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Posts Tagged ‘Anne Rice’

One fine day in the summer of 1995, I finished my university finals. Nearly everyone went off to get wrecked in celebration, but not I: even back then I find that I was dabbling with the abstemiousness which has now become my standard operating procedure, while other habits and tendencies were beginning to manifest themselves: I left my peers in the bar that lunchtime and went off to the cheapest of Hull city centre’s three cinemas, which was a place that gave one the chance to catch up on films that had come out a few months earlier at the now-unbelievable price of only £1.50 a ticket. So, you may be wondering, what did I see? Well, I caught the afternoon showing of Leon. And then, feeling almost dizzy with the heady knowledge I would never have to answer an essay question on epistemology again, I saw the teatime show of Interview with the Vampire. And finally, with the words ‘what the hell!’ distinctly resonating in my brain, I saw the movie version of Stargate in the evening.

My main recollection of that day is an inexorable decline in the quality of the movies, to be honest: Leon remains a film I really like (I still think it’s far and away Luc Besson’s best work), while I’ve never been able to get on with Stargate in any of its incarnations, to be honest (this despite generally being well-disposed towards Roland Emmerich’s SF movies). But what of Interview with the Vampire, first released in 1994 and directed by Neil Jordan. Well, I tend to like Jordan’s stuff, or perhaps it’s better to say I usually find things to enjoy in his films: I liked the visual style of The Company of Wolves and the sheer bonkersness of Greta, for example.

I have to say, though, that I found Interview with the Vampire to be slimmer pickings than most of his work – which was a surprise to me, as I have been a fan of vampire movies since discovering Hammer horror in 1987, at least. Mind you, I also found Anne Rice’s source novel to be pretty heavy going – I think I originally bought the damn thing second-hand in 1998, bounced off it a couple of times, found another copy in a ‘free books’ box outside the neighbours’ house fifteen years later, and finally ploughed through it then. (A review of the book is here.)

Any version of this story you care to mention concerns the life (brief), death (very brief) and thereafter (extremely lengthy) of a vampire named Louis (played by Bradley Pitt), who is telling his tale to a Studs Terkel-esque writer (Christian Slater). Louis, by his own account, is driven to the verge of suicidal madness by the death of his wife and child in 1790s Louisiana, at which point he crosses the path of a hedonistic vampire named Lestat (Tom Cruise). With Louis’ permission, Lestat brings him over to his side of the street, with the promise of immortality and eternal youth…

Yes, I suppose we’ve all wondered what we would do with such a gift. What Louis mostly does with it is brood and complain, although occasionally he takes a break in order to complain and brood. Apparently he doesn’t like drinking human blood, which leads one to wonder why he agreed to being turned into a vampire in the first place. God knows why Lestat puts up with him (this is not a healthy relationship). Lestat decides that having a child will save their partnership (not the first time someone has made this rather suspect decision) and turns a young plague survivor named Claudia (Kirsten Dunst, in her movie debut), and the three of them pass many years brooding, complaining, and thinning out the local population.

There’s a good deal more in this vein (sorry) but it has to be said that this is not a film with a particularly strong narrative line. The only thing that makes it a conventional narrative (as opposed to just a series of episodic vignettes) is the persistent focus on Louis’ relationship with Lestat. Possibly one of the reasons I’ve never been a particular fan of this film is that it takes all the trappings of a traditional vampire movie but uses them to tell what’s basically a story about a dysfunctional relationship – a bit like the Hunger Games movies, which come on like dystopian SF thrillers but turn out to be something more nuanced and introspective.

The thing that makes Interview with the Vampire rather unusual for a big-budget studio movie is that all those Gothic horror trappings are basically there to hide the basic subtext of the story: which is that of a man forming a relationship with another man, and becoming part of a hidden subculture which more traditional folk sometimes find either alluring or revolting. The main character feels terribly guilty about his new lifestyle. Needless to say both Pitt and Cruise look – how best to put this? Androgynous isn’t quite the right word – somewhat ambiguous in this movie, with lovely flowing long hair and clear complexions. In short, this is surely one of the gayest films to come out of a major studio in the 20th century.

I said something similar in the review of the book, and, as you may have seen, someone took issue with this, suggesting that Rice’s vampires transcend conventional notions of romance and sexuality. Hmmm, well, maybe. The thing is, any sane person writing about vampires is going to use them as a metaphor for something – to do anything else would be to perpetrate vacuous fantasy – and it’s worth mentioning that at one point Rice rejigged the story so that Pitt’s character would be a woman, to be played by Cher. Her reasoning? She assumed that Hollywood would be too homophobic for the story as she wrote it. I’ll just put my case down here, shall I?

