Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nicolas Cage in VAMPIRE'S KISS

You might notice that usually when it comes to writing about movies here, I'll start in the title saying "director's name"'s "movie".  This is meant to emphasize, if only for simplicity sake of a blog, who the "author" of a movie is.  Vampire's Kiss is a little different.  Yes, it has a director, the competent-but-nothing-special Robert Bierman (mostly a director of TV, forgettable TV), and yes it has a screenwriter, Joseph Minion, who's one other significant credit is the Martin Scorsese sleeper After Hours, which is a classic black comedy of a living-nightmare in Manhattan.  Their contribution, or rather their 'making' of the movie, shouldn't be discounted.

But damn the torpedoes, if this movie has one "author", it's only one man: Nicolas Cage.  You know him, you've seen him, his hair, his eyes, his long horse-style nose, and going through the whole gamut of what an actor does.  He's slummed it (The Sorcerer's Apprentice), he's gone for Oscar glory (Leaving Las Vegas), he's had fun with auteurs (Raizing Arizona), blockbuster madmen (The Rock, Con Air), and even done voice work (Astro Boy).  And yet somehow some of us Nicolas Cage fans - that is those that haven't thought he's sold out in recent years with soulless Hollywood movies - come back to his wildman roles.  Two of the big ones I had seen before were in Lynch's Wild at Heart and, most recently and notoriously, Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans.  Here is another.  Nay, the BIG one, the one that still, not even with Lt. Terence McDonaugh, has been topped.

What is his performance in Vampire's Kiss like?  First, some context: Cage plays Peter Loew, a hot-shot literary executive who works at a publishing house in Manhattan (one might find a similarity so far in the Jack Nicholson vehicle 'Wolf', but it kind of ends there).  One night he meets a very attractive woman at a NY bar (Jennifer Beals) and the two go back to his apartment for sex.  Then she gets what she really wants - his neck, for blood, as he has "chosen" her (there may be something to a bat that flies into the apartment in one of the early scenes in the movie, or maybe just a coincidence).  This is when it gets weird... very weird, as Peter thinks he is now a vampire, and grows consumed with that face.

How much so?  Here are some stills to illustrate what he "does" here:

After being a little dismayed by his lack of proper fangy-choppers, Peter goes to get a pair of authentic fangs... only to find he doesn't have the $20 for them, and has to settle for the cheap plastic fangs kids wear for Halloween.  But hey, why carp?

Peter goes to a big dance club.  His muse - or rather, Cage's - is Max Schreck's Nosferatu (this may go a ways to explain his fascination with the film to the point of producing Shadow of the Vampire).  And no, he is able to keep this facial expression going... alot...

At work, Peter becomes obsessed with his secretary, Alva, finding a contract that he doesn't even really need for a prospective client.  This is one of the calmer moments - other times he can leap onto a table and later claim it was the mescaline.  Weirder still is how Alva says she's tried it before... once...

Cage in one of his more subdued moments in the film (which is saying a LOT for how "subtle" he can be here), this is one of several scenes he shares with Jennifer Beals, named Rachel.  We don't know anything about her except that she's a vampire and has her play-thing with Peter.  Though a scene late in the film might suggest something else about her entirely different...

This is one of the most notorious moments from the film - the one I heard about years ago before I had much interest into the more cult-like objects in Cage's catalog - where he eats a live cockroach.  He does alright, but this isn't even one of the more disturbing or WTF moments of the film.

Basically, any time he does this:


Or this:
Imagining he's at he's at his psychiatrist's office being helped, and not a stark-raving madman talking to himself on the streets of New York.

Or this:


Why so many pics?  I simply want to give my best impression, without showing scenes from the film, of what kind of Cage to expect here.  He starts off seemingly, kind of 'normal' as a publishing executive... Then again Cage also implements an accent that, like his Port of Call accent, is all over the place.  He sometimes sounds like what regular Cage sounds like.  Other times its like highbrow New-York type like he's at the Yacht club. And then other times it's a mixture of that with some kind of California surfer dude thing.  This is just early on, by the way, before he gets his 'fangs'.

What it comes down to in Vampire's Kiss is that taking into account vampire lore, Peter isn't a vampire.  This is just the way it goes, unless he happens to be one of those 'get-bitten-turn' vampires ala From Dusk till Dawn (though those are like zombies so besides the point here).  In common vampire mythology, in order to turn the vampire bites the neck, then lets the victim bite from the vampire.  Perhaps Minion thinks he's being clever by keeping the audience guessing, but I think his intention is much clearer: it's not that we have to guess if he's vampire.  We should know - he isn't.  The funny-as-fuck aspect of the movie is seeing as Peter doesn't fully know... or, he thinks he knows for sure that he is one, as Rachel keeps coming by, goading him on, sucking him off (kind of pun intended?), and it drives him off the wall.  He gets into schizophrenic states at his office with Alva, he wanders the park looking for pigeons to eat, he tears apart his apartment, and makes calls to his therapist fake-fangs a mouth-ful.

This should all be silly, stupid, or even retarded as entertainment.  Why should we care that a guy thinks he's a vampire but isn't?  Simple.  It's Cage.  He's a man on fire here, and this goes without saying his performance in Ghost Rider or his final scene in Kick-Ass.  In nearly every scene of the film, even when he's just sitting back in his office chair in his sunglasses (a reminder of Bateman chilling in his office from American Psycho), or going ballistic in the dance club with a mouth covered in blood from an amateur-hour bite, Cage is amped to 11.  And by this he's funny.  No, FUCKING funny.  This is the kind of funny where you cower a little in your seat, have a look of disbelief for half the time, and the other half can't help but feel the stitches of your body peel apart as his eyes go to bonkers and his vocal chords stretch along with the rest of his body.  At times one wonders if the director said 'action' and 'cut' or just opened the door to his trailer, let him run loose like a Tasmanian Devil, and then maybe take a coffee break.  

If you are or ever think you've been a fan of Mr. Cage's work, it behooves you to track this down.  I could never in a clear conscience admit it's a great movie.  Hell, it might not even be a good movie.  It's dated in its 80's attire (sometimes but not all the time in that 80's-dance-club style music), and there's a sub-plot involving a girlfriend of Peter's that gets put by the wayside as Alva takes over in the movie's plot.  And there's an unnecessary four-minute long montage of the NYC skyline that seems completely arbitrary (perhaps it was shot to give the crew something to do while Cage got his rabies shots - you know he had them during filming, oh yes, he went for the bat AND the pigeon in his meal-time... sorry, I digress).   But, and this is a big but, it's an AMAZING movie.  It strikes up the mind asking how someone can not only do this but have the kind of mind to go *this* far with it.  It's a dark comedy tightrope with the man walking along twirling batons of gasoline above hell itself.

Goodnight, sweet prince...
So it goes.  His soul is still dancing...

1 comment:

  1. "This is the kind of funny where you cower a little in your seat, have a look of disbelief for half the time, and the other half can't help but feel the stitches of your body peel apart as his eyes go to bonkers and his vocal chords stretch along with the rest of his body."

    It's true I did cower a little like music with the sound turned up too high approaching crescendo but he keeps the tension constant. I think I need to see this at least a second time, to look at it outside of the cloud of bafflement that hung over my head while watching it the first time. Great review, this is definitely a testament to Nicolas Cage's acting if nothing else.