20 Years Ago Today – Interview with the Vampire. (Film Review)
Richard Pattinson was worried at one point there that his stint as Edward Cullen might hurt his career, yet he only needed to be reminded that Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas had all survived the “hot young vampire” curse and gone on to have very long term successful careers – not to mention Kirsten Dunst and Christian Slater. Twenty years on, the first vampire-spawned-from-the-female-gaze film holds up surprisingly well after The Twilight Saga, revealing the popularity of the Cullens has without question, done the Anne Rice written, Neil Jordan directed film a favour offering a much needed context that elevates the film above the critical complaints that plagued it on its first incarnation in 1994. The biggest bash the film received was casting Tom Cruise as Lestat, something that simply isn’t a problem in a post Eyes Wide Shut/Magnolia /Vanilla Sky/Twilight world. Twenty years on Tom Cruise is perceived to be a different animal, and casting him as an evil bi-sexual blood sucking pedophile doesn’t seem anywhere near the existential leap we all had to traverse in 1994. A wander back through time reveals Cruise’s performance is camp-cool fabulous, and if he was accused of lacking the charisma of the other great vampire leader, Antonio Banderas as Armand, in a post-Cullen world, he comes across as a seducer, his bullying and emotional manipulations that make him such a problem for Lewis and Claudia are given more potency, explaining the Anne Rice seal of approval when she eventually saw the film. The other great complaint was that Anne Rice’s philosophy is off (!) a complaint usually reserved for female-friendly films (I never read that sort of complaint about Marvel comic based films for which you have to take a quantum leap toward a lapse of reason) which was always a ludicrous criticism made all the more so after the comparatively anemic Cullens have graced our screens.
But then, Interview With The Vampire was always a much better film than the critics gave it credit for, exploring the tropes of the Vampire genre, in film and in theory, interwoven with human mythology to perfection. Anne Rice’s script is much better than I remember, but what I was really able to enjoy this time around was how beautifully the film is made. Rice and Jordan are in “Rogers/Astaire” sync here, each bringing a very specific tone of outstandingly beautiful macabre to the eternal distress of the living dead that doesn’t hiccup off its clear trajectory even once. The aesthetic denoument is the world of the Paris theatre and its catacombs, presenting the mirrored, circular world of vampires and humans each feeding off the other in their own strange, erotic ways. Dante Ferretti’s art direction and Francesca Lo Schiavo’s set design were nominated for an academy award, the super married couple going on to lose to The Madness of King George, but they would later win that award for The Aviator, Hugo and Sweeny Todd. But all the imagination and beauty is nothing without the cinematography of Philippe Rousselot who takes a film made only at night, and washes it in the muted lush heaviness seemingly inspired by the costumes brocade and velvet. The flm looks like it’s draped with some sort of magical material over the lens, shimmering with a dampened clarity that brings out details in a film doused in darkness. The camera dwells lovingly on the beauty of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas and Kirsten Dunst, adding its own layer of longing to their supernatural erotic appeal. It’s thrilling to see these men in particular, so beautiful to the female eye, given the feminine treatment in the portrayal of their sexuality. For example, I didn’t realise Brad Pitt had such full lips, but in Interview With The Vampire they’re perpetually glossed, so that a lingering, kissable shine rests on them – the kind of erotic beauty in men few heterosexual males can appreciate. The adherence to Anne Rice’s uniquely female vision is nothing short of devoted so that even with so much violence and horror, no image is gratuitous or gaudy in representation.
Watching Interview with the Vampire, does inevitably raise the Twilight specter, particularly since I’m not a particular fan of the genre in book or in film. A little research told me Stephanie Meyer took her Vampire details as much from the mythologies history as did Anne Rice, while it can appear to the novice (such as myself) that Twilight owes a debt to The Vampire Chronicles. Even the Buffy series doesn’t quite come from the same place, which as I stated above, comes unapologetically from the female gaze. Interview with The Vampire doesn’t move as far from the established horror allusions The Twilight series does, but in the face of other vampire movies such as Blade, Let The Right One In, Underworld, Trouble Every Day and the super cool Only Lovers Left Alive, as an example, Interview with The Vampire as much in common with the Twilight series, though not necessarily to its detriment. It turns out there are relatively few vampire films devoted to the love/lust/beauty triumvirate in the same way, which marks Interview with the Vampire as very different to most other vampire movies. On the whole, it still looks great after all the time and if anything, as with the bloodsucking protagonists, the years have been very kind.