Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula isn’t…

Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula (1992)

I found it somewhat perplexing that Dracula’s character was fleshed out (ha!) at the expense of every other character. It made the movie completely unrelatable.

Worth your time, that is, though it definitely would have been cinematically mindblowing when released in 1992 (or so the Ministry assures me).

It shamelessly invents an entirely new storyline of how Mina Harker (Winona Ryder) is actually somehow a new incarnation, or doppelganger, of Dracula’s (Gary Oldman’s) long-lost wife from five centuries beforehand. Upon seeing each other again in eighteenth-century London they are transfixed by one another again, with Mina living a double life – one as the prim wife of solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) while secretly totally in love with Dracula and having sexy little meetings with him in which his teeth hover tantalisingly close to her creamy throat.

In the book, Mina is bitten against her will and horrified by the marks left upon her, and bound by a new ferocity to help her husband and his friends destroy the vampire and restore her to her original health and purity.

It’s not that Ryder isn’t good at acting sex-crazed and heaving her bosom and quivering with mouth agape. She is admirable at all these things.

But in order to tell this extra storyline, transforming Mina as it admittedly creates new depth in Dracula, the movie ignores precisely the things I believed made the novel compelling.

Like the excellently drawn characters, including a Renley drawn with detail and pathos, who work together to assemble clues, solve the mystery of Dracula’s evil intents and hatch a desperate plan to thwart him and free Mina.

Including a Dr Van Helsing, sweet and funny, willing to sacrifice all for the friends he is devoted to and views as his children. Despite being played by Anthony Hopkins, a skilled actor, he becomes in this version a leering old nutjob.

Francis Ford Coppola, Dracula, 1992

Suggested drinking game is to drink whenever you see gratuitous boob.

Or Lucy and Mina, originally female characters that managed to be well-rounded and strong and exhibit meaningful friendship and relationships despite the sexism inherent within their context. While they did act as ‘bait’ as a plot device, they also influenced events around them in other, more meaningful ways, and Mina’s personal attributes and skills drove the narrative. Lucy had fine emotional sensitivity, loss of which made her ridiculous character in this film even harder to stomach.

All this nuance was swept away as they ran about with breasts flopping (or alternately lay about with breasts thrust upward through filmy nightdresses). They seduced all without any sign of personal preference, lost in helpless lechery, completely without personal agency. Look, I’m all for a bit of sex appeal, but not at the expense of intelligence.

Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula (1992)

Poor old Keanu never gets a chance. To act, that is.

The plot mostly survives, skeletally, though I believe much of the tension of the final chase is removed as characterisation of Mina and Van Helsing now cannot do its work properly in ratcheting up suspense in the closing passages (replaced by a weird add-on in which Mina tries to seduce this fatherly old gent, which just would never happen in the original story). The love story between Mina and Jonathan, originally a fine and noble thing, is rendered wooden and completely unconvincing and for once it’s not Keanu’s fault.

Watch this movie for its 1990s visual tricks and special effects, so over-the-top in today’s context that they become a bit hilarious. Watch particularly for the obsession with florid cutaways and fade-outs that make much of eye imagery and other round things… I’m surprised there weren’t more nipples appearing in eyeballs, given the boob obsession. As a vampire movie and a popcorn flick and a product of its time and a portrait of Dracula, all excellent. But if you care about your education in the true classics of horror you owe it to yourself to read the book.

I vote someone should do a remake – twenty years on we’re just about due for something edgy, dark and restrained.



The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 10: Sixty Lights (Gail Jones, 2004)

Books remaining: 16. Weeks left to read them: 30 (it’s going to be fine)

A voice in the dark: “Lucy?” 

It was a humid-sounding whisper. She wanted this, this muffled gentleness, swathed in sheets measured and moistened by the heated conjoining of their bodies. This tropic of the bed. This condensation of herself into the folds of a marriage. The late night air was completely still. Insects struck at the mosquito net, which fell, silver and conical, like a bridal garment around them. Lucy watched a pale spotted moth sail slowly towards her face, land on the net, deposit its powder, and lift unevenly away, It was waving like a tiny baby hand in the darkness. 

sixty lights

Jones is a lecturer in literature, cinema and cultural studies at the University of WA and, for several such units, my lecturer. She was a brilliant one, whose disarming combination of fearsome intelligence and a musical, childlike speaking voice made you want to listen forever. Her knowledge was so complex, so clever, and so beautifully phrased that it excited but did not surprise me to discover she was a novelist.

There’s no way you’re going to read one of her books and not feel like you’re studying something, frankly, so if you’re catering for the average book club, turn back now.

I’ve been carrying around three of her novels – Black Mirror, Sorry and Sixty Lights – for the better part of 10 years now, so it was time to get real.

This is the story of Lucy and her brother, orphaned in Australia as children and taken to Victorian England to grow up under their uncle’s wing. Lucy becomes a photographer and though the novel is outwardly the story of a young woman and her family, it is most essentially a portrait of the world as seen through the eyes of someone like Lucy, who experiences life as a succession of images, frozen in time.

It is not a Difficult Book. It is not lofty or dense. It is peppered with plain phrases and glints of humour that rescue it from the sometimes otherworldly loveliness of its prose.

