Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Hollywood's vast oeuvre, no other film defines celebrity torment better than 1994's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE

Like witches before a cauldron, author Anne Rice and her minions chanted, "Who shall play Lestat? Who shall play Lestat?" Rice's incantation conjured up such names for the casting of this high-profile role as Alexander Godunov, Cher and Peter Weller, who probably had scheduling problems anyway doing films like The New Age and cable movies with actors like Robert Hays. Then, director Neil Jordan announced Tom Cruise would play the tall, blond European vampire -- it was as if he had uttered Richard Grieco -- and the realized film was reduced to an assessment of Cruise's Lestat. What everyone missed, while hanging on to Tom's every "mon Dieu," was Jordan's ability to turn a novel with a flaccid film premise into something worth watching.

Interview With The Vampire is not the greatest idea for a movie -- the dozens of aborted screenplay attempts and the 17 years it took to finally reach the big screen are evidence enough -- because it's neither suspenseful nor scary. Because it is told through the eyes of a vampire, we are asked to identify with a predator. We stalk the helpless. We don't feel frightened, we feel guilty. The examination of a sourpuss lamenting his fate for two centuries may make for good reading, but the idea doesn't exactly put you at the edge of your seat. Vampire movies told through the eyes of the predator are best-suited for comedy, as in Love at First Bite -- well, maybe not best-suited -- or metaphor, as in The Hunger. So what about Interview? Jordan said, "What fascinates me about [the film] is the absence of moral responsibility." Well, he's hinting at the truth. For our money, Interview is about the torment of being a celebrity.

Brad Pitt says, "I'm flesh and blood, but not human." Pick a star, any star. Christian Bale? Nicolas Cage? Flesh and blood, sure. But human? Pitt's tale reads as that of a celebrity thrust into the limelight searching for the secrets of how to be a headliner. Cruise, the biggest superstar in town, chose Pitt as his lifetime co-star -- for his beauty? Definitely. Because he owns a sprawling plantation? Couldn't hurt. The pretty boys live the high life, but Pitt can't snip his ties to the little people and so resorts to common junk food binges. If Cruise has any tricks on handling fame, he's sure as hell not sharing them with the whiny, I-don't-want-to-be-a-star Pitt; so he figures to shut him up by biting him a gift -- child actor Kirsten Dunst. This is Cruise's fatal mistake, for he should know better than to have a kid for a co-star. Just ask W.C. Fields or anyone who had to share screen time with Macaulay Culkin.

As with most child stars, Dunst's fans won't let her grow up. When she lops off her trademark locks in hopes of changing her image, those precious curly Q's just grow back -- Shirley Temple forever. This clearly explains why Zac Efron won't be seen in Natural Born Killers II anytime soon. But then Dunst does what child stars do best: she upstages the headliner. With Cruise out of the spotlight, Pitt is forced to carry the burden of fame on his own. He decides he needs guidance. So why not go to Paris?

In Paris, Pitt finds his counselor in the form of Antonio Banderas, who appears to have been a big deal in his day but now hosts a lame television show -- metaphorically speaking, of course. Banderas tells Pitt, "You have to be powerful, beautiful and have no regrets." (Is he referring to Sharon Stone?) Being a show-biz veteran, Banderas has the good sense to can the child actor, cancel the TV show and jump-start his career with the new hot star, Pitt. Although coming very close to kissing Banderas, Pitt won't have this has-been riding his coattails. So, he's off yet again, this time to America.

Back home, Pitt catches a foul aroma only celebrities can smell -- the scent of a dead career. He follows the stench to find Cruise in the Jon Voight Home of Former Leading Men. Cruise pathetically recalls his salad days, forcing Pitt to flee because failed stardom is catchy. Still somewhat of an ingenue when it comes to fame management, Pitt fails to take into account the possibility of the ever-elusive comeback. Too bad Travolta wasn't around to tip him off. Interview ends on the hopeful note that anyone can return to glory once more -- Kevin Costner, Burt Reynolds, The Two Coreys... (well, maybe not anyone.)

While there are plenty of films about celebrities -- Sunset Boulevard, A Star Is Born -- none get deeper in the skin, or more inside the head, of the immortal superstar than Jordan's Interview With the Vampire.

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