HBO’s new series “Treme” started Sunday, April 11. The writers who brought us one of the best series on television, “The Wire,” are behind the new show, which is set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. David Simon, Eric Overmyer, and David Mills (who recently passed away) wrote and produced “The Wire,” and reeled in some of that show’s best cast members for “Treme”. Wendell Pierce (Bunk) returns to the small screen as Antoine Batiste, and Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon) as Albert Lambreaux. The cast of “Treme” is rounded out by John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Steve Zahn, and Kim Dickens. Basically, this is me geeking out, because it looks like it’s going to be good.
One episode in and we already know none of the cast is truly the protagonist. The city of New Orleans is the main character. I’ve never been to the Big Easy, but for me it holds a deep fascination. The city seems built around an undercurrent of jazz, vitality, and a sexy southern drawl. Some of my favorite movies are set in New Orleans; I’m bound to miss a few, so feel free to chime in, but here are some of the goodies:
ANGEL HEART (dir. Alan Parker, 1987)
Before Mickey Rourke messed up his face, he was quite the heartthrob. In Angel Heart, he played Private Detective Harry Angel, commissioned by Louis Cyphre (a creepy Robert De Niro) to find a man who might already be dead. The journey takes Angel deep into the heart of the city, its voodoo history, and his mysterious past. Charlotte Rampling and Lisa Bonet appear as lovely, hot-blooded vixens with a predilection for black magic and wild sex. Angel Heart is an atmospheric journey into the deepest south and the mysteries of a culture that’s thrived there for ages. Churning fans cut paths through the stagnant, humid air; a vat of gumbo serves as a murder weapon; a traditional funeral procession with carriage and melancholy jazz band stalks up and down the streets. The city itself is the gorgeous backdrop of a creepy little voodoo story. Check out the special edition DVD for some really interesting and fascinating documentaries on the history of voodoo—which has been (unfairly) demonized in the media.
PRETTY BABY (dir. Louis Malle, 1978)
Pretty Baby is a hard movie to watch. Eleven-year-old Violet (played by twelve-year-old Brooke Shields) finds herself ushered into prostitution in the Big Easy. To watch lecherous old men bid on the virginity of a young girl who looks like a china doll and should by all means be playing with dolls, is unnerving to say the least. The movie was controversial when it was released and no less today. New Orleans is, once again, one of the main characters. The bright colors, humid air, and indolence of the French Quarter form a perfect backdrop for a sexy, sad, bizarre story of American corruption.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (dir. Neil Jordan, 1994)
Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles novels, before her conversion to Christianity, were intensely sensual, inundated with languid, sexy language and characters whose desires are distinctly taboo. Interview with the Vampire is probably the most famous among the books, largely because it introduces Lestat, a depraved vampire who’s nonetheless one of the most fascinating characters in pop literature.
In Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire, Tom Cruise plays Lestat with abandon—it’s one of Cruise’s best performances. Brad Pitt plays whiny, scarred Louis, whom Lestat changes into a vampire and who relays the tale to reporter Daniel (Christian Slater). Antonio Banderas holds his own as Armand, the leader of a coven of bloodsuckers who lure beautiful women to feed on them onstage in a show that makes the Grand Guignol look tame. A very young Kirsten Dunst plays tiny vampire child Claudia, whose mind ages as her body does not.
Though Louis and Claudia travel the world in the film, New Orleans is the main setting, as it always is in Rice’s novels. Once again, the indolence of the plantations, the lovely cemeteries with their stone-eyed angels, the hoop skirts and gaudy makeup of nineteenth-century upper class, form a sexy, exquisite set for a wholly American tale of corruption and innocence and everything in between.
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (dir. Ron Clements & John Musker, 2009)
On to more upbeat tales: last year’s Disney film The Princess and the Frog, which I reviewed for CLR, uses the historical French Quarter and Louisiana swamps as the setting for its lively, happy fairy tale. Randy Newman’s score, heavy on jazzy horns, serves as the perfect undertone to a movie that’s about American history, race relations, and ultimately, independence. A trumpet-playing alligator and a firefly in love with the Evening Star punctuate this tale, which also features a voodoo practitioner and a crazy but good-hearted witch who lives alone in the swamps. If, like me, you enjoy beautiful hand-drawn animation and New Orleans-style jazz, it’s a good flick to check out.
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (dir. Elia Kazan, 1951)
Elia Kazan’s classic A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the play by Tennessee Williams, is the ultimate in southern sexy. When Blanche Dubois (Vivien Leigh) goes to visit her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stella’s husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) in New Orleans, she falls into a disturbed web of drinking, violence, and, well, desire. Brando is all brooding good looks and seething rage as Stanley, who strives to find out what Blanche is really all about. Amazing writing, fantastic performances, and of course, the sensual, sweaty background of New Orleans, jell to form a classic American film about a dysfunctional family marred by money, violence, and destructive romance.
HBO’s series “True Blood,” based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, is set in the swamps of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Once again, sexy, humid, sweaty Louisiana is the perfect setting for the stories of animal desires—including, of course, bloodlust—love, and sex. “True Blood” returns to HBO June 13, 2010 (consider me excited!).
EVE’S BAYOU (dir. Kasi Lemmons, 1997)
Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou, set once again in the Louisiana swamps, stars Samuel L. Jackson as Dr. Louis Batiste, a married, rich, and refined man who has a weakness for beautiful mistresses. When he’s killed, either by a lucky coincidence or a voodoo curse, his daughters Eve (Jurnee Smollett, “Friday Night Lights”) and Cicely (Meagan Good) and wife Roz (Lynn Whitfield) have to examine their past to discover the secrets that lie dormant in the Batiste family’s history.
Any other favorites set in NOLA?
(All photos copyright their original owners)