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 was a former boyfriend of Cher turned gay music producer turned billionare media mogul and Malibu real estate owner who could do whatever the fuck he wanted to do. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m gay.  Being gay, I went to see a Rita Wilson concert at his theatre in Westwood (he has a theatre in Westwood) and he was there and Rita Wilson sang “I Can’t Make You Love Me if You Don’t” to him and that made me incredibly uncomfortable. He was seated next to Steven Spielberg and Kirsten Chenoweth.  That’s power.  

In his heyday, David Geffen did a lot of good.  He gave ACT-UP the money to put that giant condom on white-supremacist bigot, Jesse Helms’s house in 1991. He produced Dreamgirls.  He brought Little Shop of Horrors to the big screen with the most state-of-the-art visual effects money could buy - singing 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 to our cause, David Geffen produced the most expensive, most lavish coming-out horror movie of all time: Interview with the Vampire.

Before God-fearing, Mormon vampires in the Pacific Northwest 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.  Growing up in the 1990s, Anne Rice was to little gay boys what Judy Blume had been to teenage girls. She got us! But a decade before Brokeback Mountain brought sodomy into the mainstream, studio movies had to bend over backwards 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.  Lisa Rinna’s husband accused it of ruining his burgeoning career (rude - also homophobic - also not true). David Geffen wasn’t going to make that mistake. 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 wound up becoming the definitive not-gay gay movie.

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

You ever fall in love with a straight or questioning guy?  It’s not fun. The only time I ever did was in high school.  I’m choosing to believe it was because there simply weren’t any other gay kids at my school, but I really loved this kid.  A lot. But much like Rita Wilson singing to David Geffen, I couldn’t make him love me if he didn’t and he didn’t. He just liked attention.  That’s what happens in Interview with the Vampire.

When we first meet Louis (Brad Pitt), he’s an idle twentysomething. He’s always depressed. He has no direction. He drinks away his feelings. The kind of sad-sack guy you can’t help but want to “fix” so he’ll love you forever, but trust me - stay away.  Tom Cruise learns that the hard way.

One night Louis wanders off to some shady dockside and hooks up with Lestat (Tom Cruise), who happens to be a vampire. As we do in our twenties, the sexual chemistry is so good that Louis and Lestat find themselves trying to make a relationship work despite their fucked up power dynamic.   They even adopt 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, which causes 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 ultimately about Louis coming to terms with who he is and what he wants. 

Lestat has been around for a while.  Like most old queens, 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. There’s a whole book about it called The Velvet Rage.  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.  

Let me tell you, new gays are a mess.  Stay away - they need a moment to figure it all out.  While he’s framed as the protagonist, Louis is by no means blameless - he's constantly playing the victim and setting things ablaze whenever he doesn’t get his way! Soon enough, the inevitable happens and he abandons Lestat and running off to live with a pretentious underground theatre troupe in Paris where he has 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 seem to 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 nearby doll shoppe. These things are always worst on the women.

After a few messy decades, Louis finds himself alone at last 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.

Despite there being many books about Lestat and Louis, Hollywood never made another one and that’s a shame.  Interview with the Vampire made money, but it may have been too precious to live.  Neil Jordan was at the height of his powers as a director in 1994.  Every shot by Phillipe Rousselot looks super expensive. Elliot Goldenthal never wrote a better score and Academy Award winner Sandy Powell's best costume work is on full display for all the world to see in every ruffled shirt. Stan Winston himself did the makeup effects.  This film is lavish. Opulence, as the children say nowadays. So, why didn’t this catch on - even among gay people?

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 AIDS.   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. 

One of the last times I spent with my high school crush was when I was in college.  He came to visit me for a midnight screening of Interview with the Vampire.  We got pumpkin pancakes afterward and I finally saw him clearly.  He wasn’t my boyfriend and that was okay.  

1 comment:

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