Saturday, March 28, 2009

My first video

I've finally finished the video I described a few weeks ago - thanks to everyone who provided advice! It's a photo montage of the 1932 sci-fi horror film "Doctor X", accompanied by the overture to 'Luisa Miller' by Verdi.

I came across this movie quite by accident, and immediately fell in love with it. Not because of the plot or the writing, which frankly are atrocious, but because of the wild art direction and the crazy cinematography. I felt obliged to follow the storyline in selecting the screengrabs I used, but what I really wanted to do was to capture the most atmospheric moments, and the ones that show off the sets and lighting in the best way.

This movie was filmed using the two-strip Technicolor process, which was an early version of colour film. It doesn't produce truly natural colour - instead one gets a green/orange palette, with the occasional red or even pink coming through. You'll never find a genuine blue in this movie, but for a horror film, particularly such a stylized one, the creepy green and the glowing orange fit pretty well. The sets are fantastic - they out-Frankenstein Frankenstein. I wish I could have included more pictures of the "scientific" paraphernalia, but actually I think the art director overdid it in some scenes. There are laboratory scenes at the beginning where every available surface has some sort of glass tube or bulbous flask boiling and bubbling away, to the point where the clutter overwhelms the whole scene. The actors seem perched in the middle of a glass and chrome forest, always lit with hanging overhead lights - they loved those.

The other thing I Ioved was the use of shadows - they're everywhere, often looming over glowing green walls, and throwing disturbing angular patterns behind the heads of the characters. The angularity continues in the set design - it's too undisciplined to be Art Deco, but not fantastic enough to be Expressionist, so it's some sort of American transitional phase, on the way to the noir films of the '40s. Really original and rather sci-fi in its approach.

I put the actual horror element - the "transformation scene" - right at the beginning, accompanied by sound effects from the film, because 'Luisa Miller' just doesn't lend itself to this kind of theme late in the piece. It's suitably spooky at the beginning, but by the end it's all in a major key and sounds very triumphant, so this part just wouldn't have fit. Anyway, I hope you like it - now that it's finished, I think I might have gone a bit overboard on the transitions, but it was my first time, and I guess I just wanted to play with all the gizmos. At least the movie itself is so over the top that it isn't as out of place as it would be with a more natural film.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Have a mouse flamboo

I was delighted to rediscover another one of my childhood memories on YouTube - the 1971 National Film Board Short, "Hot Stuff":

It's a warning of the dangers of careless use of fire, and begins with a chaotic fiery universe - "The gods were angry", and moves on to the generosity of the gods in giving fire to Man, but with a warning: "You must not be careless! The fire is to be your slave. You must never set it free, for though it will serve you faithfully, it will devour all of mankind if given half the chance." Man progresses through the ages, and arrives at our modern day, with fire conveniently tamed in the form of electricity. The story then moves to an disgruntled couch potato watching TV, and we see how people have forgotten the warning of the gods.

I found I'd remembered the cartoon very accurately, right down to the punchline - it's odd, but the things I learned before the age of about 18 I have very clear, accurate memories of. After that, it becomes patchier and more confused, but I must have had a phenomenal memory as a child. I don't believe I've seen this little cartoon since the early 70s.

One thing I didn't remember because I probably never noticed it in the first place was the first credit at the opening: "The Dominion Fire Commissioner, Department of Public Works, Canada, Presents". "The Dominion Fire Commissioner" - what a wonderful title! Full of the lost history of Canada, when "Dominion" wasn't a dirty word. I can only guess what sort of description goes with that job now - "Public Safety Officer", or some colourless equivalent. Or maybe worse: "Sauvetage/Canada Safety", like so many of the mongrel-words that have fallen on our institutions like smothering black soot. From "Royal Mail" to "Poste/Canada Post", as if we could invent some kind of hybrid English/French language all our own.

Monday, March 23, 2009

There is nothing new under the sun...

...but this is getting ridiculous. I'm starting to wonder if G.K. Chesterton might have dropped in one day to visit his friend H.G. Wells, and taken a spin in his Time Machine. This is from an essay in the Illustrated London News, dated June 12, 1909:
One impudent piece of pedantry I have noticed as very much on the increase--it is the habit of arbitrarily changing the end of abstract words (which are bad enough already) so as to make them sound more learned. I heard a young man, with thin, pale hair, speak some time ago at some Ethical Society; and words cannot convey the degree to which he drooped his eyelids whenever he said "Christianism," instead of Christianity. I was tempted to get up and tell him that what was the matter with him was Tomfoolerism, called by some Tomfoolerity, and that I felt an impulsion to bash his physiognomics out of all semblity of humanitude.

