Nicolas Cage and the Burden of Genius

    Having already seen a particularly outrageous scene wherein Cage’s character screams the entire alphabet at his therapist, I thought the film would provide a few hours of entertaining fodder on par with the infamously dreadful 2006 remake of “The Wicker Man.”

    I was wrong. Instead, “Vampire’s Kiss” instantly pushed its way up my list of favorite films, initiating my current obsession with the uncompromising genius that is Nicolas Cage.

    After witnessing a drawn-out montage of a hysterical Cage waving his government-issue firearm at schoolchildren and escorting a helpless woman off her bicycle at gunpoint (one of “The Wicker Man”’s many meme-friendly gems), you’d be forgiven for wondering if the guy has ever turned down a role. Forgiven, but wrong. Cage’s creative process runs deceptively deep.

    “Initially what I was attracted to was the idea that I was going to get my eye shot out,” Cage told Screen Junkies of his role in last year’s ultra-violent, ultra-sexist exploitation-inspired “Drive Angry.” Then he added, “I like horror, science fiction because I can get avant-garde with those performances.”

    In the interview, he continued to describe the time he broke 180 MPH on his motorcycle, the influence of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” on his performance in “Drive Angry” and intentionally cutting his Copolla family ties (He took his name from influential experimental composer John Cage). Topics varied, but the main idea remained: Nicolas Cage is no dweeby B-actor, and rules are meant to be broken.

    While even the most die-hard Cage fanatic would have difficulty arguing “Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance”’s vital significance in modern art, the actor’s more captivating moments (and there are plenty) are too often overlooked. His performance as all-American antihero Sailor Ripley in David Lynch’s classic “Wild at Heart” was subtly brilliant — with Cage himself allegedly providing his character’s iconic snakeskin jacket — and that more people haven’t witnessed his coke-snorting, iguana-hallucinating, elderly woman-suffocating Detective Terrence McDonagh in Werner Herzog’s severely underrated “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” is a downright tragedy.

    But even Cage’s so-called “bad” films are clearly just as fascinating, with videos like “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit” and (my personal favorite) “The Evolution of Nicolas Cage’s Hair” racking millions of views on YouTube. And after you’ve pocketed an Oscar and been regularly hailed by Roger Ebert as one of the greatest actors of all time, what reason could you possibly have not to become a Harley-riding vigilante of the night with a flaming skull for a head?

    Cage operates within a distinctive school of acting known as Nouveau Shamanic, which takes influence from pre-Christian actors who also served as town shamans, channeling answers from their imaginations and another parallel dimension. Yes, of course Cage fucking invented it, which explains why he’s so good at it. Whether or not you’re convinced he is indeed a living legend of the craft, no one does crazy like Nicolas Cage. But unlike the crack-fueled antics of the considerably less talented Charlie Sheen, there’s something so lovably pure about Nicolas Cage’s particular brand of insanity.

    Which brings us back to “Vampire’s Kiss.” The film starts off as a bizarre rom-com packed with seemingly unintentional surrealism: Cage’s outrageously inconsistent accent that struggles between British scholar and ’90s movie surfer dude, his unprovoked hatred of his secretary and an uncomfortably erotic encounter with a vampire bat. But then the film changes gears, transforming into a smart, darkly comic psychological drama with a crazier-than-ever Cage at its inventive center. Cage’s over-the-top madness is simultaneously hilarious and chilling, rivaling such classic on-screen lunatics as Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance and Heath Ledger’s Joker.  How “Vampire’s Kiss” isn’t yet a celebrated cult classic I’ll never know, but it has certainly become a new Halloween tradition.

    But alas, Cage has yet to find the universal acclaim he deserves. Like the under-appreciated Kafkas and Van Goghs of old, perhaps the actor was simply meant for another time.

    More specifically, 1861, says an eBay user from Seattle with a Civil War-era carte de visite depicting a convincing Cage doppelganger. The photograph has recently become an Internet phenomenon and, to some, proof of Cage’s mysterious extra-dimensional knowledge. Unconvinced? Google “Nic Cage 19th century vampire” and decide for yourself.

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