Thursday, October 1, 2009

le petit mort (aka: Gay With the Wind)

"We must be powerful, beautiful, and without regret"

Once upon a time in America, David Geffen could do whatever he wanted to do; I find that it’s better to focus on the times when he used this power for good. Everyone knows that he funded that giant condom on bigot, Jesse Helm’s house in 1991. He brought Little Shop of Horrors to the big screen with fancy I.L.M. plants and Ellen Greene in tact (to this day, it amuses me to no end that she claims to be the only actress to have recreated her Broadway role on film). But, more importantly, David Geffen produced the most expensive, most lavish coming-out horror movie of all time: Interview with the Vampire!

Before God-fearing, Mormon vampires were all the rage, we had to read between the lines of our stories to find subtext in the slightest ellipses and the most delicate of expressions. Anne Rice was to little gay boys what Judy Blume had been to teenage girls. She got us! But a full 10years before Brokeback Mountain brought sodomy into the mainstream, studio movies had to bend over backward NOT to be gay. Fox had tried to do a mainstream gay love story/coming-out movie in 1982 with Making Love and it was a notorious flop! So by casting Tom Cruise as the lead and implying that Brad Pitt’s character was, at one point, in a consensual relationship with a woman (conveniently dead), Interview with the Vampire became the definitive not-gay gay movie.

"“My invitation was open to anyone, but it was a vampire that accepted.”

We meet Louis (Brad Pitt) as an idle twentysomething. He’s always depressed. He has no direction. He drinks away his feelings. One night he wanders off to some shady dockside and hooks up with Lestat (Tom Cruise), who happens to be a vampire. Louis and Lestat find themselves trying to make it work despite their fucked up power dynamic. They have a child to try to band-aid their broken relationship but it only makes matters worse. Louis allows himself to love their daughter, Claudia, in a way he never let himself love Lestat, causing the rift between them to grow even wider. It's hard enough to let yourself hook up with a bro for the first time, it’s harder still to be okay with it. Interview with a Vampire is really about Louis coming to terms with who he is and what he wants.

I have no question that Lestat truly loved Louis. He is much more sensitive than he ever lets on and, when wounded, he lashes out venomously at the people closest to him. Lots of gays do this, myself included. It’s scary to admit that you need someone, especially when you’re a vampire and the object of your affection is clearly growing more apathetic towards you every day. Louis is by no means blameless in all this - he's constantly playing the victim and setting things ablaze whenever he doesn’t get his way! Soon enough, he is abandoning Lestat, running off to live with a pretentious underground theatre troupe in Paris and having an all-consuming affair with Antonio Bandaras (who may be the only actor who understands that he’s playing a gay character but who also doesn’t understand or speak a word of coherent English in this film). Poor Claudia is left while Louis is galavanting the town with Antonio and winds up burned alive with a lady from the doll shoppe. These things are always worst on the women.

Louis finds himself alone at lsst and finally on the path to self-acceptance. He moves to San Francisco, he swears off toxic relationships and one night stands, and he finally (200years later) starts therapy. In a surprisingly touching scene, we find Lestat cowering like the shipwrecked heroine of a Douglas Sirk melodrama wearing a shawl and staring out an open window. Louis is finally able to admit that what went on between them was real and meant something to him, thus allowing Lestat to also move on. Happily ever after.

Interview with the Vampire is gorgeously shot by Philippe Rousselot. Every shot looks super expensive. Elliot Goldenthal never wrote a better score and Sandy Powell's best costume work is on full display for all the world to see. Every detail is onscreen... So, why is this such an odd film to watch?
When I was in musicals, the straight boys and I would invariably compete to see who could jump the highest and sing the loudest. Our performances were no longer about the scene at hand, rather who could outperform who. This movie has that energy, only it's who can be less gay than who. River Phoenix was originally cast and set to play the interviewer(Christian Slater); he surely would have added a softer and more delicate hand to the proceedings. Maybe it was the Tom Cruise agenda? Neil Jordan manages to get a wonderful performance out of Tom most of the time. The petulant scenes and Lestat's rages are perfectly on pitch, but Cruise seems to be working overtime to play against the gay. On paper and in action, Lestat wants nothing more than a male companion to share in his bloodlust and shopping sprees but this element is all but missing from the finished film without using our gay viewfinders. More importantly, maybe it was the AIDS thing. America was still fresh off the heels of a ten year global pandemic that is all but forgotten about in mainstream media today! Vampires weren't sexy vessels of teenage angst and unrequited sexual desires as much as they were the ultimate metaphor for blood diseases and the misery of AIDS. In this vein, maybe it's better that Interview with a Vampire remain a musuem piece, left with Rope and Psycho back in the days where a gay character had to die tragically to learn his lesson. More life!

1 comment:

  1. one of the best vampire films. and is pretty heavy on the gay context