Thursday, March 27, 2014

Interview with the Vampire


Today was the day that journalists were allowed to swarm all over the set of Flying Down to Reno so we could begin to drum up some publicity for our little film. We filmed our sound bites for the inevitable HBO making of documentary and I was gracious and kind to an endless parade of reporters representing the best of periodic journalism including 'Horse and Hound' and 'Turkey Hunting Today'. As becomes my status as living legend, I was given a comfortable chair at the Chuck E. Cheese near the singing hippo. Margo Channing was interviewed back in the arcade area next to the 'Street Fighter' console which made her very upset.

I returned home to an empty house as Norman has headed back to San Diego to continue his work on Waterworld II: The Gills Have Eyes. Apparently the sets in the Sea World tanks have been repaired from the orca's little frolic. I'm a bit worried about him but all his remaining scenes are to be shot in the Sparklett's 'Dancing Waters' show so he's out of any immediate danger. A new script arrived for him this morning. It's a supporting role in a new WB sitcom set at a country service station entitled Passing Gas. They want him to look at the part of the lovable old coot who inflates tires on the night shift.

As interviews had been the theme of the day, off I went to the home theater and selected Interview With The Vampire as my film of the evening. This 1994 film was based on Anne Rice's seminal 1976 novel of the same title which reinvented the vampire legend from the point of view of the vampire and which spawned a publishing phenomenon. The film had been in development hell in Hollywood for more than a decade when producer David Geffen asked Irish film maker Neil Jordan, fresh off The Crying Game if he might be interested. Jordan, who has been intrigued with the stuff of legends in the past (The Company of Wolves) was and soon the film was on the fast track. Tom Cruise was cast as the Vampire Lestat, completely against type and Anne Rice made several public denunciations of the choice. (She later recanted even more publicly.) Rice's choice was Rutger Hauer but by 1993 he was too old for the part. Brad Pitt joined him as Louis, the protagonist and Antonio Banderas and Stephen Rea (a Jordan regular) took supporting roles.

Interview With The Vampire is the tale of Louis de Pointe du Lac (Pitt). Born to wealth and privilege in 18th century Louisiana, we meet him first in modern San Francisco where an interviewer (Christian Slater who took over the role from River Phoenix when he died during filming) has met him and persuades him to tell his story. Louis reminisces about the New Orleans of old and how, while grieving over the death of his wife and child, he met the Vampire Lestat (Cruise) and offered himself up as companion. Louis and Lestat, the only ones of their kind in the New World, are locked in a symbiotic love/hate relationship which they eventually enlarge to include a vampire child, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Louis and Claudia eventually break free of Lestat and sail for Europe where they meet Armand (Antonio Banderas) and Santiago (Stephen Rea) who run a vampire coven disguised as a Grand Guignol theater extravaganza. All does not end well and Louis continues to wander the world.

Jordan, along with production designer Dante Ferretti, has created a splendid visual world which wanders from 18th century New Orleans to second empire Paris and to the modern day. It's magical, mysterious, and full of sumptuous period detail (helped along by subtle digital effects). The compositions of Watteau, Corot, Millais, Daumier and other 18th and 19th century artists are evoked throughout. What's even more amazing is that the visual beauty exists even though nearly the entire film is shot at night or in low light conditions, due to the subject matter. The visual design is complemented by Elliot Goldenthal's masterful score which uses classical compositions, a liturgical sound, and dissonant intervals to add to the feeling of dread and disquiet.

The performances are a mixed bag, but Jordan's sure hand at the helm aided by his craftsmen carries the day against any inchoate weakness. Cruise's Lestat is not the Lestat of the novel but it does allow the man to stretch and show's that he has some acting talent. He relishes the pure amorality of the character and gives him a sardonic wit that keeps his scenes moving. Ultimately, he succeeds, even if he must have been standing on a box in most of his scenes, as the film slows down when he disappears for the Paris section. Pitt is miscast as Louis. Louis is the soulful passive character, but must maintain our interest as narrator and protagonist. This is not an easy combination to pull off and Pitt fails. He's just plain dull much of the time. He only really comes alive in his scenes with Cruise.

Antonio Banderas was also badly miscast as the world weary Armand. Fans of the novels will recognize Armand as the centuries old adolescent (which Banderas is not - Leonardo DiCaprio would have been a better choice). He also brings nothing to Armand's philosophizing other than somnolence. Stephen Rea's Santiago, the villain, is amusing and clever and not given nearly enough to do. The best performance, however, comes from Kirsten Dunst, only eleven at the time of shooting. Her Claudia is a marvelous child woman, loving and ruthless. Her ability to convey the aged being trapped in an unchanging child's body with a porcelain doll quality is uncanny.

The DVD contains the film in original proportions with good light and color balance. It also has an excellent stereo sound transfer. There is an intelligent commentary track from director Jordan. There is also a half hour 'Making of' documentary with most of the usual press junket clips.

Poodle eating. Voodoo ceremonies. Dead prostitute. Dead dress maker. Dead music teacher. Burning plantation. Burning New Orleans. Burning church theater. Voracious vampires. Corpse tarantella. Bad Golden Gate Bridge driving.

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