Well, Tomfoolerism would be the least of Andrew Sullivan's problems, but to be fair, he wasn't the first to make use of this trend (which is obviously a revival of an old fad), only the most obnoxious. I think the modern spate of neologisms started with Daniel Pipes and his popularization of the term "Islamism" after 9/11. It was a way of detaching problematic behaviour in the Muslim world, and leaving Islam itself unsullied. I always felt that this was a fishy bit of double-talk, and it ignored the built-in Doomsday Device right at the roots of Islam, but in those early days, there was hope that the problem could be isolated and quarantined, and the huge, insoluble headache of confronting an entire religion avoided.

Pipes didn't pretend to originate the term "Islamism" - it had been around for several decades in its present form, but he was probably the one most responsible for getting it into the mainstream.

Since then, the noxious habit of fancying up old words and pretending they're something new has spread. One that annoys me deeply is "Reformist", as used by David Frum and the Elevated Souls of the Republican Party. This is a particularly dishonest term, because it deliberately avoids the uncomfortable questions that would be produced by the genuine English term "Reformer", especially among Christians. If the Republican Party needs "reforming", then it must have fallen into error and corruption, but that is not a position likely to endear the "reformists" to the object of their reform efforts, i.e., the original conservatives in the GOP. So the new word allows them to pose in the armour of high-minded crusaders without actually facing their foes fairly.

Even the Swan of Newark is getting in on the act, but I don't think her innovation of "orthodents" or "orthodites" or whatever sneering neologism she's trying out this week will catch on. Indeed, anyone can play this game, if all one wants to do is show off one's own cleverness; I just came up with "heterodicks" to describe the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church (though maybe just "heredicks" would be better).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Raimondi pick-me-up

The kids'll be home in a few minutes, so here's something joyful to take away the bad taste from my mouth of contemplating the approach of fascism in the U.S. It's my beloved Ruggero Raimondi singing two concert pieces: "Fin ch'han del vino" from Mozart's 'Don Giovanni', and boy, does he ever rip through it! I don't think I've ever heard it so fast. It's followed by "Medaglie incomparabili" from 'Il Viaggio a Reims' by Rossini. It's a comic song, with Don Profundo imitating all the different nationalities of his companions. I suppose you have to be Italian to really get all the accents, but even I can hear the VERY heavy English accent of the 'Inglesi' coming through the Italian words. It's funny to hear what foreigners hear when they listen to English.I can also hear the French accent, but it isn't so obviously WRONG as the English, and as for the others, I can hear that they're all different, but trying to disentangle one foreign accent from another foreign language is not something I can do.

Life can't be too bad when there are still things like this to listen to.

Don't be stupid, be a smarty, Join the Democratic Party!

There are a lot of stupid things going on in the U.S. right now, but this incident left me really upset.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley suggested that AIG executives should take a Japanese approach toward accepting responsibility for the collapse of the insurance giant by resigning or killing themselves.
The Republican lawmaker's harsh comments came during an interview with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, radio station WMT on Monday. They echo remarks he has made in the past about corporate executives and public apologies, but went further in suggesting suicide.
"I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they ought to be removed," Grassley said. "But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.
"And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology."
It's one thing for bloggers to blow off steam by saying people should be roughed up or strapped in the electric chair or whatever. That's pretty much the equivalent of a guy going into a bar after work and grumbling that he'd like to punch his fool boss in the jaw. (Don't forget, though, in Canada, it's comments such as those that get you dragged in front of a government tribunal.) But for a lawmaker to start tossing off such comments indicates a serious coarsening of public discourse. In a country which still is majority Christian, I am really shocked that a senator would recommend something as heinous as suicide. It would be no more shocking to me to hear him say, "I think the pregnant wives of these executives should be forced to abort their babies as suitable penance." That's how vile a suggestion of suicide is, and coming from a person in authority, it's another signpost on the path to complete darkness, which I expect will be followed by a matching degeneration in public behaviour.

