วันพุธที่ 18 พฤศจิกายน พ.ศ. 2552

the vampire chronicle (1994)

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Plot: In present-day San Francisco, journalist Daniel Molloy follows the mysterious Louis. Louis allows Daniel to interview him and record his life story. Louis reveals that he is a vampire and explains how in 1794, following the death of his wife and daughter, he grew tired of life and welcomed death. But then he met the blonde-haired Lestat who drank Louis’s blood and turned him into a vampire. Together they plundered Louis’s estate and were forced to relocate to New Orleans. Louis however refused to drink human blood. He turned Claudia, a young child dying of the plague, into a vampire and together the three of them became a perverse family. But driven by his need to know the reason for their condition, Louis travelled to Europe in search of answers.

Anne Rice became a best-selling author with the publication of Interview with the Vampire (1976). Rice later published eleven further vampire books, expanding the saga of the various characters introduced throughout this story. What made Interview with the Vampire and Anne Rice a success was less anything to do with it being a vampire story than the fact that at heart Rice is really a slash writer – the peculiar sub-genus of fandom written by and for women that features romantic stories of male (usually media) characters in torrid embrace with one another. All of Anne Rice’s novels, including her various other sagas set around the modern adventures of a revived mummy and a family of witches, feature extraordinarily handsome male characters and their blatant or thinly disguised mutual attraction. Interview with the Vampire and its various antecedents were certainly popular – indeed Interview is the demarcation point where the vampire made the move from ravening monster to dark, sexually magnetic romantic anti-hero. The book was kicked about as a film project since the late 1970s – it was once to have been a tv movie starring John Travolta.

Every review, indeed every punter’s opinion of Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles tends to concern itself with the controversy that surrounds the film. Namely that Anne Rice made a very loud and public denunciation to anyone who would listen of the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat and then surprisingly ate her own words shortly before the release of the film, after having actually seen Cruise’s performance. When it comes to the casting decision surrounding Tom Cruise, one can see both sides of the coin. At the time Tom Cruise was still fairly much a teen heartthrob whose brow furrowed with his (not very successful) attempts to establish himself as a serious actor. He was short and dark-haired, and didn’t remotely resemble a Lestat. On the other hand one has to argue that playing a totally different person is what an actor is meant to do. All of this would not really have been an issue if Interview with the Vampire were made in Britain where actors tend to wholly submerse themselves in roles. In America actors tend to be perceived as stars who adopt certain personas around which films set themselves and who rarely engage in the chameleon shifts British actors customarily do. Rice’s condemnation of Tom Cruise seems based in this type of Americano-centric view of actors as being certain types of unvarying personas. Although what is unusual in all of this was the studio’s decision to go with Cruise in the face of such vehement and vocal opposition – clearly it was seen more people would be drawn to the film through his name than that of Anne Rice.

There do seem some oddly hypocritical attitudes on Anne Rice’s part. Despite protesting the casting of the film, she did sue to get screen credit while a large part of the script was purportedly adapted by Neil Jordan. And although she kicked up about the casting of Lestat here the film otherwise remains surprisingly faithful to her book, yet she said nothing whatsoever about East of Eden (1994), the film that was made the same year of her BDSM romance, which turned the book into a slapstick comedy and added a plot about diamond thieves. However there is one difference between the two films that is obvious. Anne Rice is a slash writer and her vampire books are really Gothic sexual fantasies. Lestat was her creation – in the first book he was a bad boy, but in the subsequent books she fell in love with his vitality and danger. Throughout the years Rice has been very vocal about who she wanted playing her Lestat, variously naming the likes of Rutger Hauer, Jeremy Irons and Daniel Day-Lewis for the role. (The perfect person for Lestat would actually have been Sting – he was after all the clear inspiration for Lestat in The Vampire Lestat). Nobody wants the person of their dreams to emerge as someone completely different in reality. (Although in 2004, Rice converted to Catholicism and publicly denounced the vampire books, saying she would never write any again).

What the controversy has tended to eclipse is how surprisingly good Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles actually is. The script is extraordinarily faithful to the book – it could be counted as one of the handful of few successful genre literary adaptations. It does change the book at the end, bringing Lestat back to life in a not entirely successful attempt to set things up for The Vampire Lestat, and one or two other minor details. However Neil Jordan gets right to the essence of Louis’s existential nightmare – Why are the vampires there? Are they cursed by God? The film never really succeeds in providing an answer to this great existential question – although that was Anne Rice’s problem in the original book, not one native to the film.

Neil Jordan even brings out some incredibly subtle pieces from the book – the perverse family metaphor that exists with Louis as mother, Lestat as father and Claudia as daughter. Indeed Jordan seems drawn to these themes of sexual and gender role confusion – look at his body of work, which consists of Mona Lisa (1986) with its crucial failing hinging on someone’s inability to understand someone’s sexual orientation, the transsexual romance of The Crying Game (1992) and the drag performer biopic of Breakfast on Pluto (2005). Although here, rumouredly at Tom Cruise’s instigation, the gay subtext of the book has been bled out.

The big surprise of the film is that Tom Cruise actually does give a good performance. We get the full breadth of the character’s decadent cruelty and arrogance. Most surprisingly of all Cruise succeeds in bringing out the element of black humour in the book. The scenes he appears in have a high fire to them, filled with elegant taunts – one scene where he comes across Louis feasting on an old dowager’s poodles is mercilessly funny. On the other hand Brad Pitt, who is capable of being a fine actor, comes across surprisingly bland. If anything one suspects the film might have worked better if Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise had reversed roles – Louis would have been fine as one of Cruise’s moody, petulant pretty boys and Lestat would have been great with the fired-up energy that Pitt brought to roles like Kalifornia (1993) and Fight Club (1999). The best performance of all though comes from young Kirsten Dunst. It is an amazing performance that Neil Jordan elicits from her – both child-like, yet also adult and filled with a cold cruelty.

Neil Jordan is a frequent dabbler in genre films. His other genre films include – The Company of Wolves (1984), an adaptation of one of Angela Carter’s stories that deconstructs Little Red Riding Hood with werewolves; the haunted house comedy High Spirits (1988); the quite deranged The Butcher Boy (1997) about a disturbed Irish Catholic childhood; the clairvoyance thriller In Dreams (1999); the female vigilante drama The Brave One (2007); and the mermaid film Ondine (2009).

The Vampire Lestat (1985), Anne Rice’s direct sequel to Interview with the Vampire, has been promised as a sequel with Tom Cruise, although has yet to emerge. In the meantime the third of Rice’s Vampire Chronicles was filmed as the wimpy Queen of the Damned (2002) featuring Stuart Townsend as Lestat. Other Anne Rice adaptations include the crime thriller/ghost story Rag and Bone (1997) and the non-genre tv mini-series Feast of All Saints (2001), an historic story set during the racial melange of historic New Orleans.