Film Techniques


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This film makes use of sophisticated film techniques compared to earlier versions but in a homage to the earlier films Coppola makes extensive use of the in-camera techniques used in the 1922 & 31 films.
As one reviewer ( Danel Griffin ) noted:
"It is impossible not to admire the set design, which deservedly won an Oscar. Coppola creates mood and atmosphere in the colorful worlds of Transylvania and late nineteenth-century London, but mood is all that he successfully creates. Coppola seems to forget as we watch this spectacle that just as much as we need to know how things happen, we also need to know why. Certainly the creeping shadows that move independently of their owners or an army of vicious rats scattering across the floor or Dracula’s transformation into a werewolf are all fantastic spectacles for the eyes. The problem is that we are given so many special effects and neat camera tricks that the film becomes a collage of gimmicks instead of a coherent film. As the camera follows the eyes of Dracula as he stalks the earth for victims, I was certainly riveted, but I also realized that this was only happening to show me how cool it looked, not to advance the storyline or the characters."
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A review by Stacey Abbot (BFI ) notes that: In Bram Stoker's Dracula, the film magic that so impressed Dracula is a key component to the film, which is why Coppola and his second unit director Roman Coppola chose to shoot the film in a style that consciously reflects the early days of filmmaking. Rather than depending on modern technology for their special F/X, they utilise traditional in-camera techniques such a pixilation, reverse printing, super-imposition and double exposure and Shot-reverse-shot. Dracula's point of view, unavailable in the novel as the story is exclusively told from the point of view of the vampire hunters, is mediated through these film techniques.
Dracula's approach to Lucy's home, shot from his direct point-of-view, is pixilated with each cut bringing him closer to his prey. As Mina transforms into a vampire, she begins to develop this inhuman vision. As she watches Dracula's carriage approach, pursued by Johnathan Harker and the others, we cut to her point of view as her vision, pixilated at a random shutter speed, appears to zoom in on the action.
Similarly Coppola (both of them) uses reverse motion to create the appearance of inhuman movement for the vampires. When Lucy, confronted by Van Helsing, retreats to her coffin, she seems to slink and slither back into its confines. In reality, it is simply a shot of the actress climbing out of the coffin, printed in reverse. (a reverse motion (or reverse action) shot is created by running film backwards in the camera or during optical printing.)
This self-conscious use of in-camera special F/X illustrates a privileged relationship between Dracula (as well as his vampire brides) and film. While the human characters create the appearance of literary faithfulness with their narration, it is Dracula's point of view, as his silhouette is superimposed over the actions of the others, that commands the film.
The film also makes particular reference to earlier Dracula adaptations. The use of expressionist shadows, which seem to act independently of their owner, is reminiscent of Nosferatu, while Gary Oldman's performance when delivering lines from the novel, such as "I never drink...wine" or "Children of the night...what music they make" echoes with the voices of his predecessors, particularly Bela Lugosi. This is emphasised by his knowing grin and the relish with which Oldman delivers his lines.
Oldman's many costume changes from Old to Young Count, wolfman to giant bat, not only illustrate his monstrosity but also the malleability of the film Dracula. On film he can be, and is in this version, every possible interpretation of the vampire: aristocrat, romantic lover, monster and tragic hero.
The Importance of Costume in Dracula
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