Indeed, it's already starting:
:A tidal wave of public outrage over bonus payments swamped American International Group yesterday. Hired guards stood watch outside the suburban Connecticut offices of AIG Financial Products, the division whose exotic derivatives brought the insurance giant to the brink of collapse last year. Inside, death threats and angry letters flooded e-mail inboxes. Irate callers lit up the phone lines. Senior managers submitted their resignations. Some employees didn't show up at all.

"It's a mob effect," one senior executive said. "It's putting people's lives in danger."

Well, why shouldn't mobs start forming? When you have senators telling people that a lot of their problems would be solved by the DEATHS of certain troublemakers, why be surprised when people take that as a go-ahead to inflict a little authorized mayhem? And if they didn't get the message when Grassley delivered it, Barney Frank reinforced it when he smirked at death threats against AIG executives and family members were read aloud to him.

We're endlessly told that dehumanizing talk is the prelude to violence, and the example given is the Holocaust. But the "dehumanizing talk" that caused the most destruction was the stuff that came from the people in authority. Hans stomping into the Weinstube and grumbling that his boss Mr. Rosenstein was a tight-fisted *** bastard didn't do anything but cause people standing around to roll their eyes and tell him to have another beer and he'd feel better. Hitler announcing that Jews and Communists were conspiring to overthrow society for their own selfish gain was what caused the damage: after all, he must know, mustn't he? He's in the government, he gets all the secret information ordinary citizens never see. If the Fuehrer says it, who are we to disagree? And the next step is to help the government by properly punishing these enemies, in the knowledge that there will be no reprisals.

I think that this sort of public coarsening will be seen as a first step to the destruction of the U.S. as a free society, and its replacement by a fascist one. When people grow accustomed to talk of violence, they won't be so surprised when they hear that business deals - business deals - are beginning to be occasions for fisticuffs and brawls. Then public riots will make it clear what happens to anyone who is unfortunate enough to catch the eye of the government, and can be turned into the next public scapegoat. Then before you know it, you're in a state which is being run via murders and brutality, and everyone is either compromised or too scared to do anything about it.

Spring approaches

Not much time for blogging these days - it's March break, and the kids are monopolizing the computer. Today Thomas and James are out with their teachers, giving me a respite day, and I'm spending it washing floors! Oh well, I'll be happy with the nice clean floor once it's done, and I've got a fire going in the TV room, so every time I work in there, it's nice and cheerful.

Fortunately, spring is approaching, and we're going up to 9C today, after 11C yesterday! The back yard is 1/3 clear of snow, and I'll bet that in another week, I'll be able to report that the prickly fringe of the bleeding heart plants is poking up above the ground. I took Thomas to a big flea market about an hour out of town (near the St. Lawrence), and on the way back, we saw TWO big V's of returning Canada Geese! I think I just heard some honking in the clouds overhead a few minutes ago, because it's actually warm enough to sit here with the window open beside me.

Thoughts of spring mean thoughts of gardening, and I've already placed my order with Eagle Creek Potatoes for seed potatoes. We're going to try a few new varieties this year, including a heritage variety. I'm not going to plant the purple potatoes this time, despite Dean's fondness for them. They are VERY late season potatoes, and I've found over the past few years that our growing season here (Ottawa is Zone 5a) just isn't long enough - they always are undersized, and I think the hot weather is over before they can gain much in size. We're also not growing carrots this year - we never get much yield, and I'd rather give the space over to tomatoes.

Last year just wasn't a very good gardening year, and other people in town had the same problems. Not hot enough, and too many rainy and overcast days. I hope this year will be better. I'm not bothering with the Moonflowers this year either - the plants grew nicely, but not a single flower did I see! The cold temperatures slowed even the normal morning glories down, but at least we got SOME blue flowers. This year I think I'll plant the usual blue ones again, and I'm going to try an experimental one: Chocolate Morning Glory. It's the usual fanciful name for what I hope will be a sort of dusky rose flower:

I also bought a package of seeds for white Cypress Vine (Ipomoea quamoclit), which seems to be a related flower, but I don't know if I'll plant them. I've just never had much luck with these non-standard Morning Glories.

Oh, here's one bit of good news: I went out to the broken remnant of the Damson Plum tree, and broke off the tip of a tiny twig. When I peeled back the bark, it was green underneath! Which tells me that the poor tree is not dead - though Dean joked that the trauma of the twig-breaking might be enough to make it succumb now.

Monday, March 09, 2009

In the spirit of bipartisanship

Here's an interesting proposal by the Connecticut legislature:
After a priest stole $1.4 million from a church in Darien, state legislators have proposed a law that would regulate how parishes are controlled and operated.

