Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Film I Always Go Back To: Queen of the Damned

I got an invite to a blogathon organised by Kid In The Front Row. The subject was a film I keep going back to (i.e. a film that isn't necessarily my favourite and could even be pretty bad but that I keep watching regardless). Being about a week away from finishing one of the two rewrites I said I'd have done by the end of March I decided there was no way I'd have time to write about a film that's not very good. But then I started writing it in my head anyway so here goes. When you're done reading this one head over to Kid In The Front Row to read his post on You've got Mail and to check out the films everyone else chose - I imagine there will be quite an interesting selection!

The Film I Always Go Back To: Queen of the Damned

Queen of the Damned is not a good film. In fact it's pretty terrible. You don't have to convince me, I'm not going to argue that it's an underrated classic because it really isn't. Part of the reason I like it so much is because of how much I disliked it when I first saw it. I was at university in Norwich. Posters for Queen of the Damned were everywhere but if you had missed the posters you would know about it anyway due to the tragic death of Aaliyah who played the Queen of the title. And if you had an interest in the increasingly popular but annoyingly named nu-metal genre you would have seen the music video for Cold by Static-X a hundred times: 

Not through choice, it was just that MTV2 seemed to be playing it on a loop. I was a huge fan of the increasingly popular but annoyingly named nu-metal genre and had therefore been reading about the film and the Jonathan Davis soundtrack for months. I should also point out I was not a fan of Anne Rice, hadn't particularly enjoyed Interview with the Vampire and had no interest in reading the source material (I did eventually read Queen of the Damned out of curiosity - the film was better). Mostly I was interested because of the music. 

So I took my future wife to see the film. We hadn't been together that long and were still figuring each other out. We watched the film, sat through the credits, left the cinema in silence. Neither of us dared say what we thought in case the other really liked it. I can't remember how it started, I think there may have been some cautionary testing of opinion; statements like 'that was interesting' and 'hmm...yes...well'. I probably talked about how the music was good in an attempt to justify making her sit through it. But at some point we realised neither of us were particularly impressed and we spent the next few hours discussing every ridiculous moment and plothole. I think we talked about that film more than we've talked about anything we've seen since. We bonded over its awfulness. In a way it was the perfect date movie. But my fascination with this film didn't end there. 

Queen of the Damned became the first film I owned on DVD. My first DVD ever. It came in one of those cardboard cases they don't use anymore. I didn't even have a DVD player, but I had briefly moved in with my parents again after university so could watch it on theirs. It was bought partly as a joke because I thought the director's commentary would be funny. It wasn't particularly - just Michael Rymer talking about the differences between the film and the book. It was actually based on two books meaning a fair amount of adaptation took place resulting in a pretty boring commentary. Still, I owned it now. Not that I would ever watch it again... 

The first time I rewatched Queen of the Damned was when I was living on my own in Chelmsford. I think I had just come in from a Friday night out and decided to watch a film. At that time of night and with that much beer in me the Fukasaku box-set I was working my way through didn't quite appeal so I looked elsewhere. What would be the perfect film to watch drunk on a Friday night? Queen of the Damned, obviously. I've probably done the same thing about five or six times since then. It's become a film I'll always have time for. I don't do much repeat viewing these days - I have several shelves full of unwatched DVDs so I'll generally choose something new. But if my eye catches Queen of the Damned as I'm scanning the shelves I will always, just for a moment, consider watching it again. I could watch it right now. 

So why do I find a film that I readily admit is terrible so appealing? I think it's a few things. Partly I think it's the intention. I think the idea of a vampire rock band is awesome, but the Anne Rice mythology just complicates it and makes it messy. If it had simply been the vampire rock band story it may have worked, but the epic back story, the community of vampires and even the Queen of the Damned herself - none of that really works. But the idea was good and the filmmakers had good intentions.

I also think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it reminds me of my wife and of an unintentional milestone in our relationship. Thinking about it a lot of the times I've ended up watching it have been when she's been away. But there's another reason too, and here's where I do exactly the same thing I did on the night we first saw it and try to use the music as justification. 

As mentioned above I was a huge nu-metal fan. At the time a lot of other people were too. I got into it a bit late really - I was in my early 20s and most of the fans tended to be in their mid-to-late teens; my younger brother's generation. Those few years make all the difference at that age. And one of the reasons I eventually stopped going to nu-metal gigs was because the average age in the room started to make me feel like an old man at the age of 25. My generation was supposed to like proper metal - Metallica and Guns n Roses and Slayer. Twiddly guitar solos that went on forever. Or proper goth stuff like Type O Negative and Sisters of Mercy. This new stuff was supposed to bother me like it bothered most metal fans my age. It was silly and childish and featured a lot of angry white men jumping around and occasionally rapping. But it didn't bother me. I embraced it. I had found my punk. 