The BBC showed Interview with the Vampire the other night, and the following evening their late movie was Behind the Candelabra, which is either one of those coincidences or evidence that someone in scheduling has a sense of humour, for if you do accept that the primary subtext of Jordan’s movie concerns a gay relationship, then the throughlines of both it and the Soderbergh film are strikingly similar, with Louis as the young semi-innocent and Lestat as the preening older man (Lestat does play the piano in a couple of key scenes, as well). Of course, what may keep the film from being wholly embraced by the LGBT community is that one of the main drivers of the plot is that Louis spends most of the movie feeling terribly guilty about being a vampire (i.e. gay) and most of the vampires (i.e. …oh, you get the idea) are nasty, bitter, bitchy types.

None of this is really why I’m not a particular fan of this film – there are lots of different ways of doing vampire movies, from Nosferatu to Near Dark to Captain Kronos, for the vampire metaphor is unusually adaptable. I think it’s mainly just the style of the thing, which feels very much like the work of a novelist rather than a screenwriter: a bit too much reliance on voice-over for exposition, and a fondness for characters telling each other things rather than doing things. All mouth and no trousers, really.

All the moments you remember from the film have much to do with the script: they’re visual rather than narrative. Jordan mounts a very impressive movie with a real sense of style about it, and gets a really good performance out of an eleven-year-old Kirsten Dunst. None of the performances are what you’d call actively bad; Antonio Banderas gets one of his better early English-language roles (now I think of it, it would be fascinating to see Almodovar’s take on this material). Tom Cruise is… well, he’s in his ‘give me an Oscar’ mode, which he is wont to slip into in this kind of prestige production (perhaps we should be grateful he mainly does thrillers these days), and his performance is just pitched a bit too high.

I feel obliged to say, though, that it’s still a damn sight better than the sequel. But if we’re going to look in that direction, it is interesting to note that if What We Do In The Shadows (both movie and TV show) is spoofing anything in particular, it’s this movie (the episodes with the vampire council make this particularly clear). Not many things this year have made me laugh as often or as hard as the What We Do… TV show, so I suppose Interview with the Vampire deserves credit for that. Fairly faint praise, I admit, but sometimes you have to take your damnation wherever you can find it.

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Time was when it was easy to generalise grandly and with a veneer of authority about what genres are actually about – ‘the classic horror story,’ one might say, slipping one hand to a lapel in a breezily academic way, ‘is all about sex. Specifically the enforcement of normative socio-sexual codes.’ This is all very well, when you’re talking about the normal socio-sexual behaviour of people who don’t spend all their time in a horror story. How are you supposed to talk about the socio-sexual behaviour of people living in a horror story which is, well, a bit different? Especially when the whole thing is so loaded down with metaphor that it’s blatantly obvious this particular horror story is actually talking about real-world lifestyles?

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Well, look, let’s stop beating about the bush, no pun intended – I finally managed to get through Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, the first time I’ve managed to stagger to the end of one of her books. As you may or may not know, it details the biography of Louis, a member of a secretive minority who exist at something of a remove from conventional society. He was drawn into this world by an older man, Lestat, who is extremely shallow and possessive of his younger friend. Wanting to perpetuate their relationship, but obviously unable to have children in the usual way, Lestat contrives that they adopt a young girl, Claudia, although the circumstances of her upbringing leave Claudia seriously messed up. Louis broods a lot; Lestat bitches, eventually they break up and Louis gets together with another even older guy called Armand who he genuinely loves, although Armand still seems a bit jealous of Lestat, and so on. (There’s a bit more to the plot of this book, by the way, but these are the key beats.)

Now, obviously I’m being selective in describing what happens in Interview with the Vampire, but even so – there’s not a lot here which distinctly screams ‘supernatural horror’. Saying this book has a gay subtext suggests a level of subtlety which quite frankly isn’t there – it’s right there in the text, in some ways the stereotypical gay lifestyle is what this book is about. Hence my queasiness about describing the sexuality involved, specifically in terms of contrast to the usual sort, as the danger of sounding inadvertantly homophobic is severe. I wouldn’t personally choose to describe homosexuals as deviants, aberrant, or abnormal – but in terms of the book, ‘alternative’ is gilding the lily a bit when talking about a lifestyle founded on murder on a massive scale.