The state's Catholic bishops rallied opposition from the pulpits at weekend Masses.

The law essentially would strip the dioceses of all financial control of parishes and leave bishops and priests to oversee "matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices." A board of elected laypersons would handle parish finances.

Instead of just automatically opposing this Democrat maneouvre, I've decided in the spirit of bipartisanship to meet it halfway: How about you try it out on the Episcopal Church first, and see how it goes?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Request for computer help

I was so taken with the video montage from Chandu The Magician that I linked to a few weeks ago, I decided I'd like to make my own. I've got a great B-movie with lots of good photography lined up, I've saved it to the hard drive in .mpg format, and I've even found the music I want to accompany it. Now what I need is a program to capture still pictures from the film - screengrabs or screen captures, I don't know which is the correct term. Can anyone recommend some good, easy-to-use software I could download? I'd even be willing to pay for it, if it's not too expensive (I don't think I'll be doing this all THAT much). I think I'll use Windows Moviemaker to assemble the little video - I fiddled around with it and it seems pretty simple. So I'll be working on my Windows Vista program. All I need now is to extract the pictures I want - any ideas?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Diplomatic donnybrook

OTTAWA - Serious cracks in the Canada-Russia bilateral relationship developed earlier today, following a disastrous and quickly aborted visit to Canada by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The Russian Prime Minister presented to Prime Minister Stephen Harper a fabulous and irreplaceable Faberge egg...

...and received the following gift in return

Dean Sherratt, on his first day on the job as Deputy Chief of Protocol, has not been seen since the debacle, though a body resembling him was found just downstream of 24 Sussex...

Black Narcissus

This isn't a review of the 1947 British film, though it does deal with films, and it does deal with the British. It's the story that has been bouncing around in the British media the last day or so: the presents given by Obama to Prime Minister Gordon Brown on his first official visit to the White House since the election of The Boy Wonder. First let's start with Gordon Brown's presents to Obama:
The Prime Minister gave Mr Obama an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet.

The unique present delighted Mr Obama because oak from the Gannet's sister ship, HMS Resolute, was carved to make a desk that has sat in the Oval Office in the White House since 1880.

Mr Brown also handed over a framed commission for HMS Resolute and a first edition of the seven-volume biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert.

In addition, Mr Brown and his wife showered gifts on the Obama children giving Sasha and Malia an outfit each from Topshop and six children's books by British authors which are shortly to be published in America.
In return, what did the Obamas present to the Browns?
Barack Obama, the leader of the world's richest country, gave the Prime Minister a box set of 25 classic American films - a gift about as exciting as a pair of socks.
And for the kiddies:
In return Mrs Obama gave the Brown children, Fraser and John, two toy models of Marine One, the Presidential helicopter. Fair enough on the helicopter part, always a popular choice with small boys; but Marine One? It’s not as though anyone needs reminding that Barack Obama is President or that he has his own helicopter. Short of giving the boys Action Man models of her own husband smiting the evil forces of neoconservatism, Mrs Obama’s gesture could not have been more solipsistic or more inherently dismissive of Mrs Brown.
Gifts, as the article points out, procured from the White House gift shop, costing about $13.00 apiece. Class act in the White House.

As for the dvds, it appears that the White House didn't even bother to get Brown Region 2 dvds that would play on a British dvd player. But it's all part of the thoughtfulness that would give a set of movies to a man who is almost legally blind. I'm sure he'll adore watching the 1927 silent film "The General".

And by the way, how did "Lawrence of Arabia" get into a supposed collection of 25 classic AMERICAN films?

This opens up a delightful vista before us, as we can fantasize about the gifts the Obamas will be presenting to heads of state over the next few years.

I suppose copies of The da Vinci Code and The Thorn Birds will be presented to the Pope, and the President of France (who no doubt will be THRILLED with the present of some American movies) will get Irma La Douce and his kids will get a collection of Pepe le Pew cartoons.