I haven't done what most metal/goth fans do which is to denounce everything they ever liked in their younger years when they hit 30. I still remember the reasons I liked the music and have retained an appreciation of most of it. I still genuinely believe, as I have said before, that the first Slipknot album is an avant-garde masterpiece. It's an album of noise and anger. It's nonsensical and really tough to listen to. It's the best kind of art - the kind that doesn't have anything for you to hold onto, you just have to experience it and see how it makes you feel (to this day I still don't understand how Slipknot became so popular with very young kids, but I guess it was because they wore silly hats). I felt the same way about Slipknot as I did about Velvet Underground and The Residents. Other bands had a similar aesthetic - Glassjaw, System of a Down, odd Korn tracks if not whole albums. I found them impenetrable but also fascinating and inspiring.  
Queen of the Damned was a celebration of some of the things I loved about nu-metal. It didn't really work because it got a bit confused in the process. The film naturally used goth iconography and characters (done badly - I've yet to see a realistic goth character in a film, but at least here they weren't used as something to make fun of) but that didn't fit the nu-metal soundtrack, or the fact that Lestat joined a nu-metal band. The one thing that did fit was having Jonathan Davis sing the songs. I wasn't a huge Korn fan, but there is something undeniably otherworldly about Davis' vocals that perfectly suited the character. If a centuries old vampire joined a band it seemed to make sense that he would sound like Jonathan Davis. Nu-metal also seemed to form part of the characters and story of the film. The idea that Lestat had always been a musician and that his music was the result of a variety of influences from all over the world works as an analogy of the origins of nu-metal. You could even argue that the central relationship in the film between Stuart Townsend/Jonathan Davis and Aaliyah represents the amalgamation of metal and hip hop that characterised most nu-metal bands.

But there was another parallel with nu-metal too. Around the same time that the film was released the popularity of nu-metal had started to shift into the mainstream. I didn't really know anyone who shared the same passion for the music, I just tended to drag understanding friends to see bands they'd never heard of and watch from the back as I disappeared into a mosh pit. The only awareness I had of its popularity was through music magazines and the odd occasion I went to metal clubs with my brother and his friends. And the impression I was getting from the magazines was that a major backlash had been brewing from 'true' metal fans. Older metal bands were coming out of the woodwork and being celebrated for their oldschool simplicity. Kerrang printed a poster of a grave stone with nu-metal inscribed on it, predicting the death of the genre by the end of the year. New bands that sounded like old bands were becoming the 'in' thing. Even a band as ridiculous as The Darkness was taken seriously for a moment, treated as the saviour of modern metal. This was happening outside the metal world too, with bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes making popular music sound like someone had raided my dad's record collection (and I mean that in the best possible way - my dad had an awesome record collection). 

The backlash was unleashed the moment that nu-metal entered the mainstream. Two bands really brought this about - Papa Roach and Linkin Park. Both bands had top ten hits in the UK. Suddenly everyone liked nu-metal. My flatmates who had made mocking my taste in music a regular pastime were now borrowing cds. Kids were wearing Slipknot t-shirts. Obscure US bands I loved were now popular enough to play UK venues and festivals. It didn't last, and the damage it caused to the nu-metal genre was irreparable. 

The hardcore old-school metal fans sneered at the sudden rise and fall of nu-metal, like they had been proved right and nu-metal had always been manufactured throwaway pop. The music press adopted the same policy, and after a while the metal clubs followed. I bought less music, went to fewer gigs and stopped going to clubs altogether (it's worth pointing out at this stage that the nu-metal backlash was, as far as I'm aware, predomininently a British phemenonmen, which is perhaps why most of the bands are still around today). As we often do, we just simply decided one day that we were above it all. 

To bring this back on topic, I think there's a parallel between what happened to nu-metal and the narrative of Queen of the Damned. Lestat challenges the underground vampire society by coming out; revealing their existence to the world. He is attacked and publicly torn apart for his efforts. In the real world bands like Linkin Park and Papa Roach revealed the existence of nu-metal to the world at large and, in the UK anyway, were subsequently torn apart by their peers. For me, I think that's what Queen of the Damned is really about.

None of this really makes Queen of the Damned a better film, but it does go someway to explaining why I feel such a connection to it. It reminds me of a time when I was really excited by music, of bouncing around in mosh pits, of watching MTV2 for a whole afternoon because they were only playing stuff I liked, of buying music magazines every week and spending my meagre wages from part time jobs on cds instead of essential supplies. That's why Queen of the Damned is the film I keep coming back to

1 comment:

Blazing Modesty said...

A great post that brought back some amazing memories. It's the kind of film I want to show all my friends but cannot hope for them to see in it any of what we see. I hope this inspires a few of them to seek it out! I think this might solve the question of what to do for our first anniversary!