Every musician on Earth knows it – being eviscerated is the best song-writing fuel there is. Nothing makes you pour your heart into art like having it ripped out of your body and pureed. Fortunately for all of us not on the receiving end of said pain, we get to enjoy the badass art that’s birthed by human agony. Scottish sorcerer (and occasional writer) Grant Morrison wrote “All Star Superman” because his dad had just died. Edgar Allen Poe’s entire body of work cataloged the agony of losing the one you love at an early age. Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” is essentially a novel-length suicide note.
There’s a catharsis factor to creating art (a book, a movie, or a pornographic comic about Alice in Wonderland coughAlanMoorecough). The world weary artist gets to scream into the void all their fears and frustrations. They get to pour alcohol on their wounds in full view of the public. They get to suck the poison out of the snakebite that is their life. Plus, you know, sometimes they get paid for it and that’s nice.
This list could go on infinitely, but here are four classic movies that we only got to see because someone’s life exploded, and they decided to point a camera at it.
Interview with the Vampire
Anne Rice, famous writer and semi-notorious kook, is basically responsible for the modern resurgence of the vampire craze. Some consider this to be a bad thing, but I don’t – for me, “Vampire Story” is just another genre like “Science Fiction,” “Musical,” or “Madonna Movie.” Her first novel of the “Vampire Chronicles” was “Interview with the Vampire,” a sweeping, romantic, gothic tale of vampire-with-a-soul Louis and his creator, the rock-and-rolling, smooth-as-a-gravy-sandwich Lestat. Themes of innocence lost, homoeroticism, and morality play out against a lush backdrop of pre-Civil War New Orleans. It’s good book, if you can wade through a metric fuck-ton of meandering description, and Hollywood made it into a surprisingly great movie starring angel look-alike Brad Pitt and an almost unrecognizable Tom Cruise. Antonio Banderas also makes an appearance, because apparently the filmmakers decided to break the record for “amount of lady-boners caused by one movie.”
In the film, an extremely young Kirsten Dundst (pre bulldozer related teeth-mangling accident) plays Claudia, a little girl doll-like vampire created by Lestat to keep Louis company. Claudia is an unreal creation of otherworldy cuteness, all curls and dresses, a fever dream of what a little girl looks like. She’s tempestuous, vulnerable, demanding, and shy, and her excellent portrayal is about 80% of the reason Kirsten Dundst still gets work. Louis finally loses his soul when Claudia is executed, and his wroth is truly something to behold as he suicidally carves his way through about a hundred vampires with nothing but a scythe and a set of truly creepy dead eyes. Louis pretty much gives up on the world after Claudia’s death, and is never able to find a companion again
Anne Rice once had a daughter named Michelle, who passed away from leukemia at age six. This occurred in 1972, and by her own admission, both Rice and her husband decided to dig their own graves with a whiskey bottle right after it happened. They collapsed into despair, withdrawing from the world, and Rice even admitted that she probably would have died from sheer alcohol saturation if she hadn’t written “Interview with the Vampire.”
In the book (which was completed in 1973, a year after her daughter’s death), Louis and Lestat come upon a little girl dying from the plague. She is, by chance, six-years-old. Lestat makes her immortal, the perfect little girl who can live forever. However, as Claudia matures and her body doesn’t, both Claudia and Louis realize that the illusion of a “little girl who can’t die” is just that – a fantasy, an ephemeral dream that leaves only bitterness in its wake. Claudia’s anger at the lie nearly kills Lestat – the father figure. Later, the world punishes them by killing Claudia and leaving Louis – the mother figure – bereft and alone. Louis’s “sentence” by the other vampires is even “eternity in a box,” trapped with his own grief forever, a fitting metaphor for a parent who’s lost their child. Lestat and Louis having (and losing) a child destroys them both. The subtext, as you can see, is anything but.
Anne Rice apparently didn’t realize the connection until it was pointed out to her by an interviewer. She immediately copped to it, and was surprised she’d never noticed it before that moment.
