"Interview With the Vampire"

Never mind the homoerotic text. Here's a little dish on the "extraordinary game" between icy Tom Cruise and soulful Brad Pitt.

By Andrew O'Hehir

Published November 27, 2000 8:30PM (EST)

"Interview With the Vampire"
Directed by Neil Jordan
Starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater
Warner Home Video; widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Director's commentary, making-of documentary, DVD-ROM, more

It's a rare occasion when the film adaptation of a novel with a passionate cult following is unreservedly embraced by the novel's fans. Oh, there was plenty of moaning among devotees of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles when Tom Cruise was cast as Lestat, the sadistic immortal who forms a twisted little vampire family. But with Rice herself authoring the screenplay, and Neil Jordan at the helm, "Interview With the Vampire" became a 1994 box-office smash and also a rich and sensitive screen experience.

Jordan, who had handled Gothic fiction so successfully in "The Company of Wolves" and gender-blur eroticism so tenderly in "The Crying Game," understood that the decadence, blood lust and none-too-veiled sexuality of Rice's fictional universe must not be treated as camp or overblown grotesque. The homoerotic text of Lestat's relationship with Louis (Brad Pitt), the young Louisiana man he initiates into the vampire brotherhood, is perfectly evident in Jordan's film. Despite the hay that queer theorists and AIDS scholars could make out of this movie (and there's plenty), the director also saw that Rice's bloodsuckers were creatures of aesthetics as much as passion, and rendering them accurately required a certain reserve and courtliness, a commitment to Old World standards of beauty.

Of the film's two stars, Cruise actually gives the braver performance, especially when you consider the persistent rumors abroad at the time about his private life. Lestat is an omnivorous predator but often strikingly feminine in manner and appearance, while Pitt's Louis is a pallid young depressive seemingly snatched from the verses of Goethe.

Jordan's guarded, alternately technical and intellectual commentary makes clear that the filmmaker sees all the allegorical possibilities in the family formed by Lestat, Louis and baby vampire Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) but has chosen not to lean on them too heavily. After all, as Louis explains to the interviewer (Christian Slater), vampires are flesh and blood, but no longer human.

Fans of either or both of the film's stars will be fascinated by Jordan's discussion of the on-set relationship between the icy, self-controlled Cruise and the soulful Pitt as "an extraordinary game." "Interview" was one of the first movies made with extensive use of digital imaging, but as Jordan explains, it was primarily employed to add depth, perspective or detail, not to create entire artificial vistas, so the accomplishment was little noticed at the time. Digital video transfer and sound quality are both exemplary; the documentary includes brief interviews with Rice, Jordan, Cruise, Pitt and Antonio Banderas, but is nothing special. (Another documentary about vampire history is, disappointingly, not included here. You can watch it online, using a code provided on the DVD, if your connection is fast enough.)

Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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