Articles and Essays

Francis Coppola Goes For the Jugular

in Bram Stoker's Dracula

Interview by Lance Loud

What did you do on your summer vacation?

Research my upcoming film, Cure, by attending the annual AIDS conference in Amsterdam. I also went to the annual tumor-cell meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. That's a private meeting for scientists only.

How long have you been interested in researching HIV and Aids?

A boy who'd been a playmate of my own boys and who's gone on to become a real bright kid is dying from AIDS. I've always been interested in science and I'd already been thinking about doing an AIDS film in the tradition of films that dealt with scientific discovery, like Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet or The Story of Louis Pasteur. I thought it would be useful to have a film about the search for a cure. Then, when I learned about this boy, I thought, Wow, maybe within the course of my research I could come up with some advanced word of something that could be helpful.

Any promising leads?

For HIV infection, what looks promising is therapy, but there really isn't much hope for a cure. A virus has never been cured. There is also a vaccine therapy in the works, but that is two or three years away. I came away thinking that there really ought to be some sort of art vaccine. Use artists and art and agitprop and fear to really get out the information on how not to get AIDS. If we can prevent people from getting it, then we can more effectively care for those who have it.

Blood, sex and death are common to both AIDS and vampires. Is there any metaphorical connection to Bram Stoker's Dracula?

Being that Bram Stoker himself died of syphilis and because venereal disease was known as a love disease, I did at first seek to explore that connection. They touch on one another, but I wouldn't emphasize it beyond that.

Why Bram Stoker's Dracula?

I wanted to make it clear that this is not just another Hollywood retread. It's a direct adaptation of the book with one innovation: The prologue and the resolution deal with historic information about the real Dracula - Vlad the Impaler. All the other Dracula movies have been play adaptations or were dramatically changed. With the exception of the prologue, this is the most consistently authentic adaptation.

Even the lesbian love scene?

Dracula's like a force. When he comes around, the laws of physics start to work differently: People's passions come out. He make's everyone's - men's and women's - blood boil, and all their concupiscence pours forth…..

"Concu" what?

Concupiscence. It means lust. My theory is that Dracula feeds on and inspires this type of blood raging.

Most people were surprised by your choice of Gary Olman for Dracula?

I figured if Gary could do it for Sid Vicious, he could do it for Dracula.

Doesn't Tom Waits eat a worm in the film?

Not really, we just put a worm in his mouth. But he would have eaten if we'd wanted him to.

Where was Dracula shot?

Inside the studio. Even the exteriors were built inside. This movie is created through illusions. There are no modern sophisticated special effects. We used the type of effects they had back in 1898, which was the era of magic.

Do you use standard fake blood or create your own?

It's pretty much the standard stuff, but I always like my fake blood darker and less red.

What's your personal recipe?

Add green vegetable dye to make is blacker.

From early screenings of Dracula, there have been reports of people saying it's too bloody….

There should be some gentleman's agreement to allow people to finish their films so they can get a fair show. We had a preview of Dracula right after we shot it, and it was just the rough assemblage of all the material. We wanted to see what we got. Later you sculpt and decide what to cut and what to leave in. What I would say to people who indulge in the dishonorable sport of spreading stories is this: When I was a film student at UCLA, I got invited to an early cut of a movie by some successful filmmakers. I had never been to a rough cut; when I came out, I thought it didn't work and I said so. One of my teachers said, "One thing you gotta learn is that when you see an unfinished movie, you give your opinion to the filmmakers, but you don't go around talking about what you saw, because the truth is, you haven't.

This interview originally appeared in the December 1992 issue of Details

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