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Dracula Live in Concert

“I want great music. Not just theatrical, but great!” Francis Ford Coppola said to Wojciech Kilar in 1991, discussing the details of the soundtrack to his adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The director's words gained special significance during yesterday's screening of the film in the Krzysztof Penderecki Auditorium of the ICE Kraków Congress Centre. The world premiere of Dracula Live in Concert officially opened the 12th Krakow Film Music Festival.

It was the time when Wojciech Kilar – with over a hundred film scores to his name – made the decision to leave the cinema. “I was exhausted from working on Andrzej Wajda’s Korczak”, he recalled years later. I always said I was like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. On the one hand, I was engrossed in reading Saint Augusine, on the other hand, I loved horror films, the more vengeance-filled, the better. At that moment, I decided to stay Dr Jekyll forever, and devote myself exclusively to the dreation of my dream mass”.

One evening, or rather one phone call from across the ocean was enough for Mr Hyde to awaken within the composer. Filled with doubts – a Hollywood debut at the age of 59? – Wojciech Kilar made the only possible decision – he agreed to write the music to the 39th adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, being prepared by his favourite director in order to get his American Zoetrope studio out of debt. “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse”, he later said about Coppola’s late-night phone call, quoting The Godfather, filmed twenty years earlier with a similar goal.

Filming started in the autumn of 1991 and lasted all winter; editing started in February 1992. It wasn’t easy work. On set, there were conflicts and indispositions of the actors (Coppola bet of a star-studded cast, featuring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Tom Waits, Sadie Frost and Monica Bellucci), and above all, the serious heart problems Wojciech Kilar faced at the time. An important element of the drama were costumes and make-up – Coppola, producing a vision of a film horror with a theatrical atmosphere, attached great importance to the set design and appearance of inidual characters. In the case of Lucy (Sadie Frost, in vampire make-up), it was so effective that the little girl she held in her arms during a scene in a tomb ran crying from the cameras.

The director gave Wojciech Kilar only two instructions. The first was that it was to be a film about God’s mistake, and the second, that the score should run an hour and fifteen minutes. The cantata created by Katowice-based composer on the basis of these instructions because a kind of narrator of the film – a non-standard but crucial voice from outside the frame. Kilar decided to create a clash of the two music personalities within him – the symphonic (the fragment “Sanguis vita est” comes from Victoria, the final choir with the words “O crux ave” is taken from Angelus) and the cinematic. He wove the themes around the most important problems raised in the work: suffering and the overwhelming power of love, horror and demonism, offense with God and constant longing. At Coppola's request, he grouped them into several episodes of a film suite, and added a theme for one of the supporting characters (Lucy) on site. It was a succinct melody he had overheard in Paris. Kilar decorated the subtle motif with original instrumentation (strings, piano, celesta, bells), creating an audio description of the flirtatious, sometimes perverse nature of the character. It was the beginning of new thinking in film music – from that moment on, themes that described personality traits became the trademark of Wojciech Kilar’s cinematic music aesthetic.

In 1993, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was showered with awards (including three Oscars, five Saturns, and the ASCAP award for the composer of the score). The doors to Hollywood opened for the Polish artist and agents from Kraft-Engel Management offered him a move to Los Angeles. Kilar did not take them up on it. To this day, many people ask themselves why. “It wasn’t for him, he didn’t have the instinct of a traveller”, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek speculated years later.   “He found himself in cruel times, where you couldn’t do much without being seen in the right places. And if you live far away, everything gets going without you.”

Nevertheless, the soundtrack for Coppola’s Dracula has become legendary and today is part of the canon of world film music. On Wednesday, as part of the official opening of the 12th FMF, it was played live for the first time, in a simultaneous screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s superproduction in the packed Krzysztof Penderecki Auditorium Hall of ICE Kraków. “I'm feeling a lot of excitement. I hope that the audience will feel the same, after so many years of waiting for the Dracula Live in Concert project to become feasible”, said Robert Piaskowski, artistic director of the FMF, a few minutes before the film screening. “This is an extremely important evening in the history of the festival. It is yet another world premiere of a music screening commissioned by the FMF, and at the same time a great tribute to Wojciech Kilar, who was connected without city”, Jacek Majchrowski, Mayor of the City of Krakow, said in a letter that opened the 12th edition of the FMF.

Yesterday's screening of Bram Stoker's Dracula (the screening also featured audio description) was accompanied by the musicians of the Beethoven Academy Orchestra and the Polish Radio Choir under the baton of Don Davis. The solo parts (including the famous cantilena from the love theme) were daringly performed by the Krakow soprano Anna Zawisza.During the final credits, the audience heard a captivating interpretation of Annie Lennox’s “Love Song for a Vampire” by Agata Kuliś. “It was a huge challenge and even more powerful emotions. First, because I love the FMF and singing at this festival is a dream and an incredible joy. Second, because my voice is different, less dramatic than Annie Lennox’s, and so the director gave me a lot of freedom to interpret her work. I was able to make my own creation”, the vocalist said moments after leaving the stage.

Film composed Thomas Bryła took on the task of arranging the musical themes (including making copies of orchestral parts from Kilar’s manuscript) for the world premiere of Dracula Live in Concert. “I worked very hard to recreate this score, I think I can say today that I know every detail of it. I'm fascinated by the extremity of emotions it contains – from the very splashy, bombastic, epic narration to the truly intimate love themes”, the arranger emphasises.

The festival audience awarded the performers with standing ovations; thunderous, spontaneous applause was also heard when Wojciech Kilar's name appeared in the film credits.

The Dracula Live in Concert screening was organised in cooperation with the FIMUCITÉ International Film Music Festival in Tenerife – the screening of Coppola's film with live music will be repeated in Santa Cruz in September this year, this time under the direction of Diego Navarro, a friend and ambassador of the FMF.

Guests of the FMF Audiovisual Forum will discuss the behind the scenes of the production of the concert version of Bram Stoker's Dracula today. In the evening, join us for the Scoring4Polish Directors gala, dedicated to the work of the outstanding Polish director, Krzysztof Zanussi.