“Raging Bull” is a 1980 boxing movie about Jake LaMotta, and is loosely based off his autobiography. The flick is a tragedy in the most classic sense of the word, telling the story of a violent man who is rewarded and then punished for his immense capacity for destruction. Raging Bull was directed by eyebrow breeding farm Martin Scorsese and starred Robert DeNiro at the top of his game. The movie is widely considered to be one of the best films of all time, and is often given the crown of “best movie from the 1980’s. ” It’s the kind of movie that has completely entered the cultural zeitgeist – even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably quoted it without knowing. If you’ve ever screamed “I’m not an animal” or “Did you fuck my wife?” and weren’t sure where that came from, now you know. And though the line “I coulda been a contender” didn’t originate in Raging Bull, the flat intonation it’s often quoted in is the way Robert DeNiro parrots it in this movie.
Just before making Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese was on a spiral of drug abuse that eventually lead to his collapse after a film festival. He nearly died, and everyone surrounding him could see the way his life was going. Eventually, on the set of “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” DeNiro pitched the idea of Raging Bull to Martin Scorsese – DeNiro had been reading the autobiography, and found it fascinating. Scorsese declined because of his dislike of sports (good man), and went on his drug-doing way. However, that wouldn’t fly for much longer. Here’s what happened next, in Scorsese’s own words:
“The only good thing about the drug use is that it was very obvious in my case. And I just had to go to that brick wall. Nobody was going to tell me otherwise, whether it was a rock ‘n’ roller, or a studio executive, or an actor. People can try to guide me, but I always have to go my own way.
That’s when I finally went to the hospital, and that’s when De Niro came to visit and asked if I wanted to do the film. Really, we had been working on it since Taxi Driver. I realized I had nothing else to do. I had exhausted all the possibilities. Even my friends were all going off on their own. I was alone. And it was time to go back to work. And what I discovered – it’s in “Raging Bull” and it’s in the other pictures later on – is that I had to come to terms with something. The fighting with myself. You get to the point where you just get used to yourself: that’s who you are, just get on with it.”
Scorsese wasn’t sure if Raging Bull would be a success – it was ultra violent, ugly, and edgy. Plus Scorsese didn’t know if he’d even be alive much longer. So, Scorsese decided to do that flick, and was widely quoted as thinking it would be his last movie. He leaped into production with what he called “kamikaze filmmaking.” Things like this: Robert DeNiro plays young Jake, and an older, fatter Jake. Instead of using makeup and a fat suit, Marty decided DeNiro needed to go natural. They filmed the young in-shape boxer scenes, then stopped production on the movie so DeNiro could jet off and eat France and Italy. No really. He did a tour of both countries, eating everything in sight, and came back to the states with 60 extra pounds on him. They eventually had to stop production AGAIN because during the physical scenes DeNiro could barely breathe he was in such terrible shape, and Marty thought he was going to have a heart attack.
Joe Pesci, also in the movie, probably got the worst of Scorsese’s wild, “no tomorrow” directing. During the scene where DeNiro rolls into the restaurant and beats the living hell out of him, Pesci had no idea that’s what was going to happen. The script didn’t mention him being attacked, so his initial look of surprise is genuine. In a sparring scene, DeNiro was throwing punches so hard he cracked a few of Pesci’s ribs. During the infamous “you fuck my wife?” scene, apparently DeNiro was giving the line his all, but Pesci wasn’t showing the reaction Scorsese wanted. So, Marty took DeNiro aside and changed the line. When the scene started again, DeNiro screamed “DID YOU FUCK YOUR MOTHER?” instead of “Did you fuck my wife?,” and Pesci’s very guttural confused reaction is what made it into the movie.
Scorsese was making wild decisions left in right. Hell, the only reason the movie is in black-and-white is because during a screening, Scorsese’s director friend Michael Powell pointed out that the candy-red color of Jake’s boxing gloves wasn’t appropriate for the period – they would have used maroon or black gloves. So Marty just goes “ah fuck it” and strips color out of the entire movie.
Luckily, the movie was a huge success, and managed to pull Scorsese out of his drug addiction. It ended up not even being close to his last movie, and he owes it all to Robert DeNiro. And probably a deep personal well of strength but whatever let’s give it to DeNiro.
Come back next week for Part 2 of: Really Fucking Depressing Information, written by the guy who usually does the dick jokes. Yeah, sorry about that.
Seriously do come back though. It’s gonna be SO sad.