Dracula, Details, & Style Points

 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a good book. It’s not my style, to be completely honest. I get a little annoyed switching from this person’s diary or journal, to this letter or news clipping. They naturally have to emulate real letters or journals so they aren’t always very to the point. Many entries will drone on about beautiful mountains, sunsets or conversations, which can help build a mood or atmosphere, certainly, and of course develop character, but I’ve found this era of book featured main characters which are generally pious, good-natured gentlemen and ladies, so I don’t find myself learning much besides that Johnathan Harker is still a really nice guy. That said, the material is what attracts me – I’ve always been drawn to gothic work, and classical monsters, in particular vampires. Dracula is a classic, and already his depiction in the book is much more a villainy in his swankiness and style then his obvious Emperor Palpatine demeanor in Francis Ford-Copolla’s interpretation.

Mr. Copolla’s work is not without it’s (many and glaring) faults, but what it loses there it makes up for in pure style points. To translate the gloom and uneasiness that every character seems to be nauseating from in the book, Copolla applied visual oddities to make the viewer spark every time or when the Count was on screen. Ironically, the book was less secretive of Dracula’s identity, his fangs were showing from the moment we meet him, but the book makes him much more mysterious by making him more normal. The film adaptation is not so nuanced – Copolla shows him obviously as a glaring villain, from a harsh accent to a deathly appearance, menacing dress and hair, head to toe evil. He is more mystical making him less mysterious – besides the obvious question “how can anyone be magic” it’s pretty obvious harker is in the hands of a creature more then likely ready to tear out his throat. In the book, the Count lies about what he does or is doing. He doesn’t know, or claim to know, of how curious Harker is or how much he already knows. For example, in the movie, Harker steps in a room, which is empty, and as soon as he leaves and reenters, a feast of a dinner sits waiting for him. All very magical and unnerving (he doesn’t seem to notice though). In the book, the time between the empty room and the dinner laid out is less clear but seems to be some time – he is called to eat while resting in his room or reading in the library, for example – and he eventually sees the Count laying out the food himself and in no unusual way. In the book he is normal in most ways, his sincere interest in England and sociability make him likeable even, and of course the title character asking so many questions, being so hospitable, all alone in a giant castle, makes our imagination run wild with conclusions.

So, again, to get the uneasiness across, Copolla applies visual oddities as opposed to the subtext you get from a book. The uneasiness that is recorded in Harker’s journal is almost never shows on his face in the movie, instead we get the uneasiness from our personal reaction to the Count’s demeanor, appearance or voice, the strange movements of the Count’s shadows, out of sync with himself, and the walls moving inwards, none of which (besides the count himself) Harker seems to notice in the movie (as matter of fact he seems oblivious up until the point he sees Dracula crawling out the window). Harker makes a point of his lack of reflection in the book, in the movie, he brushes it off as surprise. Of course, many days more pass in the novel and they are detailed; the film had no time for this so it was fast tracked – meeting the 3 women, seeing the Count in his tomb, completely glossing over the locked doors and having to reach the Count’s chambers through his window – all seemingly in a matter of nights, where in the book it passes over a month and the book studies more Harker’s coping and fear of madness and death.

Admittedly, I am not finished the book, so if details are missing that have not come up yet (certain events pass before rewinding to another perspective to retell them) I apologize for inaccuracy, but Copolla was stuck in a total fetishist mind set, playing up the oversexedness of modern vampires, obvious in works like True Blood, or Dracula 2000, and more tastefully done but just as obvious in Interview With a Vampire. For whatever reason, these creatures of the night seem to evoke sexiness and I am not sure yet where it began. One character, Lucy (who is describe by Mina, Harker’s bride-to-be, to be quite the fair lady in an almost too intimate fashion) is talked very nicely of in the book, her rosy cheeks, her ‘trim’ shape, the lovey and sweet Lucy is quite the innocent, young and beautiful woman the men who propose to her make her out to be. Maybe the various advances of the men, and Mina’s own kind words threw off Copolla, but every chance she could in the movie she was flirting to an extreme – suggestively touching others and herself – hardly able to keep her clothes on, at every chance trying to tear it off, and at one point having sex with the beast form of our Vampiric host (obviously hypnotized). And then of course there is the literally out-of-nowhere lesbian make out scene in the rain. In the book, when she is bit, she covers her neck, Mina makes an effort to keep her clothed, and her meet with the vampire and his glowing red eyes is about as chaste as they come. She, in her night gown is slumped on a bench as he stands over her, slowly and silently drawing from her neck. No touching, no gestures or suggestion, just good old vampirism.

Besides that, the Dracula about London in the film is some what similar to the Dracula from the beginning of the book – he is calm, and cool, and dresses all in black. He is stoic and almost charming, and his English is well praised in the book (no mention of an accent). Gary Oldman did a good job of a lady killer foreign prince, as he always does, but not necessarily the most faithful Dracula – probably the best Dracula Copolla could have asked for, considering what he could have possibly been asking for. But, suffice to say, the movie is a mess. It’s plot is sometimes unclear, the progression of the story sticks closely to the book, with some parts moved in the chronology, but not how it’s told (the book is in a record format, and in much more words), which makes it strange when certain characters come in and out all too fast, almost too fast to know what happened (for example, the ship that transported Dracula) or when plots fly by (like Lucy being vamped every night). It’s also hard to tell where some people are geographically, out in the country where Mina and Lucy spend most of their time (and where Dracula first begins to draw Lucy’s blood) or in London, or wherever Mina and the Count have their dinners. Mina is with Lucy at night (in the country according to the book) but with the Count during the day (London in the movie). Then there is the moving around of plots – Mina has a new sideplot in the movie, she falls in love with the count before she ever goes to find Johnathan Harker (Groom-to-be) and in the book, she has yet to meet him when she weds Harker in Romania.

I can ignore most of these missteps because I like movies for what they do well – the movie is atmospheric and a visual treat with it’s practical effects. It’s subject matter is my taste. The rest is pretty sub-par, but it’s a good movie to watch if you’re at all intrigued by Vampires. One thing you can take notice of in the book is the details – the mark of a good writer is knowing when what is important and should be brought up or repeated. Madness, death, locked doors all come up a lot in the first half of the book, to drive home the desperation, loneliness and certain doom of our boy Harker. But even though Harker runs into as many locked doors as he reenters his room or the library they never are described again – the first time was colorful enough that the mere mention recalls the familiar places. What is significant, what details are mentioned are the peculiarities like the lack of mirrors, the strange silence, the obvious age and non-use of all the items in the Count’s Castle, all these contrast what we find typically in a household – they all build a picture that every hallway or room does not need to be detailed – when we enter Dracula’s chambers, there is no talk of the architecture or the particulars except that, like the rest of the castle, it is generally old and unused. But when we enter the room with the 3 women, are attention is brought to the large window, not typical in the other rooms, or the expensive and luxurious fabrics that cover this room. We can assume it is as stony and old as the rest, but that isn’t what we’re going to hear.

All in all a good book but a difficult read. It moves slowly. At maybe halfway through, I’m wondering what could be left because I feel like I’ve been reading for an age now, but I am determined to read it – forgive me if I skip through conversations between Mina and old men.

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