To say the least, this film represents the greatest, but necessary, deviation from 19th Century based films. The film featured everything that 19th Century was and was not which is an important distinction to make because it is relevant to recognize the difference of Stoker's novel as compared to all other novels. Bram Stoker's Dracula was overtly sexual, horridly vivid, and greatly disturbing. To say the least it is a work unto itself once you get beyond all the nitty gritty blood play because to do Coppola credit there are some very clever techniques used which everyone pushes aside because they do not understand the filmmaker's intent.
For one, the film shows Dracula's dissertion of religion which is seen throughout the play. Dracula does not adhere to any religious icons, he recognizes them yet it is evident that he not be a part of them. Unlike his brides, the cross still means something to Dracula which is why he shies away when it is revealed on Johnathan's chest. Superstition also plays an important role which is seen with the importance of the garlic, the cross, and any other religious icons. In this film because of his inability to adhere to any transcendent hope in God he becomes a matryr. There is this desire to be born again, which we see with his love interest in Mina, who apparently in this film was reincarnated to meet him again.
Science, or any advancement to reflect the culture of the times is also used effectively. There are tools used, with the transfusion of blood, the early film which was a clever way to relate to the times and the phonograph which we see John Seward use to record his diary. This film give a distint idea of place, that the film does exist within the 19th Century, however expounding the boundaries, but the open busy city cet does well to reflect the place.
Let's get to Coppola. We can not discount the fact that he is an extraordinary director and because of this there are very clever parts in the play that reflect his genius. Forget the horrific acting. Forget the brutal blood play and whatever theme was used to make the film creepy. That is the point. We need to look at the film objectively to see where the genius lies. Let's also push away the sexual elements because yes they're there and we acknowledge that and it is evident that Coppola specifically wanted to objectify the women so forget breasts.
Let's go back then shall we where we don't look at the breasts but at the man behind the camera.
To help the understanding of this scene, it is listed below on the previous blog so do not fret in checking it out! The scene opens with Jonathon narrating from his diary. Already we see the play of light and darkness. A light illuminates his face while the rest of him is cast in shadow. A subtle shadow of the hand moves down a column before the camera turns below to look at Jonathon following his silhouette and shadow. The importance is darkness, obviously and do not forget the music which is also eerie. Light flickers around the room which again emphasizes the importance of darkness. Inside the room, to give a sense of oldness there are cobwebs and beautiful ancient bottles of perfume.
Note the way Coppola relates the perfume to the brides, they first speak after Jonathon notes the bottles so the perfume acts as a signifier for the women’s presence. Now we get to the sexual. We hear moaning and see a bed. which is evident is all about sex. The audience should know by know what Jonathan is getting himself into. To create the mood, not that mood (well, perhaps that mood), fog hovers over the bed and you can’t really see where the bed ends which is good for the ladies because they can just hover themselves out of it. Now we have the blatantly sexual, the boobs, the tongues, the voices which we can all discount because the point is sex. At least we’re not objectifying the women, the focus lies on their faces and what they’re doing to Jonathan. It is interesting to see how Coppola pick up this objectification from the novel because in the novel the women are portrayed as sexual, Coppola is just taking sexuality to the level that Stoker could not because of the times. Cut to Dracula entering. He flies into the room, smoke and all, to assert his power over the women. So there is this duality of sexual power and then male dominance which both imprison Jonathan. The costumes are pretty well done, the women are decorated in jewels and muslin from the waist down, and Dracula is pretty blatantly dressed in red. His hair does have sexual undertones but we get the idea that he is old and creepy.
It is interesting how the movie sometimes has Dracula and his wives move in such an erratic way as to suggest this mobility that exists outside the social norm. So again, forget about the sexuality it is only there to make a point so recognize the way Coppola is making the film creepy. In making this film it is as though Coppola knew of his directing achievements and had no qualms about making a film he knew would make society gag. So remember, the colors used, the costumes, the light and darkness and the sexuality are all used to portray horrific traits in mankind so in a way the film is meant to be bad because it is so different.