One of the oldest cities in the United States (founded in the spring of 1718 by the French Mississippi Company, on land inhabited by the Chitimacha, a Louisiana First Nation tribe), New Orleans quickly became a melting pot of cultures, thanks to an influx of Saint Dominican refugees (both white and free people of color), who settled in the area after the Haitian revolution (1791-1804).
This merging of culture and taste quickly forged New Orleans’ unique personality, blending French, Italian, African, South American, European-American, and Caribbean traditions to become something new entirely.
In writing and cinema, the city quickly developed a specific storytelling image, known for its Jazz music, relationship with voodoo (born of West African Vodun practices), wild and extravagant festivals such as Mardis Gras (an Easter festival spanning the surrounding two weeks), and an association with the supernatural.
As such, the city has long captured the hearts and minds of artists, musicians, and filmmakers alike.
Here, in no particular order, is our list of the top five films set in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Interview With The Vampire (1994)
Directed by Neil Jordan, and based on the 1974 Anne Rice novel of the same name, Interview With The Vampire is a modern period masterpiece, despite perhaps being largely to blame for the renewed modern association between vampires and New Orleans.
Beginning in present day San Francisco, the film sees reporter Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater) interview Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt), a man who claims to be a vampire.
Claiming to have once been a wealthy plantation owner in 1791 Spanish Louisiana, Louis tells how, after the death of his brother, and his subsequent depression, he attacked and ultimately sired by the vain, cruel, and flamboyant vampire Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise), with whom he developed a centuries-long companionship.
Spanning centuries, and seeing the pair vampirize and “adopt” a young girl called Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), their relationship sours, and a rift develops, with the ultimate death of Claudia leaving a heartbroken Louis to wander the world alone, that is until 1988, where a weakened but very much alive Lestat resurfaces in New Orleans looking for closure.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
This Marlon Brando/Vivien Leigh classic, based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, is perhaps the film most famously associated with New Orleans.
Directed by Elia Kazan (grandfather of actress Zoe Kazan), “Streetcar” sees the arrival of school teacher Blanche DuBois (Leigh) in New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter), and her bullish husband Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando).
As the tumultuous rivalry between Blanche and Stanley grows, exposing secrets of the family’s lost estate, Blanche’s mental illness (worsened by her husband’s suicide) and expulsion from her teaching job (for sleeping with an underage student), the relationship reaches a head with sexual assault, a sisterly dispute, and Blanche becoming institutionalised in a mental hospital.
If you are looking for a happy ending, this emotive, cinematic classic film might not be for you.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008)
Based on a 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this David Fincher film tells the story of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a baby born with the appearance and physical complaints of an elderly man.
After the death of his mother to the birth, and the abandonment by his father, Benjamin is raised by nursing home caretaker Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), and cook Mr. Weathers (Mahershala Ali), at first blending in with the elderly patrons, before his decreasing physical appearance made him able to leave to adventure on his own.
The film then follows his various adventures, including his job as a merchant sailor, his wartime naval service during World War Two, and his exploration of the world, all the while seeing his life intertwined with a woman named Daisy, who both met as children and remained in close contact to the end despite their unsynced physical aging.
Angel Heart (1987)
Starring Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro, and Lisa Bonet, this neo-noir psychological thriller by director Alan Parker tells the story of New York private detective Harry Angel, as he travels to New Orleans to locate a man known as Johnny Favorite.
Based on the 1978 novel “Falling Angel” by William Hjortsberg, the story sees Angel stumble upon a series of brutal murders, as he delves into the life of Favorite, a mentally troubled WW2 veteran turned crooner, who, it seems sold his soul to the Devil in return for fame and fortune.
DeNiro plays the titular Devil, named “Louis Cyphre” (a homophone of Lucifer), who delivers his own share of shocking revelations as Angel uncovers the truth about Johnny Favorite, and the trail of bodies that seem to follow his name around the city.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
This Steve McQueen classic, directed by Norman Jewison, and based on the Richard Jessup novel of the same name, sees McQueen play Eric “The Kid” Stoner, an up and coming New Orleans poker player in the 1930s.
Hearing of a game being set up by legendary poker master Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson), Stoner seeks to enter, hoping to beat Howard and become the main man himself.
Showing the gritty world of card playing in the 1930s, The Cincinnati Kid takes us through betrayals, cheating, seductions, violence, and loss, all within the confines of New Orleans, which almost feels like a supporting character in and of itself.
As can be seen from this list, New Orleans has developed a specific narrative persona based firmly in the strange, the supernatural, the troubled, and the mysterious.
From aristocratic vampires, to troubled private detectives, to lovable outsiders, and power-hungry poker players, New Orleans has continued to inspire and inflame the imaginations, and will undoubtedly continue to do so for many more years to come.
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy our post on ‘Movies Filmed In Cincinnati‘.
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