VITAL SIGNSrnF I L Mrn’jH^vfrnBiggiesrnby David R. SlavittrnBram Stoker’s DracularnProduced by Francis Ford Coppola.rnFred Fuchs, and Charles MulvehillrnWritten by James V. HartrnDirected by Francis Ford CoppolarnDistributed by Columbia PicturesrnA Few Good MenrnProduced by David Brown, Rob Reiner,rnand Andrew ScheinmanrnWritten by Aaron SorkinrnDirected by Rob ReinerrnDistributed by Columbia PicturesrnTlicrc are advantages to doing thesernmoic pieees at a leisurely (biniontli!))rnpace, prime among which isrnthat I don’t have to go to too manvrnmovies. What got to me the last timernaround, when I was working for a weeklyrnmagazine, was that I was getting up,rndressing, sha’ing, and going into NewrnYork . . . to see Beach Blanket Bingo orrnsome such thing, and, worse than that,rnthat 1 was rather liking it, seeing newrnand richer aspects of Annette Funicello’srnperformance. 1 am older now, morernself-protective, perhaps lazier, and I contrivernto aoid such psychic stress.rnBut aside from that obvious benefit,rnthere is the further lagniappc that thernmere passage of time can sometimes offer.rnA film opens, and there is a criticalrnconsensus—as with Dracula for instance.rnMostly the critics didn’t like it,rnor didn’t like Coppola because the feltrnintimidated by him. (How else to protectrnthe calibration of the delicate criticalrninstrument against the rough embracesrnof the man whom most of usrnwould have to admit is the greatest livingrnAmerican filmmaker?) So therndumped on his movie and talked aboutrnhow long it seems, how excessive, howrnover-thc-top—and how disappointedrnthey were. Indeed, there is such niggardlinessrnto the ordinarily fulsomernslatherings of hyperbolic praise that thernadertisements in the national newspapersrnhad to resort to a blurb fromrnEleanor O’Sullivan of the Asbury ParkrnPress (“A hip, scary, sexy ride”), whichrnstratagem is a generally reliable indicationrnof disaster. It was only when I readrnlast December in the New York limesrna Frank Rich “think piece” about howrnthe film was actually about AIDS that Irnwas reminded how dumb these reie\-rners can be. I had assumed that it wouldrnbe about AIDS, couldn’t imagine anyonernmaking such a movie—aboutrnblood, sex, guilt, and Christ—withoutrnsome such novel suggestion. I was notrnsupposing that Coppola would be makingrnany particular social or politicalrnpoint, but just that he would be tappingrninto the energy that comes of the fearsrnthe new plague has occasioned. This isrnnot a story that has been sitting aroundrnon some shelf waiting to be told, afterrnall. What other prompting could therernha’e been for someone like Coppola tornredo this material?rnI thought the picture was just fine, arnsuperior piece of work that seems onlyrnricher in retrospect. Coppola is eleadvrnhaving fun, taking the architecture ofrnthe original material in Stoker’s novelrnand the numerous film versions of thernstor’—many of them remarkable examplesrnof excellent movie-making in stylesrnranging from more or less straight,rnthrough various degrees of expressionism,rnup to and including sheer and exuberantrncamp. Coppola exploits thesernstylistic choices with great zest, and onernsees echoes here not only of F. W. Murnau,rnwho made the 1922 Nosferatu, orrnof Tod Browning, who did Dracula inrn1930, or of Werner I lerzog, who made arnNosferatu in 1979, but also of Ken Russellrn[The Devils) and William Friedkinrn(in his Exorcisf mode). The film alsorncontains secjucnecs that are unmistakablernreprises of Akira Kurosawa’s battlefieldrntableaux and even, in one elaboraternwedding scene, a cheerful piece ofrnself-referential allusion to Ihe Godfather.rnThe tone of the film is extravagant,rneoniplieated, and excessive, and therncomments I have heard and read aboutrnhow the pace is too slow just don’t makernany sense to me whateer. We are expected,rnafter all, to know the story. Wcrnare hardly on tenterhooks about whatrnthe mysterious Count has in mind, orrnwhat I -uey and Mina are going to do, orrneven how it will all come out. The textrnis established and we are interested primarilyrnin the riffs and descants Coppolarnbrings to it. What can he add be()ndrnimpressive, effective, and expensie specialrneffects (by Roman Coppola) thatrnwould be interesting, shocking, appealing,rnor would expand and extend thernmaterial as we already know it?rnThe claim of the title—that this isrnBram Stoker’s Dracula—is not that thisrnis closer to the 96-vcar-old novel thanrnother versions but, on the contrary, thatrnStoker had seen through to possibilitiesrnof fear that no one could have reasonablyrnanticipated in 1897. The noxel’srnunderlying equations of sex and bloodrnand death were clever enough backrnthen. But the AIDS epidemic hasrnturned the generalized ambivalentrncharge of these subjects into a specificrnand |Dowerful series of suggestions whichrnmay be politically incorrect but whichrnnone of us can altogether avoid entertaining.rnThe notion inevitably arisesrnthat if Dracula is the anti-Christ, and ifrnthe crucifix and the Cliureh are enemiesrnof vampirism, then, in a contrar way,rnsexual experimentation carries an obiousrnblood risk that is likely to dcstrornnot only the experimenter but thosernwith whom he or she is sexually intimate.rnIt is true for Dracula and hisrnvampires, and it is true and more pointedlyrnfrightening for us toda. L^r. VanrnHelsing (Anthony Hopkins plavs the pioneerrnof hematology pretty much thernway he played the maniac of Silence ofrnthe Fambs—and it works just as well)rnremarks that civilization and sphilisa-rnMARCH 199 3/43rnrnrn