The American media sold themselves to convey Obama into the White House, and are still keeping up the happy-talk to try to hide what a buffoon he is. Even before the Inauguration, I said to Dean that they may be able to keep up a one-tone wall of sound in the U.S., but the same won't be true of the foreign press. They went along for the ride while it was fun, but they don't owe anything to Obama, and there's no particular reason for them to cover his ass. They haven't forgotten the pleasures of anti-Americanism, nor have their readers. It won't take many incidents like this to make them swing the taps all the way to hot again, and start in on Obama exactly where they left off with Bush. Then the American media will have a hard time trying to maintain the illusion that All Is Well, when the foreign papers start publishing insulting cartoons and derogatory editorials about Golden Boy. Judging by the Brits, that transformation has started already, and those people really know how to write nasty.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Things I've given up on

One of the things I've given up hope of ever seeing in my lifetime is a decent memorial of the 9/11 atrocities. Mark Steyn wrote a depressing update on the 'Circle of Embrace' so-called 'memorial' to the passengers and crew of Flight 93. I agree with the quote from James Lileks:
If 9/11 had really changed us, there’d be a 150-story building on the site of the World Trade Center today. It would have a classical memorial in the plaza with allegorical figures representing Sorrow and Resolve, and a fountain watched over by stern stone eagles. Instead there’s a pit, and arguments over the usual muted dolorous abstraction approved by the National Association of Grief Counselors. The Empire State Building took 18 months to build. During the Depression. We could do that again, but we don’t. And we don’t seem interested in asking why.

I was interested to read of The Tottenham Outrage, almost a miniature scale prefiguring of the same sort of chaos and murder exploding upon a prosaic, peaceful society going about its unremarkable business on an unremarkable day, and recorded by G.K. Chesterton almost exactly 100 years ago:
If anything could startle the modern mind into simplicity upon any subject, and especially on the subject of crime and punishment, it might, I think, be the affair of the two Russians who left a trail of blood through the astonished suburb of Tottenham... Here were two men, confident in their strength, skill, and weapons, who undertook not only to defeat Society, but to destroy Society, or as much of it as they could. And here were ordinary citizens, aided by comparatively few even of the official police, who vigorously expressed the refusal of Society to be destroyed if it could help it. The thing was a reality; both sides ran risks for the realisation of the idea. The criminals would rather be killed than caught; and the ordinary respectable citizens would rather be killed than not catch them....
It's a smaller, slower version of our world today - the people were wearing different clothes, their jobs were more physical and took longer, their amusements were simpler, but the pattern is already there. We are closer to those people in 1909 than they were to their predecessors in 1809. The bones of modernity are already formed: a society that's been civilized long enough to operate smoothly because its members trust each other enough not to suspect attack. An official police force that's small and nearly invisible in daily life, because society can largely police itself. A largely unarmed populace which has been safe for so long, it takes physical safety for granted, and is unprepared for violent attack by a ruthless, determined, alien force. Oh, and we share something else too:
In certain energetic but rude societies--such as that of the Middle Ages,and that of California until very recently--men were hanged for stealing. It is a thing to be improved as quickly as possible, but it is a thing to be understood before it is improved. But with us an ordinary humanitarian means a man who does not realise that it is a nuisance to be robbed. And an ordinary judge means a man who does not realisethat it is even more of a nuisance to be hanged. We have long lost sight of the actual fundamental human situation which makes a savage crime possible or a cruel punishment conceivable. That fundamental human situation did leap into existence at Tottenham.
We also have these moral dilettantes, who have never known evil as anything more than a word in a book. And 7 years after 9/11, they are as convinced of their superior sensitivity and insight as they were before it happened.

But Tottenham was not entirely at the mercy of these eunuchs, and they had the good sense not to turn to them for advice when it came time to design a memorial. There was a "Flight 93" moment during this day of terror, too:

Considered merely as a romantic interruption of modern life, the event was, of course, amazing. It was simply a headlong series of short stories for the magazines. A milkman is mildly driving his cart along a mild and modern street; he is struck as by blasting magic, and two adventurers whirl away in his milk-cart. An ordinary elderly gentleman gets into an ordinary suburban tram-car; six or seven people get in, five or six people get out, in the ordinary way; two other people remain in the ordinary way. Then suddenly two more people get in, and he discovers that nothing but the violent virtues of a wolf may save him in a hail of bullets and a hell of inhuman fear. That elderly man in the tram-car is to me the most sublime and symbolic of human figures. When the ruffians first leapt on the car and held their loaded revolvers to the conductor's head, the elderly gentleman did nothing. He is not to be blamed if he was afraid, but it is much more likely that he was profoundly astonished, as if a hippopotamus had been shown into his dressing-room. But later in the run (as we read from the accounts) he seems to have made up his mind and "attempted to seize" one of the robbers.