It’s funny, really, if I sat down tomorrow and wrote a story where I used zombies as a metaphor to talk about, say, immigration, and through some horrible disaster/extraordinary miracle it got published, I’d probably get slated for being racist or xenophobic. And yet here’s Anne Rice writing a book about gay men which depicts them as soulless, vicious, monstrous killers, and it’s become some sort of classic and the foundation of her career. Then again, I suppose you could argue that the book isn’t explicitly intended to be read as a metaphor for being gay. The problem is that if it isn’t, it’s very hard to see what it actually is about – the ‘gay lifestyle’ stuff is so prominent, as I said, that it’s almost impossible to miss.

This may explain the curious deadness at the heart of the narrative (for me, at least) – this is supposedly a story about a being mired in sin and evil, whose very existence is predicated on it, and yet I got very little sense of genuine angst or moral pain when reading it. Louis goes on, a lot, about his wretched situation as a child of Satan, in terribly florid language, but I never really cared about it, mainly because I think I figured out quite soon that this guy was going to be a whinger, all mouth and no trousers, and he was going to carry on in this vein (boom boom!) for the entire book.

This book is brooding. This book is introspective. Not a great deal happens beyond various vampires bickering with each other about the nature of their undead existence at considerable length, and (some might say) overcooked descriptions of places and events. The prose is certainly sensuous and evocative, perhaps a bit too fulsome, but coupled to the vague sense of moral vacuum at the heart of proceedings the end result is a bit like getting stuck in Italy for a month. Actually, I’m not surprised this book did as well as it did – the overwrought pseudo-sexual stuff and obsessive detailing of emotions and so on probably makes it a killer potboiler for a certain type of person who just enjoys wallowing in melodrama, while the one-two punch of ‘safe’ transgressiveness (the occult and homosexuality) gives it a faint air of edginess it really doesn’t warrant.

Well, I made it through to the end, although I didn’t find it a particularly nourishing experience – most of the time I was just trying to remember the movie and spot the bits which were different. My favourite bit of the book, oddly enough, is in the middle where it genuinely (and rather briefly) goes all Hammer horror: needless to say, none of this is in the movie.

And I suppose one shouldn’t overlook how massively influential this book has been – the sympathetic vampire is now practically a stock figure and barely worthy of comment, which I suspect was very much not the case in 1976. If vampires in fiction have acquired some depth and intelligence in the intervening time then obviously Anne Rice and Interview with the Vampire deserve much of the credit for this. However, every bland and melodramatic ‘dark fantasy’ romance with a bunch of Goths mooning over each other is arguably their fault too. Didn’t do a lot for me on any level, but culturally and historically interesting.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 18th 2002:

[Originally following a review of…]

The One may not be terribly good, but it looks like Citizen Kane compared to Michael Rymer’s Queen of the Damned. This is loosely based on two books in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, the first of which was filmed in 1995’s Interview with the Vampire. None of the same creative personnel are involved in this very loose sequel, and I’ll bet they’re counting their blessings.

Undead poseur Lestat (Ronnie O’Sullivan lookalike Stuart Townsend, who seems famous these days mainly for not being in Lord of the Rings) is roused from a century’s kip by the sound of an unsigned nu-metal band tuning up. Rather than instantly gaining the audience’s sympathy by murdering the lot of them, he decides to join the band and starts writing songs revealing untold vampire lore (as you would, obviously). All this is handled in a rushed and perfunctory pre-credits sequence, after which what I laughingly refer to as the plot goes all over the place for a bit. But eventually the bloody awful racket of Lestat’s band wakes the ancient vampire queen Akasha (yet another Romeo Must Die veteran, in the form of the late Aaliyah), who – God knows why – takes a fancy to the leather-trewed prat. Blade’s never about when you need him…

I find it hard to believe such a comprehensively bad film could be made by accident. Probably due to the fact it’s an amalgam of the plots of two separate novels, the script varies between the silly and the utterly incoherent. We’re into a rolling expanse of silly accents, paper-thin characterisation, and rampantly illogical plot developments. For instance: the other vampires take exception to Lestat revealing their existence via his songs, so they decide to silence him – by mounting a full-on supernatural onslaught against him while he’s performing live on stage in front of a million fans. The film contains only tired old cliches about vampires and their society: the usual melodramatic goth posturings. Poor old Paul McGann wanders around in the midst of it all playing a totally superfluous character who’s a spectacularly blatant knock-off of Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The film has the odd visual flourish to its credit, and there’s one quite impressive set-piece when Akasha first rises. But in the end Queen of the Damned has no focus, nothing to involve the viewer and ultimately nothing new to say. For connoisseurs of the execrable only.

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