Lucy felt exulted to be once again on the water. The world before her was like blown glass; some fluid shape expanding, sphere-wise and breathful, into a glistening new form, some sense of the weird plausibility of transmogrification. The wind was high and the broad boat rocked and tossed. Lucy saw Isaac seize the railing and vomit into the heaving ocean. She turned her face into full sunshine and full wind, held on to her bonnet, and smiled.

Lucy turns out strange enough to want to be a photographer, at a time when the closest most women of her station get is working in a factory making photographic paper.

Lucy is naughty enough to get herself pregnant out of wedlock, and curious enough to seek out new experiences that others try to discourage her from having, just so she can observe the results.

Later, when in secret Lucy had persuaded Bashanti to bring her a sample of pan, she sat chewing the tough leaves and attending to the pan-effects. Her mouth burnt, tingled, was becoming numb, and began to fill up with curious liquids. She spat onto the floor and saw before her a small mound of gleaming brownish muck.

There emerges a welcome lovableness to Lucy. I do not believe all heroes or heroines should be lovable; but by golly, in this case it helps.

But the real story is not about what happens to Lucy so much as it is about her inner life – what she sees, and how she sees it. It is above all a loving, minute appreciation of the art and mechanics of photography, a meditation on the magic of the act of recording an image. It celebrates the value of pictures, even more powerfully when the reader inhabits a world in which photographs are so commonplace and overwhelmingly digitised they have all but lost their value and their meaning.

The tale is finely crafted, undoubtedly beautiful and very readable. It was on the 2005 Miles Franklin Award shortlist and the 2004 Man Booker longlist, and deservedly so. But somehow none of this is enough to make me want to press it upon others, declaring they will love it. I am conflicted about saying I didn’t enjoy it – to say so feels like sacrilege, when I have such admiration for the writer, the writing and the achievement – but I can’t see myself rushing to pick up the next one.

Canonise or cast out? Perhaps it is just that my tastes have changed. You can’t get hung up on this kind of thing. I will clear this little shrine to the incredibly impressive Jones off my shelf and move on with life, or at least, to the letter K.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here.


Turbo Blog: one for the ladies

The Ministry was obliged to go away for a few days recently For Business Purposes. I took the opportunity to watch a few things I was pretty sure he wouldn’t care about missing.

  • Sleeping Beauty (2011)
Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

It’s not a game.




And it ain’t Disney.



It’s the “story of a young girl’s strange erotic journey”… hang on, that’s Seinfeld.

Australian novelist Julia Leigh directed this, and I guess the words “Jane Campion presents” on the cover offer a clue as to what you’ve got yourself into.

Lucy is a uni student holding down three jobs – waitress, photocopy clerk and laboratory test subject – when she takes another: a silver service waitress who works in lingerie, a novice among girls with other unexplained “responsibilities”.

She accepts a promotion: drink a tea and sleep like the dead in bed next to male clients, who have paid to do anything they like with her. Except penetrate her.

What follows is a singular tale, both nasty and beautiful, with a minimal soundtrack and some profoundly uncomfortable scenes.

There is an odd repetitive patterning to Lucy’s rotation between jobs, and a repetition of concepts as well: penetration and violation pop up in all forms.

So do intimacy and detachment; not only represented by what happens in the bed of that country manor, but in scenes such as the one in which a shopkeeper is so mesmerised by Lucy’s image on a security screen that he does not notice she is behind him, trying to attract his attention.

Definitely arthouse, so choose your movie buddy wisely. Many an online review called it boring, but I found plenty of food for thought, and was not bored. I found the whole thing a rather intense experience that ratcheted up the suspense on its way to a conclusion I did not once guess at.

  • Toast (2010)

No matter how bad things get, it’s impossible not to love someone who made you toast.

This is a trip through 60s Britain, a time famous for the tinned vegetables. It is a biographical story of the youth of now-celebrated chef and food writer Nigel Slater.

It’s nostalgic, has pretty colours and a random appearance by Helena Bonham Carter and tickles you with Nigel’s mum’s reliance on the aforementioned tinned veg (and of course, when all else fails, toast).

” Ah, lashings of toast. Me favourite,” as Lockie Leonard’s little brother, Phillip, would say.

On the con side, there’s a lot of completely unexpected plot that kicks you in the guts. I didn’t know too much about Nigel Slater’s back story and consequently didn’t clock that I’d be weeping into my mending (I really was mending. I said it was ladies’ night) for so much of the film.

I wouldn’t really recommend this unless you’re a die-hard Nigel Slater fan, which I am. There’s nothing much wrong with it, but there’s nothing special either. I think IMDB’s 6.5 a touch generous.

  • Jane Eyre (2011)

All governesses have a tale of woe. What’s yours?

I’d been looking forward to watching this for yonks. Read the book twice, once as a child, and once a few years ago, and have always loved its plain-talking heroine and spooky premise.

Happily, Mia Wasikowska was hands-down perfect for the role, disconcertingly shifting from plain and stark to weirdly sexy within moments.

The structure, starting with Jane collapsing on the moor after fleeing Thornfield Hall and moving back and forth from there, preserves the mystery for as long as possible.

The script captures the nuance and fire of the fiery dialogue between Jane and Mr Rochester, in all its awkwardness and insight.

Horror overtones and a sense of repressed sexuality pervade the film, enhanced by a muted colour scheme and truly exquisite score.

Mrs Rochester, when she eventually appeared, was disappointingly pretty, but apart from that, everything was satisfyingly bleak and unadorned.

I was very happy with this adaptation.