EIFF: Some people have fangs. Get over it!
Vampires proudly come out of the coffin in Alan Ball's hit new series True Blood which shows as part of the Cinematic Television strand at EIFF 2009.
True Blood is the latest smash hit from HBO and the Edinburgh International Film Festival audience was lucky enough to enjoy the first two episodes of this spectacular series on the big screen. Entirely appropriate for a series which continues to blur the lines between cinema and television; not only with top quality writing but attracting and supporting A-list stars. After a modest beginning when television audiences weren’t sure what to make of it, strong word of mouth resulted in the latest season opening with the highest numbers HBO has enjoyed since The Sopranos.
Based on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Mysteries, the central premise is that after the discovery of an artificial blood substitute known as True Blood, vampires have “outed” themselves to the world at large and exist as a new minority in society. Law abiding vampires feed only on artificial blood and ‘mainstream’, becoming part of everyday lives but facing prejudice from humans and vampire extremists alike. In the first two episodes we’re introduced to Sookie Stackhouse, (Anna Pacquin) a telepathic waitress working in a bar in a small Louisiana town who falls in love with the newest resident, the mysterious vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and gradually finds herself drawn into the dangerous world of the undead. The chemistry between them is electric but there’s a rival for Sookie’s attentions in the shape of her boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) a sweet guy with more than a few secrets of his own.
The quirky influence of Alan Ball’s previous hit Six Feet Under is strong and the supernatural elements never overshadow the screwed-up characters and grounded sense of humour which keep it all from spiralling into melodrama. Ball also takes the opportunity to build up the supporting cast from the books with great success. Sookie’s airhead brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is both a figure of fun and sympathy despite his serial bedhopping. Her best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley), barely in the first book, is a foul mouthed force to be reckoned with and would easily be the shows breakout character were it not for her cousin, the flamboyant and highly-sexed drug dealing prostitute Lafyette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis). Lafyette is not only a fantastically entertaining character to watch (track down his legendary “AIDSburger” speech on You Tube) but he’s indicative of something else going on with True Blood: a palpable gay agenda. Through the context of vampires Ball is able to deal with gay issues in a way that’s a step beyond even Six Feet Under’s David Fisher. ‘Mainstreaming’, a concept vital to the series, becomes a question of public acceptance of homosexuality. The protests regarding the vampire rights amendment and vampire marriage are thinly veiled jabs at homophobia and California’s Proposition 8. It goes further with strong-arm police raids of vampire bars, and introduces characters like Eddie, a tragic gay vampire who represents a man coming out at middle age and facing loneliness and desperation.
As the series begins its second year in the U.S., there’s no sign of the gay agenda abating with some bitingly satirical send-ups of the infamous National Organisation for Marriage “Gathering Storm” videos, except this time from the anti-vampire Fellowship of the Sun preaching against vampire rights. A response from the pro-vampire movement presents vampires as normal people in the community just living their lives. It’s a lot of fun and despite having its tongue firmly in cheek it also has something important and genuinely progressive to say. True Blood itself is a show which really threatens the boundaries of Cinema and Television. A strong cast and writing which can live and breathe and explore cutting edge issues takes it far beyond the more restrictive cinematic form. HBO is the perfect home for the series and allows the show the freedom to be relevant and have some fun along the way. This is a defiantly smart, sexy and scary show which is absolutely essential viewing for adults. FX will be airing the show in the UK in July, followed afterwards by Channel 4. Do yourself a favour, throw your copy of Twilight in the trash can and crack open a bottle of True Blood!
True Blood was showing as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009.http://www.hbo.com/trueblood/season1/index.html