Seriously, I think that splendid; I think he ought to have a statue. We have statues to all sorts of stupid old elderly gentlemen who, having been brought up in the Army, from a distant hill directed or misdirected military operations which they understood or were supposed to understand. We have statues of silly elderly gentlemen who, having been bred to politics, conducted or misconducted political campaigns. We have nothing so sensible as a statue to an elderly gentleman who could attempt something that could never be expected of him--an elderly gentleman who could so far forget the environment of Tottenham and so abruptly alter the habits of a lifetime as to "attempt to seize" two armed bandits on a tram-car. The delay before his desperate revolt makes it all the finer. He is a symbol of the patient modern man at last taking his fate in his own hands. He is typically and supremely the Man in the Street, when he shall at last remember that, though the street is strict and formidable, there is not only a street but also a man in it.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' (1992)

Dean and I watched this movie last night - I'd picked it up for $5.00 during my wanderings past the discount dvd bin in Walmart's. I'd heard it wasn't very good, but I wanted to see for myself. I found that it confirmed an observation I have made in the past, one that I go so far as to name "Mabuse's Law": Any movie that contains the author's name in a possessive form in the title is a stinker. Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'"(1994) and Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre' are the other big entries in this dubious category; I am always on the lookout for more.

You'd think that a movie that advertises it's connection with the original source material would be agonizingly scrupulous about adhering to that source. You'd worry that it might be SO close to the book, it fails as a movie. Not in this case. The movie hangs on to the names of the characters as well as the geographical locations, but then flies off into a completely anachronistic and ahistoric retelling that has almost nothing to do with the original story.

It begins with a back story about Dracula, drawn from records about the original Vlad the Impaler who inspired the legend. This is interesting, but it isn't actually in the book; Stoker wasn't that concerned about establishing a real-life historic grounding for his story. It also purports to show how Dracula lost his soul - he abjured God after the death by suicide of his beloved wife. It isn't clear how this would turn you into a vampire, but maybe after he was kicked out of the Orthodox Church he began hanging around with a bad crowd. The thing about these old legends is that they seldom have a definite starting point; Dracula wasn't the first vampire, he was just the greatest of that evil race. Evil is always around, and no generation is free from it. I always assumed that Dracula was "initiated" into vampirism the same way he initiated others - it's an endless cycle, an ugly parody of the way life is transmitted from generation to generation.

But nowadays people don't want to accept something as matter-of-fact and prosaic as "evil just exists". It's got to have a "root cause", and Dracula's was disappointed love. This attempt at "understanding" disarms us from the beginning; now it's no longer enough just to hate and fight evil, because that shows us to be limited and unfair. Cooperating with evil is still not approved, but now those who fight have to do it with a long face and regretful sighs ( not to mention "proportionate response"). In this movie, the vampire-fighters are only valiant insofar as they are ignorant - those who "know" Dracula (especially Mina) immediately become ambiguous about fighting him, and not because they are deceived and deluded by his evil spell. No, they know the truth, and that puts them on his side.

The movie changes ALL the characters, not just Dracula. The two women, Lucy and Mina, are unrecognizable, and completely assimilated to 20th-century prejudices and sensibilities. It seems the hardest thing in the world is for modern people to take the way people lived in an earlier era, and just accept the fact that they meant it. Mina and Lucy were Victorian women - they thought and acted in a certain way, and part of that included modesty and reticence about sex. The director just flatly refuses to take them seriously. He is convinced that they acted the way they did because they couldn't help it, and he is going to set them free! So we have Mina and Lucy, in their first scene, tittering over pornographic illustrations in a book of 'The Arabian Nights'. I could barely exclaim indignantly that a decent Victorian household with young girls in it wouldn't even POSSESS such a book, before their conversation went on to "Do men and women actually DO that?" "Oh, *I* did it last night!" seethes sexpot Lucy, "In my dreeeeeeeams! Teehee!" It was such an impossible scene, I was speechless.

