wordplay; she was stuffy and undesirable. It wasn’t that she wasn’t physically attractive, but her personality was very repellent to me. And Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing… what a manic performance! Did you WANT Helsing to come off as a psychopath, Anthony?! He seemed more dangerous than Dracula! He dodders around the whole movie, mumbling in a forced German accent about how evil the demon is, sounding like a grizzled war vet after taking too many goofballs! Wow, I’m really on your side now, Helsing! Thanks; now take your medication and go to sleep…

But, as I said, it’s a beautifully shot film. I’m incredibly impressed with the romance of the visuals. The shots with Dracula and Mina are dripping wet with passion and desire. When the music swells, your heart beats faster, and you get caught up a little in the moment. Coppola makes a feast for the eyes that diverts from the fact that his talent was indulged a little too much with their performances. All in all, I still recommend it, if you are visually inclined or if you just love the dramatic and the macabre. It’s an elegant story that can be told time and time again, and I appreciate Coppola’s updated vision of love, lust, and the vicissitudes of desire. I think you’ll enjoy it, if you haven’t seen it, but don’t come in expecting too much or you’re doomed to not enjoy it as much. I give Bram Stoker’s Dracula 7 impaled enemies out of 10!

Keep watching the internet for my review today of The Taking of Pelham 123!




2 responses

18 06 2009

I couldn’t agree more…the performances in this film are quite miserable! Oldman definitely stands out here and I did enjoy seeing Tom Waits as Renfield. French actress, Monica Bellucci who plays a minor role as one of Dracula’s brides would have been a much better choice to play Mina. Christian Bale, or any other number of actors that actually are British, could have played Jonathan Harker. Some peculiar choices made by Coppola here, and it really does hurt the overall feel of the film.

I read that Coppola was unhappy with Oldman’s screams and asked Lux Interior of the Cramps to do a “scream over”.

19 06 2009

I can’t believe I didn’t write anything about Tom Waits! He was a believable Renfield, but it was a case of “too little, too late” for me. He should’ve just said
“fuck it” and started into “Fumblin’ With The Blues” to liven things up. And Belluci was seductive in a creepy I’m-gonna-eat-your-face kind of way. Thanks for the reminder!!!

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