This character assassination of Lucy only got worse. She writhed and wriggled in front of her three suitors, who stood there like tailor's dummies. No decent man of that era would ever dream of marrying a brazen harlot like Lucy, but they act as if this is perfectly normal behaviour. I think I can follow the thought process that led to this total misinterpretation of the character. Anyone who reads the book is aware of the strong stream of suppressed sexuality that flows under the surface. The director tapped into that, and then decided that he would "improve" on the original text, by writing the story that Stoker would have written, if only he hadn't been constrained by his era. In doing so, he reveals that he has a crude, limited imagination, and regards anything non-modern as somehow defective. Victorians repressed impulses because they thought they ought to, not because they were helpless victims of their era. I'm sure individual people crossed back and forth over the line of what society demanded and what they personally believed all the time, but modern people act as if nobody but us ever had any choice about what they wanted their society to be like. Stoker wouldn't have thanked Coppola for "setting free" his theme in this way; he'd have been shocked and disgusted, and probably would have failed to recognize his own story. Repressed, controlled sex WAS sex to Victorians; it wasn't just a makeshift until the real thing came along in the next century. Rewriting it to say "what Stoker really meant to say" is ludicrous; it reminds me of an SCTV episode featuring a game show quiz:
Alex-What American writer wrote 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' and went by the name 'Mark Twain'?
Kathy: Samuel L. Clark
Alex: Ooh, no, Kathy, the answer is 'Samuel L. Clemens'.
Kathy: That's what I said.
Alex: No, Kathy, you said 'Samuel L. Clark'; the answer is 'Clemens'.
Kathy: Well, that's what I meant!
Alex: Well, you didn't say it! You have to SAY the answer to get the point!

The "sex thing" continues to bedevil the story, all the way to the end. Coppola can't seem to get over his own cleverness in dragging to the surface this not-so-well-hidden theme, and he flings it onto the screen like the bucketloads of blood that go with the story. The women Dracula victimizes are forever wriggling and writhing in orgasmic ecstasy. They never seem even faintly afraid of dying, let alone damnation - the men who come charging in with homemade blood transfusions seem to be irrelevant buzzkills, who can't tell when they're crowding out someone else's action.

Poor Lucy isn't even safely in her glass coffin before Coppola starts in on Mina. It turns out she's the reincarnation of Dracula's long-lost love! Even while he's draining Lucy dry, he's stalking Mina through London, and manages to capture her heart, while Jonathan is still trapped in the castle in Transylvania. That's another anachronism - that a nice young woman would start openly going out with another man, eating with him in public restaurants, and attending newfangled cinema parlours (where, naturally, the exhibits are pornographic peepshows). It's just so ridiculously out of synch with the actual era.

Anyway, she falls in love with Dracula, only to get word that Jonathan has been found and needs her help, so she breaks off her romance with Dracula and departs for Europe, tossing his love letters into the ocean as she sails away. She marries Jonathan in a beautiful Orthodox marriage ceremony, but this is undermined from the start because she's still hankering after her mysterious prince. It's hard to believe that we're supposed to regard Mina as a heroine, when she's portrayed as a dishonest liar, solemnly marrying a man she doesn't love, but I suppose Coppola regarded Victorian attitudes to marriage as as disposable as their views on sex.

Back to London, and the story starts to wind to its conclusion, as Dracula finds Mina again and starts to vampirize her just as he did Lucy. They follow Stoker's story pretty well for the brief part that covers Dracula's retreat back to Transylvania, and the heroes' race across Europe as they try to intercept him before he reaches his castle. Then the movie goes right off that rails at the very end. Mina turns against Jonathan and Van Helsing, and completely becomes the long-lost 15th-century bride of Dracula, trying to help him make it back home before the heroes can kill him. It's a close-run thing, and they manage to drive a stake partly through his heart, and half cut off his head before she holds them at bay. "Would you do the same thing to me?" she demands of Jonathan? Instead of answering, "Of course, if you became an accursed vampire like Lucy" he stammers "No." What the hell? Even Van Helsing falls apart at this moment, blabbering, "We have all become God's madmen!" whatever that means. No, I'm not even going to bother trying to figure it out. They leave the two "lovers" to retreat into the castle, where Mina delivers the coup de grace to Dracula, though why it's alright now when it was outrageous 2 minutes earlier I don't know. Somehow her love makes it all okay. And somehow they're "together" even though she stops being a vampire in training once he dies. The movie ends at this point, though I wondered if she walked outside and asked her husband-in-name-only for a lift back to London, or if she found that they'd already left by the time she and Vlad had finished their weepy goodbyes. I certainly had the impression that Jonathan had pretty much ceded all claim to her by the time the fight ended, and they all assumed she was going to stay there in the castle.